“…I have found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is the most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets who have dared to express the unique in themselves.” –Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

We are called to be wounded healers taking care of our own wounds, while prepared to treat the wounds of others. The idea of wounded healers led me to Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer which I’ve been meditating on for the last few weeks.

A lot of folks don’t know what to do with folks who are truly hurting. They are quick to label them crazy or drama queens, accuse them of self-aggrandizing behavior. To be fair, condition not always easily recognized, hidden behind walls, retreated to caves to lick wounds (ironic that our instinct is to withdraw from those who would help us). On the flip side, people who are hurting aren’t always the most cooperative of “patients”, often scared or indifferent and stubborn, or whatever else their posture of woundedness, unable to give voice or words to their state of despair or hopelessness. Burdened with the weight of guilt and shame, and self-contempt, they might pull away from people, not wanting to let others see our wounds believing them to be too ugly.

They have a sense of being lost, believing themselves without family or friends or anyone to understand or relate to their plight. As they bottom out, not knowing whether they want to live or die, unable to give any direction (or even perspective) to their story, they become prisoners of their own existence. People feel alone when no one seems to be around to walk through your pain with you, to simply be there to pray with, talk to, comfort. That’s part of the healing power of being present.

A desperate cry demands a response from their brother. Not indifference or isolation, not intellectual platitudes of a well-intentioned seminarian. These are easy emotionally, safe responses, sometimes betraying a hubris and insensitivity, an aloofness to the pain and suffering of others. As Larry Crabb said, “the solution to the problem of disconnection is connection.” To become present to one another means that we have to encounter each other in a very real and very human way. The comfort of presence allows us to smell, feel, hear, and see another. It’s a connection through each other’s story that puts a lie to no one being there, the lie that no one cares. It lets the wounded know that there are people waiting on the other side of the dark time.

We are human and we will fail one another. We can’t and won’t be there perfectly for one another, despite the well-meaning promises between parent and child, spouses, boy/girlfriends, friends. It’s all a part of the mystery of people. They’re so individually … peoplely. It’s easy to point out the failures to draw near to others. We forget, they’re people too, wounded in their own ways, and like the rest of us, have to work through their own fears, hesitations, self-preoccupation, and self-protections in order to reach out to others. It’s why the idea of dealing with people who are deeply wounded and hurting leaves them befuddled, not knowing what to do.

We’re all called to be wounded healers, but it’s hard to lead another out of pain if you’ve never allowed yourself to deal with your own pain. Sometimes you have to head straight into the pain to come out of the other side

Our own emotions—anger, fear, disappointment, resentments, distrust—may keep us from drawing near to our “neighbor” when they are wounded (by themselves or by life). Healing can begin with a simple forgiving embrace, a confession of failure, not justifications and rationalizations. Few people want to keep screaming in the face of their pain. They want someone to listen, to truly listen. Few people don’t hope for recovery, don’t want to be restored or find wholeness, who’d rather find temporary shelter in the attention of their stories. We’re not called to camp out in our woundedness or brokenness, but it is the hope of that promised wholeness keeps us pursuing the way of Jesus.

The gospel story isn’t that we sin and God forgives, or that we’re just sinners. We’re children, heirs, called to a life of joy. We are to make his life our own and be transformed. He is the source of healing, the Balm in Gilead. We are to grow to look like him, not just as the suffering servant, but becoming fully human. And making the journey to become fully human and return home.

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Wounded Stories I: Wounded Story Tellers
Wounded Stories II: Suffering Servant
Wounded Stories III: Wounds As a Source of Healing