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Learning from Jesus and the woman at the well

16 April 2024 By Ty Ragan

The way Jesus talked with the woman at the well shows us the steps of caring with sensitivity, creating safety and belonging, writes Ty Ragan of Calgary.

Trauma awareness and trauma-informed care can sound like catchphrases or hashtags, something so trendy that we forget the true meaning behind them. But they can help us love our neighbour if we understand they are about creating safe space for another so that they are able to connect with the help available to them.

Trauma and personal hurts come in many shapes and forms (see the CAMH definition of trauma). People can respond to trauma by isolating or engaging.

I’ve personally chosen the engaging option. I’ve experienced PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to serving in the homeless and affordable housing sector just like 40 per cent of my peers (see Burnout and PTSD in Workers in the Homelessness Sector in Calgary). My journey has been healing.

Part of my journey has involved reflecting on the trauma and trauma-responses I got from my family of origin. I worked through some challenging stories related to my Grandpa Joe –stories of his humanitarian work, his community building, his past, the abuse he endured from the Canadian military in the McGill experiments and at the hands of his own father growing up, and the abuses he passed on as a result trying to bury them in the bottle. Depending on who you were, you experienced a different side of Grandpa Joe, and some of us even saw the multiple different personas.

This reconciliation and release deepened recently as I re-contemplated a service on trauma-informed care and the gospel that I facilitated last year. The story of the woman at the well in John 4 (see the FNVNT version) is a radical story of being seen through pain and the feeling of connection and belonging that creates.

Jesus in this quiet time at the well shows us the steps of trauma-informed care.

  1. Acknowledgement. Jesus acknowledges the woman as a person. He sees her created in God’s image and acknowledges her value.
  2. Safety. Is there safety that Jesus’ cultivates? He asks her for help, for water. She tries to dissuade him from engaging with her, the one who is ostracised, and yet He continues. This lowers the power dynamic, challenges accepted social structures.
  3. Trust. Through their interactions, He points out to trust. He is humble, listening deeply beyond the words shared to who this person is, what is her story. That’s the key to building trust and safety – He doesn’t continue the blame game or the label “sinner” that can create a controlling and dehumanizing environment. Instead He asks for her story. A what-happened-to-you moment, not a what’s-wrong-with-you, which is so often our default question.
  4. Choice and control. Jesus reframes and shares back who she is. She can walk away, or she can listen to the love, pain and empathy Jesus shares in response to her journey. He offers her a paraphrase, a way to reframe her story.
  5. Collaboration. The previous step invites collaboration, for they work together to hear the power in her story, how she has survived and found ways to thrive. Within the scope of this story, do you notice how Jesus also points to…
  6. Strengths-based. In her story she saw how He saw her. She heard specifics and saw the power and worth she had. It energized her. Imagine rediscovering purpose and belonging. Her strength was shown, clearly articulated with examples, to show that she mattered. She was seen. She was heard. She was validated. And what happened as a result?

What does this matter for your individual journey and mine?

As we allow this story of Jesus to intersect with our own stories, we gain a deeper understanding of what renews purpose and belonging. When we help build trauma-informed communities, ones that see each person as a person, we are loving our neighbours as God calls us to do.

We can contribute to this in the front lines of ministry but also as we work to equip and educate others.

So. What is your story?

Ty Ragan of Calgary (Psy.D.) teaches psychology, community studies, belonging and philosophy courses in community and postsecondary institutions. He's also a writer and storyteller, pop culture geek (Whovian, Trekkie and Robin Hood fan) and dad. Photo of birds by Ignacio Amenábar from Unsplash.

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