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Wounded Healers

Sermons On The First Readings
Series I, Cycle C
I once watched a television show which scared the daylights out of me. I don't remember the name of the show, but the episode still haunts me. The story was about a self-sufficient man who experienced an auto accident and was left paralyzed. He could not speak. He could not move his body. Yet he discovered he was able to move his pinky finger. Tragically, the ambulance drivers who picked him up at the accident scene thought he was dead. So instead of taking him to the hospital, they drove him to the morgue. As the drivers were wheeling him into the morgue, his little finger began to tap on the gurney. The ambulance drivers at first did not hear the tapping because the gurney wheels were clicking and squeaking. It was then that the man on the gurney began to panic. But just as they started to place him in a refrigerated tray, one of the drivers's shouted, "Stop! He's alive!" The other driver responded, "How can you tell?" To which the other replied, "I see a tear in his eye."1

This captivating story demonstrates two eternal truths about life: first, even though we believe ourselves to be self-sufficient, we cannot avoid being painfully wounded at one time or another; second, just as the driver knew the man was alive by recognizing his tears, we should understand the authentic existence of others by recognizing their painful wounds.

The brutal truth of life is that we all are wounded by pain. For some, the wounds are physical, gnawing persistently each day. For others, the wounds are emotional, causing paralysis in living. And still, for some, the wounds are spiritual, aching and longing for healing. We do not have to look too deep within ourselves or others to understand that we are all wounded at one level or another.

Yet as Christians what should our response be to being wounded? How does God want us to handle our wounds? Is there hope for the wounded? I believe with all my heart that there is a salve for our wounds. There is hope for our scars. And this hope begins with our willingness to heal the wounds of others.

Using Our Wounds To Heal The Wounds Of Others

In his brilliant book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen describes how we are able to use our wounds to heal others. He makes the profound claim that "in our own woundedness we can be a source of life for others"2 or, to put it another way, we can become "wounded healers."

Now, the question is: As Christians, where does the process of becoming a wounded healer begin? One of the great privileges of my life was being able to help serve communion with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As I stood next to him, holding the communion elements, I remember seeing his hands. They were not the soft hands you might expect of an important church dignitary; rather, they were the hands of a suffering servant of Christ. They were rough, callused, and scarred -- hands not afraid to serve the one who also possessed wounded hands.

At the service of communion, Tutu said something which I will never forget. He remarked that it is truly awesome that people can come to the foot of the cross and be overcome and saved by the love and suffering of Christ -- a love that truly died for our sins. Then Archbishop Tutu continued, "Some Christians stay at the foot of the cross and never climb up on the cross to see what Jesus sees."3 This is where being a wounded healer begins -- climbing up on the cross to see what Jesus sees and to feel what Jesus feels.

I need to warn you, however. What Jesus sees and feels on the cross is not pleasant. Isaiah 52 and 53 vividly describe the ugly and painful wounds Jesus suffers for us, reminding us of just how wounded we are. And as we hang on the cross with Christ, it does not take long to discover why he was willing to bear such wounds. Right here in front of us, right in our churches, there are some who suffer the wounds of loneliness. Right now, in our churches, there are some who suffer the wounds of depression. Right now, in our churches, there are some who suffer the wounds of misuse and abuse. Right now, in our churches, there are some who suffer the wounds of a debilitating disease. Right now, in our churches, there are some who suffer the wounds of an unforgiven past.

Your response may be, "So, what can I do for these people? I am wounded too." My response to you would be, "Exactly. That is the point. That's the reason you are prepared to help!" Each one of us has the gift of being a wounded healer because we all have the "gift of understanding." This is what being a wounded healer is all about -- being able to reach out and identify with the wounded and say, "I understand. I have been wounded too. How can I help?"

If and when you do reach out, you will find that people will eagerly receive you. I cannot tell you how many people come in to my office in tears and say to me, "I just want someone to listen to me. I just want someone to understand me. I just want someone to love me."

There is an old story about the great preacher Charles Allen. He says that, over the years, people jokingly have told him that he is the "world's greatest counselor." He explains: "Someone comes to me and I ask, 'How are you doing?' And they tell me. Then I ask, 'What do you think the problem is?' And they tell me. Then I ask, 'What do you think you ought to do about it?' And they tell me. And I say, 'Sounds good to me.' And then they say, 'Charles, you are the world's greatest counselor!' And I say, 'Ain't it the truth.' "4 Actually, it is not that glib, but it is that simple. All Allen is doing is listening with an understanding ear, an attentive ear, a safe ear, a caring ear.

Some years ago, while serving my first pastorate, I remember going to visit the home of a member whose father had just died. I sat with him for about an hour and a half as he described the wounds he was suffering. I listened closely because my father had also died recently. What I remember most about this conversation is that I did not say more than a few words to him. I listened and listened. He did most of the talking. A few months later, I ran into him at a restaurant. He gave me a big hug and said, "I will always remember your visit with me after my dad died. I cannot thank you enough." I responded, "Of course, but I did not do much." He replied, "Yes, you did. You understood."

One of the most effective ways of demonstrating the love of Christ is being present with someone in their woundedness, listening to them, and allowing them to be sure they are understood. Christ is counting on us to be his listening ears, his loving heart, and his understanding presence. The Apostle Paul put it this way: "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

When We Become Wounded Healers, We Heal Our Own Wounds

My mother has created a profound ministry by being a wounded healer. When my dad died of cancer years ago, the wounds my mother felt were indescribable. It is one thing to lose your father, but those of you who know the experience know it is quite another thing to lose your spouse. My mother was left wondering, "What do I do with these wounds of mine? Will there ever be light in the midst of this darkness? Will there ever be hope in the midst of this hopelessness? Will I ever find healing?" I believe that the Spirit of God gathered up my mother and her wounds and provided a way for healing to occur. And her healing is now a powerful ministry to those suffering from cancer. Every month for many years now, my mother has surrounded herself with people struggling with cancer and has offered through her wounds understanding, comfort, and healing. She reaches out in love as she provides an all-inclusive way to treat cancer for those who have tried everything else medical science offers. With her capable staff, she provides physical, emotional, and spiritual support. By God's grace, some of the people my mother seeks to help are able to find a quality of life in the midst of their cancer they never believed possible. But the sweetest thing about this ministry is that it is through her ministry of healing others that her own wounds have been healed.

In his novel A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway offers these profound words: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."5 This is what happened to my mother. She became strong at the broken places. And it is what happens when we become wounded healers, as well. We become strong at the broken places of our lives. Our wounds begin to heal because they are being used to give comfort and strength to others. Therefore, we can affirm, "My wounds were not the end of me. God took my wounds, my understanding, my empathy and has used them as a healing balm for the wounded." And we are able to say with the Apostle Paul, "Oh, yes, I am more than a conqueror!"

Being A Wounded Healer Means Healing The Wounds Of Christ

Some years ago, there was a very popular song sung by Bette Midler titled, "From A Distance."6 The chorus said, "God is watching us from a distance." And though the song had a great message, which spoke of God seeing our troubled world, I always had difficulty with the song theologically, for the cross does not tell me that God watches us from a distance. The cross tells me that God in Christ is right here in the midst of us, carrying the burdens of the world. God in Christ suffers with us in the midst of our woundedness. Therefore, we do not worship or follow a God who does not understand what it's like to be wounded. The message of Good Friday and, more specifically, Isaiah 52 and 53, is that we have a God who is wounded for us and who is wounded with us, making him the ultimate wounded healer. So instead of singing, "God is Watching Us," it may be better to sing the song performed by Joan Osborne, "What If God Was One Of Us?"7 For God became one of us in Jesus.

This great truth of God being one of us in Jesus clarifies the point of Christ when he says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these ... you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). In Christ, God became one of us and became wounded like the rest of us. And it is through Christ that we understand that God Almighty is intimately connected to us and is deeply impacted by the care and compassion that we attempt to give even to the least among us.

Mother Teresa was the incarnation of this profound truth. When she heard that there were people in Calcutta dying in the streets because the religious culture said they were "untouchable," she said, "Not as long as I live and can help." So she went to Calcutta, built a hospital, and went out to the streets to find those who were dying of disease and malnutrition. She would bring them to the hospital where they could be held, rocked, prayed for, and loved. Then she told them about the love of Christ. Some got better, and some died in her arms.

Why did Mother Teresa do such a thing? She saw in those who were suffering and dying something that no one cared to see. She revealed what she saw when she was asked to speak to a group about what drove her to this kind of ministry. This little, frail woman with a big, strong spirit arose to the podium and said, "What you do for them, you also do for him."8

Look around you very carefully. You will see the wounded, the sick, the lonely, the hungry, the thirsty, and the depressed. And if you are willing to reach out with your wounds to heal their wounds, you may just see the face of Christ and realize you are healing the wounds of Christ. "What you do for them, you also do for him."


1. Exact source unknown.

2. Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (New York: Doubleday, 1972), cover.

3. Spoken at a chapel service at Candler School of Theology.

4. Shared with me by Reverend Brad Dinsmore.

5. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms (New York: Scribner, 1953 [1929]), p. 239.

6. Song written by Julie Gold.

7. Song written by Eric Bazilian.

8. Story told by Dr. J. Howard Edington, Senior Minister, The First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Florida.
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