There are one or two pluses about being a widower. One key one is having the privilege of being able to walk with other widowers in their grief — assuming that your life doesn’t fall apart the first few years after the death of your wife, that is.
I was on the phone with a new widower yesterday morning. He asked if the Lord would heal his heart eventually. (He had just buried his wife a few days ago.) I assured him that God would heal his heart eventually. But I also reminded him that he had to walk through a long dark valley before he could experience that healing. It hit me that my assurance would have carried little power if I were not a widower myself.
This little exchange reminded me yet again that the wounds of our life qualify us to walk with the wounded. I heard this principle articulated most clearly in 1998, when I took a seminar with Dr. Archibald Hart of Fuller seminary. It was at a Doctor of Ministry seminar on the emotional hazards of the ministry.
I was just coming out of an episode of clinical depression. It was a very black period of my life. It seemed that everything was falling apart. I was in despair of ever recovering my ministry. But at that seminar God used the friends in my seminar group, and the friendship and teaching of Dr. Hart, to throw me a lifeline. They accepted me when I still found it hard to accept myself. And they reminded me that it is the very wounds of our lives that qualify us to minister the grace of God.
The principle is a sound one. It is found in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul states it thus:
“Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” 2Corinthians 1:3-4 (NRSV)
This was no empty rhetoric composed for a Hallmark card. Later in the letter Paul would let on that he and his friends were “so utterly, unbearably crushed that (they) despaired of life itself.” (Ch.1: 8b) Paul was no wimp. We can only speculate as to what would have led him to such a state of despair. Yet it is precisely because he had gone through his moment of despair that he could go on to comfort the Corinthians.
It needs to be said that the Christian faith is no exercise in masochism. We are not to go out of our way to seek suffering. But I have long accepted that pain is a given in this fallen world. The question is not “will we suffer”, though admittedly some lives appear to have less suffering than others. The question is: “what will I do with the suffering in my life?” What will we do with the moments when we are “utterly and unbearably crushed?”
First, as Paul’s example reminds us, we need to wait for the deliverance of our Crucified Lord. Because Jesus has been crucified, He knows our pain. Because He is Lord, salvation will come His way and in His time. Indeed I suspect that some wounds will only be fully healed in heaven. Otherwise what is the point of the eschaton?
At some point, and like everything else in Kingdom chronology, nothing before its time, we will need to see how the healing we have received can flow through us to bless others. Then we will discover that indeed it is the very wounds in our lives that qualify us to minister to others.
This is not a new lesson. The concept of the “Wounded Healer” is very much in the vocabulary of the church since the publication of Henri Nouwen’s book of the same name. However, we live in a world that reminds us daily that pain is bad, pain is to be removed as quickly as possible, and if it can’t be removed pain should be hidden.
Think of how we choose our leaders. We put a high premium on academic qualifications. And we look for lives that are as free from “trauma” as possible. Hence I was pleasantly surprised when a church elder told me that his church doesn’t trust any leader who has never been wounded before. Not surprisingly, his church is on the fringe of mainstream church life in Malaysia.
Meanwhile I look at the lives of some of my friends. I am privileged to know folks who are key leaders in God’s church in Asia and around the world. Almost to a man/woman, they have gone through difficult times of testing. Some of them suffer incredible pain on a daily basis.
As their friend, it pains me to see their suffering. I pray for their deliverance. Yet I have come to embrace for my own life and for theirs, the truth that pain teaches us all lessons that we could not have learnt otherwise.
And that it is our wounds that qualify us to serve.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan