Spiritual Formation for Wounded Healers – Part 1
“my grace is sufficient for thee, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
One way to describe our society today is harmed, alarmed, and armed. People and whole communities have experienced significant levels of trauma. We are harmed. There is a strong culture of dishonesty, suspicion, and mistrust. This makes people anxious, on edge, and reactionary. We are alarmed. In the US we have by far the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. Have we lost even an imagination for a society where “guns and freedom” are not synonymous? To date in 2022, we have had over 250 mass shootings (defined as gun violence that results in two or more fatalities). There have been thirty-eight more shootings since Uvalde on May 24, 2022. We are the most armed group of human beings in history.
Extended exposure to chronic or extreme mental or physical stress ultimately becomes trauma. We are living through a series of unfolding crises that are causing individual and collective harm on a massive scale. These overlapping crises include: a global pandemic, systemic racism, climate change, political extremism, rising mental illness, an overdose epidemic, the proliferation of mass shootings, and the disintegration of genuine Christianity. I could add more to this list.
Unresolved trauma is carried in our bodies, communities, and societal systems. If it goes unresolved it spills out in patterns of harm and is passed on intergenerationally. As we say in the recovery fellowships, “hurt people hurt people.”
No one makes it through life unwounded. Every single one of us has been harmed, emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. Some experience horrific levels of abuse that are completely debilitating. While there are varying degrees of trauma, every person has in some way been traumatized.
All wounds are not created equal, but all people are equally wounded.
Every person, organization, or community possesses a wound, a weakness, or a wicked problem.
If people can go through a process of healing, they often discover that their greatest wounds and challenges can become their most powerful assets. This is true at both an individual and organizational level.
One of the spiritual writers in the Judeo-Christian tradition was experiencing an unresolved wound he called “a thorn in the flesh.” Paul the Apostle (5 AD – approximately 67 AD), one of the most influential figures in history, describes the ongoing struggle with this wound. In the midst of his battle, Paul believed he heard Jesus speak directly to him these words…
“my grace is sufficient for thee, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I believe this is a universal truth with transformative potential for all people. Paul was a wounded person, but he found healing, and began to give that healing away to others. He went from being a “hurt person hurting people” to a “wounded healer healing people.” We live in a world obsessed with “Strength Finders” and “Gift Inventories.” We measure ourselves by our most exceptional traits, and we celebrate the heroes who use their superior strengths to attain epic levels of success. But what if we have that upside down?
If God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, then our wounds become our superpowers.
I call this empowered weakness … the capacity to allow God’s power to made perfect in our weakness.
It requires us to have the humility to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we all have significant wounds, challenges, and dark sides. These struggles are beyond human aid. We cannot “fix ourselves” this is the futility of “self-help” programs. These wounds require a relationship with a higher power in a community that can heal us and empower us for a new kind of life. We need a culture of honest, authentic, and kind people who lead with integrity. We need an understanding of character that includes how it is formed in the crucible of struggle.
Empowered weakness can help us create communities that are accessible, safe, and real. Communities where people can become wounded healers. More on that later in the series!
I wrote a book about my own journey from convict, addict, and drug-dealer to Jesus-following pastor and professor titled, Painting with Ashes: When Your Weakness Becomes Your Superpower. Within it I also documented some of the many people who turned their wounds, disabilities, and struggles into their greatest strength. The book was my attempt at providing a tool to resource people in this transformative work. This blog series is meant to be read in conversation with that book, if you haven’t picked up a copy, grab it here!
This series will try to take the core ideas of the book and formulate a response to a recuring question asked by individuals and groups:
How might a person or group practically apply the principles in the book to our daily lives?
Or to state it a different way, in a society that is harmed, alarmed, and armed, is there a framework or tools to help people make the journey from wounded harmers to wounded healers?
I don’t believe there are “quick fix formulas” or “seven easy steps to a better life” that can facilitate this kind of journey. And it is a journey—one that will never be completed in this life. Yet there are some spiritual principles, embodied by a host of diverse persons across the ages, that can be a guide on that journey.
One of them is Fred Rogers. In the ashes of 9/11, Mister Rogers said, “No matter what our particular job, especially in our world today, we all are called to be ‘tikkun olam,’ repairers of creation.’” “Tikkun olam” is a Hebrew concept that refers to actions taken to improve society, including caring for others. In a society that is harmed, alarmed, and armed, we need people who can be “repairers of the breach.” We need wounded healers. Is there a kind of spiritual formation that can help us become that?
Henri Nouwen thought so. In his best-known work, The Wounded Healer he wrote, “For the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his own time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service.” This is true of ministers, for sure. But it is also true of every single human being ever created no matter what our job or vocation is. It is partly our wounded condition that binds us together in a common humanity.
When we can see that in ourselves and others, we can embrace a posture of ubuntu. A simple way to understand ubuntu is by the phrase “a person is a person through other persons.” One person’s humanity is inextricably linked in a bundle of life with all others. Thus, to understand our story, we need to understand the larger story that we are a part of. We also need to understand that our story is a single strand of a much larger tapestry of creation. We are who we are through others, and we need to be in relationship with those others in a way that brings healing to us all.
Healthy people are the single unit of a healthy society. While we usually define health as physical or medical, health includes every system of life. The Christian tradition uses the term salvation to describe this wholeness. The typical meaning of salvation may be too narrow. A wider definition draws from the Hebrew word shalom—well-being, universal flourishing. Salvation deals with the identity or destiny of a person, but it also is concerned with safety and food and economy and relationships.
This kind of soul formation moves people to reach out in love. It ultimately enables us to embody what Gandhi called Satyagraha, which can mean “soul force”, “truth force”, and “love force.” It enables us to respond to hate with love and accept hardships as the pathway to peace. Thus, it may lead us to take up justice-oriented actions like non-violent resistance, public witness, volunteering, or working to change harmful policies and legislation. Wounded healers give themselves to some wicked problem that plagues society.
Spiritual formation that can help people move along on the journey towards becoming wounded healers, can restore lives, communities, and even a nation. In this series I will lay out a practical framework that leads us through four moves: loss, surrender, restoration, and flourishing.
I hope this series will help us become helpers, “repairers of the breach,” and create little pockets of healing, in ourselves, and in our communities, in a world that is harmed, alarmed, and armed.
Here’s some next steps:
- Check out the resource bundle for helpful tools: Painting with Ashes Resource Bundle · Invite Resources
- Join the book community here: (8) Michael Adam Beck – Book Community | Facebook
- Stay tuned for the next post!
 2 Corinthians 12:9
 Romans 5:3-4.
 Henri J. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1990), xvi.
 Romans 3:23.