Broken medicine bottleShe was surprised. It had been a very hard year. One by one, key members of her family had been stricken. She was exhausted. She had nothing more to give. And then there was the matter of the members of her small group.

Many were going through incredible problems too. They had always been looking to her for encouragement and strength. She was, after all, their leader. Now she had nothing to give them. Then something totally unexpected happened. Her group members began to minister to her. The depth of the sharing of the group reached levels of intimacy she had never seen before. Her year of deepest pain became her year of most significant ministry. She had became a ‘wounded healer’.

Most of us heard this term for the first time when we read Henri Nouwen’s book of the same name. We nodded in recognition when we read Nouwen saying: “Jesus?(makes) his own broken body the way to health, to liberation and new life. Thus like Jesus, he who proclaims liberation is called not only to care for his own wounds and the wounds of others, but also to make his wounds into a major source of his healing power.”

The apostle Paul had learned this truth much earlier. (I suspect that he learned it the hard way.) He begins his second letter to the Corinthians thus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christs’ sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation… (2 Corinthians 1: 3-6a ESV)

The rest of the letter contain descriptions of some very painful experiences he went through. It would seem then that all followers of the wounded healer would understand the need to be wounded healers. However, not many of us aspire to this vocation.

For one thing it is very painful to connect with some of our wounds. For another, the market-place punishes weaknesses. So we have learned to deny, disguise and hide our wounds. When we do this often enough we end up less than human, unable to be a real source of healing to others and unable to receive healing for ourselves. So, painful as it is, we need to own our wounds and embrace them.Ê

In the words of James H. Olthuis: “To practice such healing connecting in relation to others involves connecting with one’s self and owning one’s own woundedness. If I cannot feel my own suffering, there is no way that I can empathise with yours–and the prospect of compassion.”

I am sometimes very discouraged when I see that so many in authority in the church and in the market-place are unable to lead with compassion because they will not or cannot see their own woundedness. But there is hope. A recent leadership meeting of a major international missions movement came to the conclusion that one of the greatest needs of the coming decade was the need for wounded healers.

Which shouldn’t be that difficult. Born into a fallen world we are born wounded. Since we cannot avoid being wounded we might as well not waste our wounds. Instead we re-embrace our calling to be wounded healers, believing as Nouwen does, that: “We do not know where we will be two, ten or twenty years from now. What we can know, however, is that man suffers and that a sharing of suffering can make us move forward…in the conviction that the full liberation of man and his world is still to come