Monday, August 8, 2011



The Wounded Healer
Henri J.M. Nouwen
New York:Image, 1972.
100 pp.

The Wounded Healer, by the Dutch priest Henri Nouwen (1932-1996), has been a great source of inspiration for me in the ministry of Restoration and Encouragement.

This slim book is for all believers who desire to minister to the body of Christ, “but who find the familiar ways crumbling and themselves stripped of their traditional protections.” (from the introduction)

The front cover reads “In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.” This almost appears to be a contradiction in terms. Woundedness and life don't seem to fit in the same sentence in a positive way. But Nouwen shows otherwise throughout the book.

...the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service...his service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks...nothing can be written about ministry without a deeper understanding of the ways in which the minister can make his own wounds available as a source of healing.(p.xvi)

The body of Christ has had so many wounds inflicted on them in one way or another, and through these wounds we can be a source of strength to our brothers and sisters in the faith. Our suffering and wounds have a purpose in them. As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

Just as we have a share in Christ's many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God's great help. If we suffer, it is for your help and salvation; if we are helped, then you too are helped and given the strength to endure with patience the same sufferings that we also endure. So our hope in you is never shaken; we know that just as you share in our sufferings, you also share in the help we receive.
2 Corinthians 1:5-7

Nouwen writes:

But what are our wounds? They may have been spoken about in many ways by many voices. Words such as "alienation," "separation," "isolation," and "loneliness" have been used as the names of are wounded condition. Maybe the word loneliness best expresses our immediate experience and therefore most fittingly enables us to understand our brokenness.(p.83)

Walking with Lord for so many years, I have come to see that you can't take someone somewhere unless you have been there yourself. It would be of no help to you if I tried to soothe your wounds if I have no wounds of my own. Nouwen makes this very clear, “Who can take away suffering without entering it? The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there...we have forgotten that no God can save us except a suffering God, and that no man can lead his people except the man who is crushed by its sins.”(p.72-73)

As a pastor of restoration and encouragement, I like what Nouwen says about the one who desires to show compassion to the wounded (Compassion a title of one of his many books), that person must "not be'up there' far away or secretly hidden from people, but in the midst of his people, with the utmost visibility."(p.40) (Which is where the Lord ministered). This brought to mind the saying that shepherds need to smell like sheep. Mingling with them, rejoicing with those that rejoice, laughing with those filled with joy, and crying with those who are grieving.

Compassion is something that all who desire to restore, encourage, and minister must possess if we truly want to help people. Compassion is a virtue that, for the most part, is missing in the body of Christ. To have compassion is to be Christ-like.

One cannot help but be moved by Nouwen's writings. They will have an effect on you that will inspire you to be more like Jesus, ministering in love and compassion, not ashamed of your wounds, but using them as instruments of healing.

For more about Henri Nouwen and his ministry and books visit

1 comment:

  1. This is a concept that I have always believed. A perfect example is the drug and alcohol counselor who never suffered the addiction. Where would the compassion be unless they are 'wounded' by the addiction and are recovering along with the addict? I have always related more so to the Pastor who has truly suffered in some way, can have compassion for my suffering and show me how to walk with Jesus.