Just finished reading The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen and I think the entire book can be summed up in this short passage:
Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to seek one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all men share.
Put simply the Wounded Healer’s own wounds and pain form the foundation of empathy with another’s wounds and pain. Who better to understand than a person who can draw from their own frame of reference.
Michael Patton’s recent post entitled: Talking to those who doubt, touches on this very concept:
They need to know that you have been there. They need to see your battle scars with the Lord. They need to see that you have truly wrestled with these issues. They need to see that you walk with a limp too. Otherwise, you are immediately going to be written off as a naive Christian. In our postmodern society, naivete is the greatest disqualifier for your counsel and witness. So it is important that you raise your shirt and show your scars across your heart. And you know what? Your wound does not necessarily need to be sewn up and closed. It could be wide open. You may be in the middle of the battle yourself. As long as they see you are/have been there and that you have still kept your faith, they will be much more likely to listen. It is just like depression. Once someone sees that you have been there, their first thought is hope. “I am not the only one!” they think to themselves. “How does this person hold it together? There must be a way!” is often their thought.
The entire premise of the Wounded Healer may sound patently obvious; however, I’m not so sure it is.
In our modern consumer society there’s a fix for everything and an answer to any problem; namely, purchase something. And hey, if you get really broken and wounded that’s a great opportunity to purchase even more. And so the ‘cure’ becomes a distortion of the problem. And of course ultimately the consumerist society offers us external solutions for internal problems.
To be successful at anything nowadays – including a Christian minister - it seems that you have to be strong and together, exhibiting no flaws or wounds, as these are simply perceived as weaknesses. Perhaps they are weaknesses, but does there really exist a person that has none?
The trouble for me is that the solutions to my wounds pumped out from all and sundry are simply not working. Sadly, I am including in this progressively larger chunks of the Christian world. But I have to make an important distinction here. The more I learn and understand of the concept of the Wounded Healer, the more I see Christ. He didn’t shout pithy soundbites from the sidelines. He didn’t offer us external solutions to internal problems. He waded into the very midst of our suffering and suffered with us. He was wounded for us, and with us, so that he could fully empathise with us.
And empathy is the key to healing. Knowing you’re not alone and that somebody has been there before you and although scarred, has lived to tell the tale. Knowing our faltering efforts to articulate the hidden depths of pain and brokenness is fully comprehended by Jesus – and others – is part of what is restoring my own faith.
Answers and solutions are all well and good, but there is no soothing balm quite like talking to somebody who understands through their own experience.
I’m a prime example of this. I read blogs and follow some folk on Twitter that are private to me, in that they articulate the lives, thoughts, feelings, struggles, highs and lows, of those with the same diagnosis and problems as me. I don’t necessarily interact with these folk, so much as observe and gain self-knowledge from those further down the path. In doing so I know I’m not alone, and can console myself that others understand.
Very often this process alone provides enough healing to continue and do battle.
There are elements within Christendom that also portray a fix for every problem, and a solution to every question or doubt. I no longer trust these elements. The Bible doesn’t indicate to me a perfect life post-conversion. In fact, quite the contrary.
You may retort with the statement that Jesus affords us life to the full. Well, I may respond that this ‘life to the full’ incorporates and even validates our brokenness and wounds.
And of course, the ultimate fulfillment of life is surely to emulate Christ, and in turn ourselves become a Wounded Healer.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 3-7
Amen to that.