Being Hijacked at Gunpoint
When we moved to South Africa to help plant a church in 1995, Johannesburg was a war zone with more than a thousand car hijacking per month at gunpoint. A year later it was my turn. My 4-year-old daughter Elly and I were held up in a hijacking attempt in our own driveway on a Friday night.
I can still see clearly the man with the pistol, his two accomplices flanking both sides of the car wanting to steal our vehicle. It was awful. I scolded him from inside the locked car and laid on the horn. No help came. It was truly a miracle that we were not both shot dead right there in our driveway, but it was not our time to go. We survived.
But when you experience trauma, the trauma is not over with the experience. I had to relive it a thousand times, retell the story a thousand times. This compulsive reflection backward on traumatic incidents opens up a huge key to the discipline of being th(i)nkful. Your reflection can make the original incident better or worse.
Objective Experience vs. Subjective Experience
I stumbled over an interesting concept recently while reading The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. He shares how there are many ways to help promote happiness in our lives. Oddly enough, happiness does not come from outside stimuli but is built from within our brains depending on how we shape our brain’s neural pathways. We can create happiness even within difficult circumstances. His use of the term “post-traumatic growth” especially fascinated me.
When a person goes through a traumatic experience, that person experiences the happening objectively at first. But the later subjective re-experiencing of the happening is what I want to focus on. We relive notable experiences many, many times. It is in this subjective replay of the original experience where the key lies. You can choose how you relive an experience.
My Own Battle
As I reeled through my own subjective re-experiencing of the hijacking over and over, one of the keys to healing was to rehearse my gratitude for how God helped me through every part of that test.
- God had prepared me earlier in the day by rehearsing a lot of verses about fear with a girl I was counseling;
- Neither Elly nor I were touched, hurt, shot, or killed;
- They didn’t get our car (that time);
- We had just filled up the car – they didn’t steal a car with a full tank!
- We had a short-term missionary’s bags in the back – they didn’t steal a car with a luggage bonus!
- God caused them fear and confusion when our gate started to close on its timer;
- Elly and I got in the house and locked up while they were regrouping;
- Although they jumped the wall and tried to get in, they never did;
- We were privileged to be attacked by the evil one because God was transforming the lives of people through the gospel;
- We had a sense that God was right there with us.
God’s grace in helping me to be th(i)nkful as I reflected on the trauma provided me with post traumatic growth. My faith-walk with the Lord actually grew stronger.
As we leave 2018 and move into the brand new year of 2019 in a few days, I would like to challenge you to make a simple “thank you” part of your living. As you process daily things, as well as work through things of the past, insert a simple “thank you.” Let God help you to develop eyes to see not only all His blessings, for which you can be grateful, but also to see His designs in the dark places, because He is there too. And having His hand hold you through a valley of shadows is a cause for deeper gratitude as you get to know His ways, and heart, and character, and purposes more deeply.
At first you may feel awkward and clumsy in how to express this thankfulness, but don’t give up. Keep on forging that pattern of looking for things to think thanks for. It will bring a cupboard full of blessings for you. Just image this time next year reading through a notebook of daily things that you were th(i)nkful for. I can promise you that you will be edified and encouraged. Life will serve you hard things in 2019, no doubt, but as you move those things through the sieve of giving thanks to God for everything, you will grow.
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Colossians 1:11-12