The wounded healer

Ethiopian villageWhen I arrived in Ethiopia in 1986 the country had been impoverished by communism, famine and long-standing poverty. I was trained in community health at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and was ready to roll out a comprehensive community health program, working alongside the church. With hindsight now I can say that I was unsuccessful; all the wonderful principles and practices I had learned didn’t work in that context. It took a number of years to figure some of the reasons why. Along the way I discovered the secret of being a wounded healer.

What is a wounded healer?  Someone who does not provide all the answers. Someone who has been humbled by his own limitations. Someone who has discovered that his own cultural perspective has blinded him from seeing the people as God sees them. Someone who finally figures out that it is not all about ‘me’ (and my programs) but rather about Christ. Someone who recognizes that his own healing is still a work in progress.

Eventually this community and church was transformed. The seeds that were planted did grow, but after we were gone. But the healer had learned a vital life-lesson. As Christian servants we cannot divorce what God does through us from what God does in us.

Paul expressed a very similar idea when he said “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction,so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation…” 2 Corinthians 1:4-5.

The healer must embrace his or her own wounded condition. As we ourselves admit our own loneliness, isolation and brokenness we are set to receive the comfort available to us through Christ. He can use this comfort to help others in their suffering. As healers we are on a journey of woundedness and comfort, which is our primary qualification to extend healing to others who are broken.

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Doctor, epidemiologist, husband, father, Christian missionary physician

3 thoughts on “The wounded healer”

    1. Yes, and he especially is helpful in pointing out our disconnection, our loneliness. He sees that as a symptom of our culture. I agree with him, although I thought Paul actually stated things more concisely. I had a debate in myself whether to quote Paul or Henry Nouwen!


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