Adverse Childhood Experiences, the Mystery of Evil, and the Lives in the Balance Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 23 July 2012 00:00

I'd like to look at the tragedy in Denver from another perspective.  To do so, I'm going to look at a massive, deeply disturbing study of the life-long impact of child abuse and neglect done over ten years ago.  it is known as the Adverse Childhood Experience Study which looked at the childhoods and later well-being of over 17,000 largely college-educated, middle class, adults whose average age was 57 at the time of the study.

"By taking a whole life perspective the Adverse Childhood Experience Study began to progressively uncover how childhood stressors (ACEs) affect health and social well-being throughout the lifespan.

The ten ACE’s studied were:


• Emotional

• Physical

• Sexual



• Emotional

• Physical


Household Dysfunction

• Mother treated violently

• Household substance abuse

• Household mental illness

• Parental separation or divorce

• Incarcerated household member


ACE’s profoundly affect our lives because our ability to manage stress is controlled by brain circuits and hormone systems that are activated early in life. When a child feels threatened, hormones are released and they circulate throughout the body. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can impact the brain and impair functioning.

The clearly documented effects of sustained “toxic stress” can include smaller brains, over-reaction to adverse experiences throughout life, immuno-suppression and vulnerability to all kinds of health problems as an adult, a significantly earlier death; learning disabilities and cognitive defects, serious depression, suicide attempts,  violence against a spouse or partner, and a host of other grave problems.

None of this is academic for me.  I am one of the 10% of adults who had 5 or more ACE’s growing up which gave me a 100% chance of experiencing severe depression as an adult.   If we compare an adult woman like myself with 5 ACEs to a woman with zero ACE’s, my risk of abortion is 290% greater, my risk of three or more marriages is 380% greater and of having 30 or more sexual partners is 580% greater.  A woman like me is 5 times more likely to be physically abused by a spouse or partner or become an alcoholic and nine times more likely to be raped or become an intravenous drug addict.   A woman like me is 17 times more likely to attempt suicide.

The fact that I have experienced only 1 of the grave outcomes listed above and that I am not severely depressed today and haven’t been in several years verges on the miraculous.   I have been the recipient of a vast amount of healing grace through a number of very different people and never stop thanking God for it.

I’d like to use the ACE study as another way to view the tragedy in Denver.   So much of the impact of our response to God’s love and grace, of our faithfulness, our obedience, our charisms; so much of the impact of spiritual “fruit” that is borne in our lives is hard to see clearly since the outcome is as much about what doesn’t happen as what does happen.  We will only know a small sliver of what God ultimately does with and through our obedience in this life.   The spiritual fruit of your discipleship could ensure that the kind of descent into madness that we saw Friday in Denver doesn’t happen to hundreds of other young people although you will almost certainly be unconscious of the significance of your actions at the time.

Because you said "yes" to God, a child is loved rather than aborted or terrorized or abused or abandoned or bullied.  Spouses don’t abandon and abuse one another but instead are slowly healed and transformed by encountering the love of God through one another.   Families are actually places where you learn the lessons of the love and the reality of a loving God with whom you can have a living relationship from the very beginning. A movie about a favorite super hero remains just a movie, not a global symbol of deranged violence.  Parishes are places where Catholics are not abused but are routinely called to intentional discipleship and fruitful apostleship.

As I have said hundreds of times to many thousands of Catholics in Called & Gifted workshops:

"Someone out there is waiting for what you have been given to give and their life hangs in the balance.  You may not have met them yet.  They may not even have been born yet.  But in God's Providence, you are the one.  And it matters that you say "yes".

This is one of the most important things at stake in calling all the baptized to intentional discipleship.  That’s why I wrote in  my book:

But I have to disagree with Bloy.  I think that there is a greater sadness than even the lack of individual saints: the absence of the communal fruit that God intends to manifest within our Christian communities and networks of saints-in-the-making. This absence is an almost unfathomable loss because it affects the whole human race. We can be deprived of the rivers of prayer, generosity, wisdom, love, creativity, charisms, vocations, and grace that God intends to bless, heal, evangelize, and transform the lives of billions. . .