Henri Nouwen wrote an awesome book called The Wounded Healer back in the 70’s. It’s recently been updated. When I read the book a few years ago, I was blown away. It struck me to the core. What I find interesting is the fact that I knew about the idea of a wounded healer some years earlier, but hadn’t known it came from this particular book. In fact, I had learned much about being a wounded healer from a life coach I had the benefit of meeting with on a regular basis. He helped me walk through my own wounds, to own them, to name them, and to let them be part of me. As they became part of me, they no longer were my identity. They were still important, but they were now part of my story, not who I was.
I remember very clearly standing in front of the faculty in seminary discussing my candidacy for ordination. I talked about the need for me to be a wounded healer. I was then asked: “Are you a wounded healer or are you a pastor.”
My answer: “Yes.”
As a pastor, I am to be both.
This might sound strange to some, paradoxical to others, and a bit skeptical by even more. But it is true. This world today is filled with joy. It is filled with fun. It is filled with so much technology, opportunities, connecting, friending, and a desire for love. At the same time, there is a struggle of loneliness, of resentment, of separation, of a desire for something more yet a lack of understanding of how to get there.
We are disconnected in a connected world. We are living in a time of existentialistic metaphysical schizophrenia (this term is used to speak of the separation between ourselves and the world around us in a metaphysical sense and is in no way what so ever intended to be a slam against a very important and hard mental issue). We have separate the spiritual from the physical, the need for identity with the community and the need for the identity of the individual. We keep things personal and held in and only allow others to see and hear what we want them to. There is a separation and schism of mind, body, and soul that has created this connected disconnect.
There are wounds in this world. Wounds we all have. Wounds we try to cover up. Wounds we try to ignore. Wounds we place a bandage on, hoping that’s all it needs. Sometimes the wounds heal but leave nasty scars, reminding us of the past. Other wounds aren’t treated properly and allowed to fester until a emotional and spiritual gangrene sets in.
And pastors are no exception. In fact, usually we’re the worse. Despite claims otherwise, pastors do not walk on water after ordination, their poop does not smell like roses, and, despite many people’s misunderstanding, we too are flawed and broken human beings. Sometimes we don’t even realize it but instead try to walk on water and refuse to smell our own poop (okay, that last one is a bit disgusting, but you get my point…a refusal to look at reality).
When as a person, you accept your woundedness, your brokenness, then true life can begin. Now, this isn’t saying to wallow in it. Not in the least. It is to accept it. To live it. To know it. And to not let it become your identity.
Some years back I was in a nice conversation with a 90 something year-old gentleman who had lived his whole life in the church. He was recounting to me all the pastors her remembered over the years and what he remembered them for. So, I just had to ask him.
Me: “So, what will I be remembered for?”
Him: (with a wryly grin) “A good preacher. Not right in the head, but a good preacher.”
I’ll take that.
No. I’m not right in the head. In fact, I’m a cracked pot. But we all are cracked pots entrusted with being bearers of the image of God. I have my wounds. They are not my identity. My identity is in Jesus, it is in Him where I live and move and have my being. As a pastor, I know my past wounds help me be present in the lives of others in their present wounds. We become wounded people walking together towards the Great Physician, Jesus, in order to have the ultimate healing.
As a pastor, I am wounded. But also as a pastor, I am called and charged to live out reflecting the Great Physician, helping people see the healing available in Jesus and to offer guidance in that healing.
Own your wounds before they own you. Live as a healer who has lived through the past in order to be present with others today, to help us all walk towards that tomorrow across the river into the Land of Glory.
A pastor is but a wounded human like everyone else. A pastor is called to be a wounded healer. A pastor is called to help train wounded healers.
What are your wounds? How are you healed? How can you allow God to use you and your wounds to be able to help someone else heal as well?