Wounded Healers

For many years I have led seminars for religious leaders who are in transition. The seminars are called Sacred Chaos, after the title of my book by the same name. The ministers who are attracted to this seminar are experiencing a great deal of turmoil in their lives—divorce, retirement, the death of a loved one, or many of the issues that one associates with mid-life transition.  It is a week-long seminar that focuses on the topics Recovering Passion, Processing Pain, and Experiencing Pilgrimage. My colleague in the leadership of these seminars is a counseling psychologist, who is also one of my good friends.

I am now in the process of writing a new book proposal, tentatively titled Leading with Heart, Mind, and Soul: Ten Marks of an Effective Minister, and co-authored with my counseling psychologist friend. The idea for this book arose from the Sacred Chaos seminars that we have led. The marks of an effective minister have their origin in learning about the ways that ministers have experienced chaos, and the negative ways that such chaos effected their ministry.

The first chapter is titled “Sharing Pain: Am I willing to share my pain with others?” What became clear to us as we worked with Sacred Chaos participants was that their ministry suffered when they tried to hide their pain from their congregations, rather than being open and honest about the pain they were experiencing. Henri Nouwen, who wrote the classic book The Wounded Healer, says, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all 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.”

A broken heart is not something to be desired; it causes terrible pain. But a broken heart also becomes a softer heart, more aware of the pain of others. If the wounds do not turn into bitterness, wounds in the heart can become a place where God works to bring about tenderness and kindness, and move us to compassion. Life is, indeed, an accumulation of scars. Healing our scars within a beloved faith community is a continuous process of growing in our ability to allow love into our injured hearts, and as a result, we become wounded healers, and more effective ministers.

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  1. Jeff Arnold | | Reply

    Thanks Jim. That’s an exceptionally strong closing paragraph. We want to be clear about the terrible pain part. Nothing romantic about getting those scars, and that is part of the challenge allowing love in.

  2. heidi bright | | Reply

    When I was hospitalized for 9 days, several chaplains came to see me. The only one I cared to talk with was an African-American gentleman in a motorized wheelchair. He was clearly a wounded healer and I valued those conversations. He reflects what you are writing about, Jim. Thanks. Sounds like a good book in the making.

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