The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen
“The tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministers distant men who do not want to burn their fingers.”
For me this line captured in a very simple yet profound manner the main objective of Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer. This line is packed with immense challenge and implication about our ministry as Christians. It is, indeed, sad to see this tragedy as an ongoing reality in today’s pragmatic world where the essence of ministry is shaped gradually to feed one’s own self-centeredness and egoistic desires. What do I mean by this, Nouwen puts it clearly in Chapter 1 that our human existence faces an impending “explosion of death” as “nuclear man” continues to become unaware of his potential for self-destruction. I found this imagery very powerful and profound.
With the use of some scientific terms, I tried to explore Nouwen’s use of this “nuclear man” imagery. In nuclear physics, a nuclear reaction is the process in which two nuclei or nuclear particles collide to produce products different from the initial particles. A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. A nuclear explosion occurs as a result of the rapid release of energy from an intentionally high-speed nuclear reaction.
Connecting this scientific explanation with the imagery, I realized that the potential self-destruction can happen in a nuclear man when he is not aware of his own dynamics and limitations. These dynamics and limitations pertain to what Nouwen called as: (1) nuclear man’s lack of a sense of continuity/history where he only values the here and now and where he is paralyzed, bored and feel the sense of apathy; (2) nuclear man’s lack of a well-grounded believe in truth where he only lives by the hour as a post-modern pragmatic man who gets a piece of anything from everything; and (3) nuclear man’s lack of a sense of “what is to come” where he has the difficulty to go beyond his own existential limitations.
Nouwen explores deeper this dynamic in Chapter 2 by presenting us with the generation which he coined as “rootless”. This rootless generation pertains to the self-centeredness, captivity towards one’s self, and deep seated unhappiness, lack of vision and perspective. Where do we go from here? The imageries of the nuclear man and the rootless generation are like doors that lead us deeper to understand the real meaning and implications of being a Christian minister. What I was getting from Nouwen is the sense that to be a minister who is not grounded and lacks awareness of these given realities is to be another nuclear man who, instead of bringing genuine service and ministry to others, brings worse [a potential destruction to others]. For me, this is the tragedy that Nouwen talks about in our Christian ministry. Again, this is tragic because instead of helping our brothers and sisters to be healed, we are bringing a more fatal reaction to their system. Thus, in a deeper sense, we just trashing the very essence of ministry that Christ himself taught us [which is, in a blunt way, a direct insult to the person of Jesus]. Is there any other tragedy worse than not giving justice to Christ’s profound gift of ministry expressed in his life and love on the Cross?
Nouwen helped me in a very profound way to understand that my work as a future minister in Christ’s Church is truly serious and demands full submission to the working of the Holy Spirit. I loved Nouwen’s insight about how a minister can actually reverse the possible explosion or self-destruction through the awareness that our own woundedness as ministers. It is only in recognizing my own woundedness as a minister that I can truly start a genuine ministry to others. My own woundedness will help me to become aware and fully connected in every nuclear man’s need for healing and liberation and for all who belongs to this rootless generations that need someone who can articulate well their own inner events, a compassionate brother to them, and who touches them genuinely at their darkest hour. A minister who is aware of his own woundedness does not have the compulsion to redeem everyone nor save those to whom he ministers; rather, he allows Christ to be revealed in his ministry and make everyone known that they are already saved once and for all by Christ himself. Only through, my own woundedness as a leader that I can really enter other’s woundedness and that in my own needs and limitations I can allow true healing to enter in my life and in others. In the wounds of Christ that we are all saved and liberated, thus in our own woundedness that we can fully share the joy and gift of Christian ministry.