The Wounded Healer
A Minister's Point of View
I had never heard of The Wounded Healer and how it came to me was kind of ironic. I work in a Juvenile Justice Center and the person who does the transporting of juveniles came in the room one day and seemed to be in a bad mood. I asked him how he was, and he went on a rant about how things were not going well for him. His wife apparently left him, his health was not good and after 15 years as a minister (his full time job) he decided to call it quits. He stated that he had done enough for others, and that he was tired of putting his own life on the back burner, and it was time for him to take care of his own needs. He had a book in his hand and as an afterthought just threw the book at my desk and said, "Do you want this book, because I don't need it anymore"? I wondered what might have happened that made him give up on his ministry, especially if he knew anything about this book. It perplexed me and so I set out to try to understand. I took the book and although it is only about 100 pages long, it packed a mighty punch with me as I dove into it wholeheartedly.
The Wounded Healer
Everyone has scars of past hurts no matter who you are, but allowing others to actually see your scars and understand what you have been through; makes them accessible to others, thus allowing the connection to become more defined. This really is the basis for Henri Nouwen's book. To help others get through their troubling times but also being real in the sense that you know what they are going through, in order for them to be able to not only trust in what you are saying but knowing that there is an understanding there that leads to a personal and trusting relationship.
I imagine that the study of the ministry can at times be mundane and the methodology very dated, and although Nouwen's book was written in 1972, his methods seem more modern and his teachings more personal as he puts a lot of himself out there for all to see.
I would suggest this book to anyone who is going through the ministry, nursing school, social work or any kind of public service job that requires helping others and being compassionate.
There are many ministers and priests out there but just because they know everything that is written in the bible or were excellent students doesn't mean that they know how to deal with people on a personal level. Do they know how to deal with a person who is about to be put to death in a prison? Do they know how to comfort someone who is about to have a serious operation and is afraid that they will die? The answer to these questions is No, not all the time.
Nouwen's Teaching Methods
There is an example in the book that Nouwen describes:
A young minister is talking to a middle age man who has to have an operation on his legs or he will not be able to use his legs for work, and the middle age man is clearly nervous and scared to have the operation. The man who is having the operation has no one who will be waiting for him and is very lonely. He mentions several times that he is not ready to die but goes on to say that even if he makes it through the surgery, his life will only be filled with hard work. The young minister has many opportunities to comfort this man and make him feel better, but he falls short. Nouwen explains that just by saying some comforting and compassionate words to the man having surgery might have changed the outcome. But the young minister did not have the bed side manner to execute it and the other man didn't have even the will to get through the operation, although he was afraid to die, he was also afraid to live because he had no one in the world. His life was filled with suffering and loneliness.
In his book Henri Nouwen shares teaching guides and scenarios about how to deal with someone who is troubled. He also analyses suffering, in a suffering world, and as a suffering minister. He explains that when ministers take the calling to help others that they should recognize the suffering in their own hearts in order to be able to help others who are suffering as well, and go above and beyond in the image of Christ, and that is the sense of what sacrificing is all about. The sufferer thus can become the healer through their own pain and experiences.
About the Author
Henri Nouwen was born in Holland in 1932 and ordained a Catholic priest in 1957. He obtained his doctorate in psychology from Nijmegen University in The Netherlands and taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard.He lived among the Trappist monks at Abbey of the Genesee and lived among the poor as a missionary in Latin America. He was interested and active in numerous causes relating to social justice. Henri Nouwen finally found his home in Canada, as pastor of L'Arche Daybreak - where he helped people with mental disabilities.
He died in 1996.
Working in a Juvenile Center isn't easy at times and I see many children who have been through the ringer. Many have mental issues, have grown up without parents and some who have great parents but really have not been taught good values, and have been led astray either by boredom or curiosity. Whatever the case, they show up where I work and some are as young as 13, they sit across my desk and I have to ask them many personal questions that I know are hard for them to answer. I always look right into their eyes and sometimes it is painful to see because it is obvious that there is a lot of unspoken pain there. Sometimes my maternal instincts get the better of me and I want to mother and protect them; but then I have to stop and let my job take over and realize why they are there. Some have done some horrendous things and I have to never forget that. But I am not there to judge them, I am there to make sure that their needs are taken care of while they are in my care.
I have always considered myself to be a compassionate person anyway, but I know that I will be getting inspiration from time to time from this book. The man who gave me the book is clearly in pain and has troubles of his own and I would hope that someday he will be able to come to terms with whatever it is that turned him away from the ministry and the helping of others.Since I have read The Wounded Healer, I feel that it will make me a better public servant in dealing with these troubled kids.
Quotes from The Wounded Healer
"...it seems necessary to re-establish the basic principle that no one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process. The beginning and the end of the Christian leadership is to give your life for others. Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh, and to make one's own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.
Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: "Who can take away suffering without entering it?"
The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.( p.72)
The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M Nouwen. 1972
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