Henri Nouwen talks about the process of healing and how true healing will be a suffering search. This process will result in the shedding of many tears. This search is not as glamorous as many seem to make healing out to be.
This journey of “healing” has been one I began two years ago, but there is still so much more in my heart that needs to be restored. It’s honestly frustrating to see that I see many mountains and boulders still ahead of me. I’ve come up with a theory… many theories, actually… as to why this process of healing is not over just yet. When I see another area of my wounded heart uncovered, I am quick to put on my thinking cap and ask all the right questions so that I can come to the quickest conclusion for my pains. I’m a thinker. I overthink every situation to the point where you could say I’ve picked it entirely apart. I’ve found that I’ve begun a sentence with, “I’ve been thinking a lot and…” many more times than I was aware of. Thinking is a means of trying to understand my wounds because in a way understanding ourselves, our hurts, our deepest pains and griefs brings us a sense of comfort. In understanding our pains its a sort of defense mechanism because we think, next time I will try to avoid this situation that lead to this wound.
Nouwen, however, states that “The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them.” This struck me because I am actually the very opposite… I am one who prefers to talk about my emotions, to analyze and pick apart each bit of the situation triggering my pains so that I can find some rest and assurance in having come up with a concrete answer. Nouwen states that “In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source.” Why not?! This has been my method to cope my whole life. You see, I found so much safety in being able to explain what was going on, that the thought of simply learning to be present in the midst of all my emotions was so uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I was also one who grew up learning to stuff down my emotions, thinking this was the healthier way to cope with emotions rather than letting myself explode and let my emotions fly out everywhere. I thought that in containing myself, which I see was an aspect of control, I would be better able to cope with the situations…sober-mindedly.
Nouwen goes on to say that “You have to let go of the need to stay in control of your pain and trust in the healing power of your heart.” Literally any reservation I might have had with letting myself fully just feel was addressed in this one page, double-sided chapter in this itty bitty book. Nouwen states that this surrender of control and the questions of why? how? and by whom? need to released. Instead, he states that for us to truly see healing come about for our wounds, we must let ourselves enter into truly feeling our emotions. Because it is here, when we let our wounds go down into the heart, that we not only live them through but we discover that these wounds actually are not the death of us. I think we live in a culture that is all about prevention. Doing things to prepare ourselves so that we don’t have to ever come to that place of brokenness or crisis. However, there is a drawback to this. It prevents people from seeing the resiliency, strength and capacity we actually have. However, trying to enter into the brokenness and face the full wave of pain and woundedness is terrifying because there is uncertainty and a risk that is beyond our comfort zone.
Your heart is greater than your wounds.
But I am realizing that it is when we come face to face with our pains, our sorrows, our woundedness that we actually see that our heart is greater than what tries to bring us down. God is the one who has fashioned and formed our hearts, and as the architect He is not one to make a flimsy structure. He has built our hearts to withstand great pressures and as our foundation He ensures that we are not so easily shaken and washed away by the heavy storms.
Nouwen states that in living through our emotions, this is the soil where our hurts can find a safe place to be received, and once they have been received, they lose their power to inflict damage, thus becoming fruitful soil for new life. There is seriously so much packed into this one sentence.
First, I see that I must embrace the wounded parts of my heart, of my spirit, of my being. In fearing the ugliness of brokenness, I cannot reject the truest and rawest parts of myself because if I don’t even fully receive my tattered heart, how can I expect another to? It is also in the embracing of ourselves that we are able to come, completely honest and vulnerable before God, extending our hearts to Him and asking Him to come in.
Second, is the notion when we embrace our hurts and pains, fully and wholly, the sting and power to damage us is lost. When we let ourselves fully feel the pain, we diminish the stronghold of the Enemy. When we own the brokenness, we are no longer threatened by it and we are no longer living in fear of it being unveiled. In embracing our wounds, we are acknowledging a part of ourselves that simply desires to be validated. I think the greatest desire of our wounded self is simply to be told, You are seen, known and loved. It is seeking validation. When our most unlovable self is simply embraced in love, we see that 90% of the healing has already taken place. We are so quick to reject our wounds thinking they are not favorable in the eyes of man and so when someone receives us, fully, we see an aspect of our heart being made whole in that moment.
And third, our places of hurt, brokenness and woundedness actually becomes the place from which we heal and mend the hearts of others. Henri Nouwen calls this the Wounded Healer. It is when we embrace and fully receive our woundedness that healing is able to be walked out. And as we walk out in healing, we are able to reach out to others, extending His grace and love. It is as a wounded healer where we give ourselves to others and invite others to find safety in our scars. It is a reflection of Christ where “By his stripes, we are healed” (Is 53:5). Christ was beaten, bruised, crushed and crucified so that He could become our empathetic High Priest, who knows the suffering that we go through because He, himself, went through the hardships in this life. He is someone who ministers to a deeper part of our heart because He is truly able to empathize with us as He has walked the road before us. This is what it means to be a Wounded Healer. It is through our wounds and our places of pain that we are able to invite others into greater healing. Our breakthroughs are actually the breakthroughs of others as well.
If we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, I believe it is not until we understand this process of embracing our pains and wounds, that we can be the most yielded vessels for Christ.
words by Grace Chun and photo by Arianna Taralson