This morning, I listened to a sermon about not letting our pain be wasted. The message explored how sometimes we have hardships in life that bring opportunities for God to be glorified in our suffering. Usually, my husband and I sit in the 3rd row of the large sanctuary, and I am laser focused on the message. Today, we ended up in the back row, and while I listened to the message, I watched community unfold in the row before me.
The woman in front of me pulled a BC powder from her bag, and I watched her struggle with the lid to her unopened diet Coke. Must be arthritis, I thought. It quickly became clear that she while she struggled with her drink in that moment, she struggled with Parkinson’s Disease from moment to moment, day to day.
As the minister spoke about points of pain in our lives, I grappled with how I might tactfully offer assistance to this woman, who clearly needed to take the medicine. Before I made a move, she leaned across a chair to a total stranger, and quietly asked the man to unscrew the lid on her bottle of Coke. He did, and in return, grinned and whispered that he recently had work done on his knees and was still recovering from it. He had limits in life, too. She encouraged him; he met her in her own moment of weakness.
I call that Church.
Henri Nouwen would call that sort of sharing of pain ministry, as well. In his classic The Wounded Healer, Nouwen explores how those who have suffered pain are in turn most equipped to help others heal.
“No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people. Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely in this guidance that the first signs of hope become visible. This is so because a shared pain is no longer paralyzing but mobilizing, when understood as a way to liberation,” says Nouwen.
Big Idea: Shared pain moves us forward. Shared pain is the first step toward freedom.
I understand what Nouwen means when he suggests that there is power in sharing our pain. In ministry life, I’ve often felt God ask me to talk about personal heartaches or a difficult time from the pulpit. It’s hard to go there sometimes. Perhaps this is the kind of ministry Paul had in mind when he referred to being “poured out like a drink offering.” (Phil 2:17) Sometimes, I’d rather just stay in the bottle. Being poured out gets messy, I would tell Paul.
Yet, I’ve seen it repeatedly. As I am vulnerable and share my own struggles and hurts, others meet me there. Quiet pain is lonely and isolating. Courageous sharing brings liberation and relief. And I am on the journey to becoming a wounded healer.