Those Wounds That Keep on Wounding

It’s a painful reality, frequently denied. Spiritual leaders avoid it; self-help books would rather serve up pablum. It’s similar to how we treat the aged in our culture. We shunt in away, glossing it over with cultural addictions to youth, beauty, and prosperity. We present our best faces on social media, like rouge on the cheeks of a caretaker’s subject.

It is this. Some wounds never heal. Certain emotional and psychic events leave lesions that reopen in both our waking and sleeping hours. I know this from my personal life, but also through connections with those I counseled throughout my career. Here are a few examples.

The Death of a Loved One. How many of us have experienced the loss of someone who was inextricably bound into our lives? Their absence is like a phantom limb, our jangling nerves reaching out for an unconsummated union. It may be the loss of a friend, a spouse, another family member, or (God forbid) a child. It is especially acute when the death is sudden through rapid disease, an accident, or especially suicide. Elizabeth Berrien, founder of Soul Widows, says, “We never truly get over a loss, but we can move forward and evolve from it.”

Trauma. It pains me to remember people I’ve walked alongside who experienced trauma, many of them in childhood. The causes are many: verbal, physical or sexual abuse; neglect; bullying; racism or discrimination. These experiences cast lifelong shadows, a form of PTSD that undermines our lives with multiple symptoms. Even after regimens of counseling, we find we cannot erase that radioactive source completely. As novelist Laurell Kaye Hamilton says, “There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”

Betrayal.  Betrayal cuts us to the bone. Too often we cope by becoming emotionally reclusive, fooling ourselves that we are better off alone. These treacheries may convince us that we are not worthy of love and affirmation. We doubt the very core of our divine identities.

Some of us exacerbate our culture’s denial. When we encounter suffering people, we fan the pain through vacuous platitudes. Everything happens for a reason. Look on the positive side. Things will be better tomorrow. Be grateful for what you do have. During my decades of ministry, I trained caregivers to always avoid easy answers. Be a loving presence instead, even if it means total silence.

Is there hope, or is this post just an invitation to depression?

I have a guarded answer. Yes, there is hope, but I don’t believe we can base it on eradicating our pain. Rather, we find it as these wounds become sources of strength, leading us to engage the world in powerful new ways.

One of my heroes is Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest, writer, professor, and theologian who died in 1996. His book The Wounded Healer became a touchstone for my life, and I often quoted his words to others,

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Imbedded in Nouwen’s wisdom are three truths that help us forge new strength from these wounds that keep on wounding.

  • Acceptance. There’s no shame in admitting that some pains won’t disappear. We are not inferior because we haven’t found spiritual disciplines to completely erase our grief, to “let go and let God” as the simplistic motto advises.
  • Vulnerability. Learning to share our pain with others is healing. However, we need to be discerning in how we choose our confidants.  It is most beneficial with those who reciprocate by opening their own lives, allowing us to share our common humanity. We then need to respect this mutual transmission, emptying ourselves to be present for them the same way they are present for us. Avoiding self-absorption is critical.
  • Service. Helping others who are hurting can lessen the sting of our injuries. It’s no wonder that those suffering from addiction hear the admonition to serve others as the Twelfth Step of their recovery process. Some people have founded entire movements from the wells of their personal trauma, leading them to missions with wide-ranging impact.

If you have read my words to this point, I have something I want to say to you. I love you, even with all your wounds, and even though we may never meet. I pray that you will turn your wounds into new sources of strength and inspiration. I hope that you will become a wounded healer in this world where so many people are crying out for compassion.

4 thoughts on “Those Wounds That Keep on Wounding

  1. Pingback: Those Wounds That Keep on Wounding — Reflections on the Journey | just drive, will you?

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