Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a concept that is relevant to many professions, including health and education. In this third post in the Walking Well series, I will explore the role of keeping the long-lasting impact of trauma in mind when accompanying others on their journeys. This is the final post to frame the conversation by focusing on purpose and mindsets before shifting into educational theories for the rest of the series.
The film Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope provides a good introductory glimpse into the concept, explaining why it is critical that we as a society are aware of what is happening and how we can strive to mitigate the negative effects. Emphasizing that ACEs are common, a couple of quotes that stood out to me from the film were, “The child may not remember, but the body remembers” and “The impact is on your behavior. It’s on your learning. It’s on your heart. It’s on your DNA.”
As the title suggests, after explaining background for what the medical field can teach related to ACEs and why the impact is so pervasive in society, strategies to build resilience are shared, including “Scientific research points to the presence of a stable, caring adult in a child’s life as key to building the skills of resilience.” A facilitator’s guide for the film also highlights strategies, such as the following:
- “Recognize toxic stress is the largest public health issue of our generation” (p. 8)
- “Build critical collaborations” (p. 9)
- “Promote safe, stable, nurturing relationships & environments” (p. 10)
- “Prevent intergenerational transmission of toxic stress” (p. 11)
- “Promote hope” (p. 12)
For those who are interested in learning more but do not have access to Resilience, I recommend a TED talk by a pediatrician and newly named surgeon general for the state of California, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is featured in the film.
Within an evangelization context, we can have an awareness of ACEs in order to remind ourselves that often there is much more going on under the surface than we are aware (both with navigating layers in need of healing in our own lives and the lives of others). This humbling understanding can prompt us to love and serve with more compassion. When thinking about the highlighted strategies from Resilience, it is easy to see how they apply to an evangelization context. Hope is one of the theological virtues. We strive to promote safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments. We can be stable, caring adults.
When thinking about critical collaborations as a strategy though, it is valuable for each contributor to consider how they can contribute to the general strategies, as well as the unique contribution that others might not be providing. For example, as an educator, I will not be able to provide the same type of support that someone in the medical field will be able to, such as quality counseling. In other words, the impact of trauma requires a multi-layered response and it is not within the scope of any individual to provide it all, but rather, we need each other to provide what is needed.
When thinking about how we can contribute to a collective effort of overall society to support a healthy response to ACEs, our most valuable contribution is attention to the spiritual implications to complement the support that other professions are providing for the mental and physical well-being. We can help people to recognize God’s love, faithfulness, and power.
While we personally can provide a sense of a stable, caring adults to those who have experienced (or are experiencing) trauma, recognizing the capacity for the positive impact we can make as a result, we also know that we are not perfect and will fall short. There will be times when we are not able to be present. Even when thinking about the collective effort of multiple stable, caring adults, we would still fall short. Instead, with humility, we can recognize the great benefit of what we can provide, alongside connecting people to God, who is perfect and always present.
Having a solid sense of security in God through the lens of faith can support people in navigating life with perseverance, resilience and hope. St. Francis de Sales said, “Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” Relationship with God is at the core of being able to find and maintain that inner peace. By connecting people with God, we provide support that extends beyond our human limitations.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. -Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)
Jesus provided assurance that he would be with us always, no matter what we are navigating in our lives. When we cooperate with God’s grace and strive to provide love and stability for others, we are able to provide glimpses into God’s perfect love. When we point towards Christ, we highlight the source of the care we are providing and encourage others to experience God’s love through the care of others, as well as through their individual relationships with God. Experiencing His love will transform them.
Loving Lord, Help us to humbly recognize the gifts you have provided us in order to enact the missions and purposes you have for our lives. Aid us in collaborating with your grace in order to walk with others towards Your infinite love and protection. Christ, be our light!
Copyright 2019 Amanda Villagómez