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Called to be a wounded healer

Called to be a wounded healer
Called to be a wounded healer
Dr. Wayne Willis

Before a commercial plane takes off, flight attendants go over safety rules for passengers, pointing out exits and what to do if yellow oxygen masks fall from the ceiling. “If you’re traveling with a small child,” they may say, “remember to secure your mask before assisting anyone else.” That sounds counterintuitive, contrary to our “others first” ethic, but if the parent passes out trying to help the child first, both may be unsafe.

From the Zohar, Jewish mystical literature, comes a beautiful story about caring for both ourselves and others. When Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon the prophet Elijah, he asked, “When will the Messiah come?”

Elijah replied, “Go ask him yourself. He’s sitting at the gates of the city.”

“How shall I know him?”

“He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them all up again. But the real messiah unbinds his one at a time and immediately binds that area again, say­ing to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so, I must be ready so not to delay for a moment’.”

In a real sense, all moral people are called to be wounded healers, not neglecting our own wounds while assisting with the wounds of others. It’s not an either-or, but a both-and, deal. Like the parent on the plane, I may be unable to take care of my child if I haven’t first cared for myself. That sounds like Jesus’ teaching about the greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

There’s plenty of hurt out there; there’s plenty inside of us. It’s not that they are wounded and we are not. It’s that our awareness of and attentiveness to our own woundedness can inform and enhance the help we offer others.