A Challenge for the New Year: Resolve to Be a Wounded Healer.
Why vulnerability must take the lead to bring healing to ourselves and others.
Robert L. Briggs
The deepest pain I’ve ever encountered was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, I saw the depravity of mankind up-close.
I was there shortly after The Second Congo War, the bloodiest conflict in African history, which claimed the lives of more than 5 million people and shattered the hearts of countless millions more. I walked through villages that had been burned to ashes. I watched helplessly as orphaned children searched for scraps of food. I saw mothers and fathers bury their children, wailing in grief. And I heard stories that haunt me even to this day. But in all this pain, I experienced something profound. In all the trauma of Congo, I also witnessed the power of Jesus Christ to redeem us through our pain.
The magnitude of Jesus’s healing power was shown to me through a young woman named Moambi. She shared her testimony through a translator, speaking her native Lingala. And while I could not understand her words directly, the grief in her voice as she recounted the horrors of war cut to my soul. She told me about the day her village was attacked. I won’t share the atrocious details, but she experienced violence I cannot fathom.
By God’s grace, and against all earthly odds, Moambi survived. The day I heard her story, she was sharing it as part of a therapeutic exercise. Psychologists tell us that naming your trauma helps to loosen its hold on your heart. In facing her pain, Moambi was taking her first step on a journey of healing.
Something else happens when we open up. Our vulnerability allows us to connect with other people whose hearts are burdened with grief. And in a fallen world where sin and death have ravaged every beautiful thing God has made, every one of us is navigating some level of hurt and trauma.
Although we wish we could evade this brokenness, the truth is that our weakness paradoxically can strengthen others. This is what I encountered in Moambi. She challenged me to keep life in perspective. Her words strengthened my soul to trust the God who redeems even the worst of our experiences. In the face of her pain, I felt overwhelmed—not by grief but by the radiance of a woman who had found tangible hope on the other side of pain and death.
And isn’t this the lesson Christ came to teach us?
Jesus did not shy away from suffering; He ran toward it. Isaiah prophetically calls the Messiah, “Despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV). He knew rejection and betrayal. He lamented at the death of a friend. He grieved over the injustice of the world. He prayed with such anguish in his heart that he sweat drops of blood. And ultimately, he bore in his body all the misery our world has to offer, including the unspeakable weight of our sins. Yet through his suffering, we were saved. As Isaiah puts it, “with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, ESV).
Jesus voluntarily took upon himself the role that Moambi was violently forced into—that of the wounded healer. By sharing in our suffering and walking with us through our trauma, Jesus reaches us where we are. If we are to follow Christ and pattern our ministry after His, perhaps it is time to take up the mantle of the wounded healer. Perhaps, like Christ—and like Moambi—Christian leaders ought to lead not with strength, but with powerful vulnerability.
In his transformative book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen writes:
Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?
As we enter the new year, I have made a resolution for myself—and I humbly submit it as a challenge to each of you. This year, I resolve to be a wounded healer. I resolve to lead from a place of vulnerability. I resolve to put away my pride, my ego, and any façades of strength. I resolve to listen to the pain of others and to open up about my own experiences so others might find hope in my words. I will lead more like Christ. I will become more like the brave young woman I met in a small village in war-torn Congo so many years ago—in the hopes of also being more like Jesus, our Wounded Healer. Will you join me?
This season, support the work of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, which provides resources like the Spiritual First Aid course for pastors and church leaders.
Robert L. Briggs is President and CEO of American Bible Society.