It’s not late, depending on who you are. 11:30pm used be quite early for me. Now I have kids; and even when it isn’t the cries of my children keeping me awake, their well being and care still does. I admit that I’m not merely awake because of something as noble as parental concern but indigestion is a player in this show as well. I get this way.
I don’t know if my mind ever really turns off. There are days, and even weeks, when I will go to bed with a head full of things and wake up in the same condition. Things to figure out, things to do, things to understand, things to remember, etc… It’s not that I mind it, but I look at my dogs and wonder just how peaceful it is in their heads, no mortgage, no job, no real responsibility, just the occasional siren in the distance to howl at.
My heart has a tendency to stay heavy. I tend to obsess over things that I’ve done wrong. There is no categorizing at the end of the day for me, I am equal opportunity when it comes to taking the whip to my own back for failures and flubs throughout the day. I sometimes think that I am so drawn to books about grace and mercy and the love of God not so much because I want to understand it more, but because I want to believe it. I’m not even sure if you can forget how to believe, but that’s what it feels like at times. I have to admit the idea that Jesus could look at me lovingly sometimes is not only hard to fathom, but hard to bear. I want to stuff God’s love full of Greek words and academic minutia and I’m fairly certain that most of the time He doesn’t care about any of that, He just looks for an opportunity to embrace me.
A shaky faith. A nomadic mind. An angry digestion. A saturated heart. These things keep me awake.
Henri Nouwen’s book, “The Wounded Healer”, has been a companion for the last ten days (give or take), and there is much to be said about it. One of the more moving sections I’ve read in it deals with how the life of a leader, or minister, is shaped not necessarily by his mastery of how to fix problems, but by his ability to use those fractured places within to make compassion, sympathy, and empathy vital aspects of bringing healing to another’s life. Hiding the “humanity” in us is a sure way to risk sounding petty in the face of other people’s problems. We have a hard time believing that we can be used to help heal someone when we are not whole yet ourselves, but there is a popular Biblical text that brazenly affirms, at least, this principle: “but He was wounded for our trangressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” It was the brokenness of Christ that made healing possible for us. Could it be that this is true for those of us that are His followers?
So tonight I offer a prayer for those who are still awake, for whatever reason, and a shoulder to lean on because I know what it feels like. I walk not in completion, but toward it. I don’t always walk by faith, sometimes I walk by doubt…and if i’ve learned anything it’s that the real danger is not doubt but stopping. I pray not as one that sees problems in the rear view mirror, but finds them in the telescope, microscope, and stethoscope. I pray not as one that always feels well, but as a man in the throws of copious amounts of butter in the macaroni, and too much caffeine and sugar in the tea. Tonight we are not alone. We are united as head worriers, heart doubters, part-time saints, and antacid cowboys. More than that we are united as those loved by God, being healed by His love, in the process of having our eyes opened by His mercy, and trusting that our bodies will be healed by His hands.
The tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgivin embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or ever a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministeres distant people who do not want to burn their fingers.
After so much stress has been laid on the necessity of leaders preventing their own personal feelings and attitudes from interfering in a helping relationship, it seems necessary to re-establish the basic principle that none of us can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with our whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded, or even destroyed in the process.
The beginning and end of all Christian leadership is to give your life for others.
– Henri Nouwen, “The Wounded Healer”