The Wounded Healer: Embracing Your Brokenness
PASTOR TO PASTOR
by Allen Kleine Deters, Pastor Care Coordinator
Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains, but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition that we all share. ~ Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer.
Pastors come into ministry for different reasons. I know. I know, of course, we all come into it out of a calling by God, or at least of sorts. I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek because people go into the pastorate for a variety of reasons and not all because of a calling.
Some of you reading that statement may reel a little thinking, that cannot be! But it is true. I have met numerous pastors who found themselves in ministry to fulfil their own core longings for validation, belonging, a sense of worth and, even a family heritage of a long line of pastors. Now, that is not to say that a calling by God was not a part of that picture, but at the same time, “calling” may not have been the original motivator.
When I first came to know Christ personally, I was in my grade 12 year and was coming from a very rebellious, promiscuous, drug and alcohol ridden four years. I remember the shattering encounter with God and felt such freedom from my bondage and strongholds. I immediately believed being so committed to Jesus I needed to be a missionary in some foreign land. I thought I could use my farming ability and knowledge to go help people in developing countries become sustainable farmers and I’d get to share Jesus’ love and gospel at the same time. I headed to Bible college in Michigan. It was there I discovered that while I had gifts that could be used on the foreign mission field, they would probably be more suited for ministry at home, particularly youth ministry. It made sense to me and so I pursued that and my passion grew.
God answered my prayers and I eventually became a youth pastor and served a few churches over seventeen years. Part of that time I was also co-planting a church with another pastor. We moved the family from Alberta to Colorado to make that happen. I believe 100% it was God’s calling. I know it was. I felt the nudges and pull of the Holy Spirit and received the affirmation of the community to feel confident in moving forward. People were coming to know Jesus and some pretty amazing kingdom work was happening.
Ministry was no walk in the park, however. Throughout my ministry career, I encountered difficulties and even frustrations I thought would never happen. There were times I was running off my power and pretending it was God’s power. I even encountered some real trauma through conflicts during my ministry career. What I didn’t realize was how they had affected me. What I also didn’t realize was how my past played a role in my responses. Some of my coping was not healthy by any means. And in my guilt — although unrecognized — I was becoming numb in my relationship with God. I wasn’t hearing much from God, nor was I listening or spending a lot of time with him.
I was not opposed to counselling by any means. And when another trauma hit, when we decided to close the second church plant, I crashed. I burned out and for two weeks I was in a daze, grieving profusely and in a deep depression. I headed to counselling. I had been in counselling before when we were married just five years and I was struggling with anger. Some things from my childhood surfaced then, but somehow I hadn’t pursued the healing necessary although I got my anger in check. Now, a whole lot began to surface and I started confronting these things head-on.
My mentor at the time told me to cling to Jesus and go deep. He got me reading Henri Nouwen and Watchman Nee. These writers helped direct me toward a more honest and raw path with God. At times the Holy Spirit exposed me in a way I did not want to be. I was confronted with my false self and I didn’t like what I saw. Nonetheless, it was a very healing journey that led me to seminary to finally get my MDiv. I kept pursuing a deeper more contemplative relationship with God. I had some more counselling and found more healing and long times of solitude and silence with the Holy Spirit. It became less difficult to deal with the traumas I had faced over the years. I was on a journey with still a long way to go. I’m still on that journey.
I had to confront some things about myself I didn’t like. One major stronghold in my life was people-pleasing deeply rooted in a past where I never felt I was good enough through family dynamics and the bullying I had endured. I would lead and preach, engage with people in a way that they would like me, and I was good at it. Of course, people-pleasing can be codependence and is an issue of identity. As I became more solid in my identity in Jesus, I felt less and less the need to be liked by others. I cared less about what they thought of me. Even as a performer — I’m a musician — I don’t really care what the audience thinks anymore. I just enjoy playing music. Hey, if they invite me back, I guess they liked the music.
What has echoed with me these many years on this emotional, mental health, and spiritual journey are the words from Henri Nouwen, “Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains, but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition that we all share.”
I am reminded that we “all sin and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23, that I am no different than any other human being. I bring the healthy and unhealthy in me to the work God calls me to. It is okay to admit and address it. In fact, it is necessary.
Peter Scazzero rightly points out that the health of a church begins with the emotional/mental and spiritual health of the leadership. “The key to successful spiritual leadership has much more to do with the leader’s internal life than with the leader’s expertise, gifts, or experience.” (The Emotionally Healthy Church p.20). When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves pastors have often taken it to mean, “dying to self-care, to feelings of sadness, to anger, to grief, to doubt, to struggles, to our healthy dreams and desires, and to passions we had enjoyed…” p.22.
I will say this, and you will read it often, faith and mental health are NOT mutually exclusive. They are INDEPENDENT of one another. You can be a person of deep faith and still struggle with your mental health. (Borrowed from Dr. Danjuma Gibson, Professor of Pastoral Care, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan)
I’m also reminded of Jesus’ calling, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. And, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6
Some of you have been limping along for years in ministry neglecting the healing you so desperately need; a past you need to confront, trauma unexamined, mental health in shambles.
I encourage you to hinder the journey no longer. Today is the day. Talk to someone. Find a confidant, a spiritual director, counsellor — all support necessary. For the sake of faithfulness to the call God has given, for your mental and spiritual health, seek healing. Your family and congregation will thank you for it and God will be glorified through you. It’s okay to recognize that you are a wounded healer as are we all.
Allen Kleine Deters is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church denomination and has served in various full-time ministry positions for 34 years. He is now serving with
Agora Network Ministries as the Pastor Care Coordinator supporting pastors and churches in support of their pastors. Allen serves as the host of Pastor to Pastor, a radio program on Hope for the Agora heard on the last Friday of the month on Praise FM, Cape Breton.