Jun 10

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 2

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When I was about 10 years old, I was playing with a group of neighborhood kids one summer afternoon when Billy did something I didn’t really appreciate.  I have no memory of his sin against me, but I surely do remember my sin against him. I


When I was about 10 years old, I was playing with a group of neighborhood kids one summer afternoon when Billy did something I didn’t really appreciate.  I have no memory of his sin against me, but I surely do remember my sin against him. I whipped a heavy rope at him which left a large red welt on his cheek. He ran home in tears. Somehow my mother learned of the incident and angrily called me home. She met me on the front steps and said that I couldn’t come in the house until I apologized to Billy.

I said that I couldn’t apologize because I wasn’t sorry; he deserved it! Of course that made her even angrier. She went inside and locked the door. Now, my mother and I had many battles of will before then (and many after), so she should have anticipated what would happen. I stayed on the front porch until dark (about 4 hours), until she finally let me in. I never did apologize.

Forgiveness was not part of my lifestyle as a child. Actually it was not part of my family’s life style.  And, I am chagrined to admit, it has only been in the last half of my life that I have really begun to understand and practice the discipline of forgiveness.

Richard Rohr says, “God fully forgives us, but the ‘karma’ of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds that we have broken.  Otherwise others will not be able to forgive us, will remain stuck, and we will both remain a wounded world. . . . Our family, friends and enemies are not as kind or patient as God.  They need a clear accounting to be free and go ahead with their lives.” (Adapted from Eucharist as Touchstone, CD, MP3 download). This was surely true for Billy and me; we never did play together or even speak to each other again.

Rohr continues:  “Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; all must be reconciled and accounted for. All healers are wounded healers, as Henri Nouwen said so well. There is no other kind. In fact, you are often most gifted to heal others precisely where you yourselves were wounded, or wounded others . . . . You learn to salve the wounds of others by knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 69). 

So all healers are wounded, but not all those who are wounded are healers. Healing is something God orchestrates, but we must join the orchestra. Emotional healing does not happen by osmosis, it is an intentional step forward. It requires a shift in thinking and a willingness to forgive. If Christians want to remain stuck in their woundedness, they will harm rather than help others.

My own journey with forgiveness began when a counselor told me that I had to forgive my mother for our life-long bitter and unloving relationship or my anger would destroy me.  I did not want to forgive my mother. But I learned that my wants and feelings had nothing to do with forgiving. One day I sat on my bed and berated God. “If you want me to forgive her, you’ll have to do it.” Little did I understand how theologically correct my ultimatum was. I had to be willing, but God had to do the work. My process of becoming a wounded healer, instead of a wounded daughter, was beginning.

My relationship with my mother did not change. It was toxic; I needed to stay away. But gradually my anger dribbled away. Many years later, my mother struggled with several health issues. My sister was the only one of five siblings who lived near enough to help. After a few years of being totally responsible for mother’s care, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. God nudged me, and I knew I was being called to go home and help. God worked out all the details of the move – a job transfer, a way to handle housing, the change of heart my husband had about moving. And so we moved.

I helped where I could.  And gradually as mother slid away into dementia I learned to leave the past behind and act in a loving way. And then, one day, I was with my mother in her living room as I had been hundreds of times before, listening to her complaints as I had hundreds of time before. She asked me a question, and I turned to look at her.  And suddenly I saw a lonely and fearful elderly woman, small, bent over, and suffering immense emotional pain – as she had for dozens of years. I felt forgiveness and love. What started in my bedroom twenty years earlier was completed in her living room.

The process of becoming a wounded healer is described in this beautiful passage as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation,

working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life

brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jeru-

salem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the

dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive

all their  rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory

for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for

her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her (Jeremiah 33:5-7).

If we let him, God will renovate our hearts, working a true healing. We will be blessed, restored, scrubbed clean, and forgiven for our wrongs and rebellions.  Our lives will be centers of joy and praise and glory for all around us. People will be in awe of what God is doing in us.  We will become  wounded healers.

MULLING IT OVER:  Do know a “wounded healer?”  What does that person bring to your life?  Do you know a wounded person who is still drowning in the hurt and pain?  What do they bring to your life? Are you are a wounded healer? Or are you one of the hurt people who hurt people?  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see who you really are.


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Jun 04

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 1

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“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,  so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give


“Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

Psalm 30: 5b; 11-12 (NRSV)

What does the word broken call to your mind?  Plates, mirrors, and windows?  Promises?  A world record? Bones and fingernails and noses?  Hearts, spirits – yes, even people can be broken.

How do we come to be broken? We may have been hurt, injured, or suffered loss. We may have sinned greatly and become weighed down by guilt and shame. We may have been in a relationship or situation that has shattered our illusions or betrayed our trust.  A truly broken person has come to the end of himself or herself.

Richard Rohr has commented, “Would any of us even learn to love at all if it was not demanded of us, taken from us, and called forth by human tears and earthly tragedy? Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another?” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 123)   Rohr brings an important fact of life to our attention. When everything is rolling along well in our lives, we can believe that we are in control. We know what to do.  We don’t need to share our lives or steep in the wisdom of others. We feel no need to stop, look around, or attempt to make sense of anything.

But once grief or pain or betrayal or obstacles enter our lives, we are brought up short. Life is no longer fair – let alone rosy. We begin the journey of catching our breath, looking up, and trying to understand.  We try to make sense of our suffering. We may drop to our knees for the first time in our lives.

The pages of the book of Psalms spill over with the cries of the hurt and broken.  However, the Psalmists also teach us that joy may indeed come with the morning and through our mourning.  We can recycle those experiences and become wounded healers. We can love and care for another, speaking into his or her life through our own experience.

All of us are wounded in some way, but we do not all become healers. “Hurt people hurt people” is a cliché, but it is also true. If we do not work through our suffering with the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be a healing presence in the church or in the world.  Our helping will be tainted by our own unredeemed suffering.  We will be at risk of hurting others because the fruits of our spirit will be bitterness, anger, control, frustration, fear, judgmentalism, resentment, blame, criticism, cynicism, hatred, retreat, withdrawal or flight. Those of us who have been wounded and do open our suffering to the healing love of God can be of benefit to others because love, compassion, empathy, serenity, joy, and hope will flow from our lives.

Each of us is deeply wounded not only by life’s experience but also because we carry the taint of sin. The Church is a gathering place for the wounded.  But not all wounded find healing there. That is why churches can become the most vicious places on earth. And it may why the unchurched say that they will never darken the door of a church because it is filled with “hypocrites.”

Perhaps we look like hypocrites because we are still wounded. We invite those who do not know Jesus to find healing in our sanctuaries, but we don’t want to acknowledge that many of us already sitting in those sanctuaries have not allowed that Jesus to heal us. Even worse, most of us would not be willing even to consider that we were part of the wounded and unhealed.

Henri Nouwen brought awareness of the term “wounded healers” in his book of the same name. Nouwen is speaking here about professional ministers. I am enlarging that term to “Christ followers.”  Nouwen says:

A minister [Christ follower] is called to recognize the sufferings . . .in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service. . . .  His [or her] service will not be received as authentic un-less it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he [she] speaks” (Can You Drink the Cup?, p. 59).

Until churches believe this and make it their mission to become authentic healers, hurt people will continue to hurt people.  And the suffering Wounded Healer will suffer more as he watches our unwillingness to recycle our wounds harm his Church.

Moving from wounded soul to wounded healer takes hard work. In his foreword to John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, Caring for the Most Important Part of You, Henry Cloud quotes a psychologist who reports that his long-time patient Maddie “still has no interest in having an interior life (p. 10).   This dilemma faces many Christians. We say we want to grow. We say we want to be healed of our grief or anger or fear. But we choose not to do the work of looking at our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or beliefs. “Having an interior life” is an absolute necessity if we are to redeem our pain and suffering and recycle it for good.

Richard Rohr’s final encouragement for the healing of wounds is that “with Jesus, we find the power to hold the pain of life until it transforms us” (Breathing Under Water, p. 68). God is the great Alchemist. God can create light out of darkness – but only if we cooperate.

MULLING IT OVER:  Remember an experience of conflict in your church.  How much of it could have been avoided if each person participating was not just wounded but a wounded healer?

How can you offer your wounds for the healing of others?

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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May 12

Growing Requires Daring to Look at Who We Really Are

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“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV) I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked


“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV)

I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked for and attracted needy people and proceeded to try to “fix them.”  I felt responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, needs, and well-being. I was happiest when I was busily attempting to bring calm to chaotic situations.  I did this even in the face of logic which clearly demonstrated that this behavior was foolhardy and even dangerous and in spite of the objections of my family and friends. Those actions had severe consequences which still affect my life. And all the while I was convinced that this lifestyle was what God was calling me to do.

This behavior controlled my life because I was unable to step outside myself and observe my own behavior. Until a counselor helped me to look at myself and discern the motivation of my actions and reactions, I saw no need to change, although my life was falling apart all around me.

What I am describing here is a lack of consciousness.   Consciousness is “me seeing me seeing” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 85).  Consciousness is the awareness that empowers me to:

  • step outside myself
  • discern my behavior
  • choose to change my behavior or go ahead with that behavior

The opposite of consciousness is acting out of instinct or from thoughts and experiences of which we are unaware.  An example of this “unconscious” behavior would be sudden anger or violence that makes us think, “Where in the world did that come from?” or crippling fear that we cannot explain.

When my enabling controlled me, I could/would not see that I was choosing to be manipulated.  I could/would not understand or see that I was taking actions that hurt me as well as the person I was trying to fix.  When I took a young man just released from jail to my home to stay because his parents wouldn’t let him return to their home, I couldn’t see that his parents may have had good reason to keep him away. Being “unconscious” kept me in denial of the dangers of my own behavior.

As I began my spiritual formation journey years later, I discovered that God used that counselor to help me understand and change my behavior, but that the Holy Spirit was the power behind my transformation from someone interested only in codependent relationships to someone who could form and enjoy healthy relationships.  My perception is that consciousness is the conduit the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives.  If we are willing to practice stepping out- side of ourselves, the Holy Spirit can guide, comfort, teach, remind, and empower us, as Scripture teaches he will (John 14).

“Consciousness” is an awareness we can learn and practice.  A counselor who was in one of the classes I teach told the group that looking back on our past to see how our parents or grandparents may have influenced our lives is one way of learning to step outside ourselves and become observers. Learning about “false narratives” also gives us a framework to observe and assess our own perceptions of the world.

The spiritual discipline of “detachment” is also a way that we can learn to develop consciousness. Ignatius of Loyola talks about “making use of those things that help bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t” (In First Principal and Foundation quoted by Margaret Silf in her book Inner Compass).  Silf uses the image of God as a midwife to help us picture what detachment means:

For all of us, our first experience of the pain and promise of detachment was the hour we left our mother’s womb and, screaming with shock,  entered human life on earth.  In the seemingly brutal act of cutting the umbilical cord, which separated us from the prenatal food supply, we were in fact set free to live our own lives.

So it began, and so it continues in the ongoing call to let go of what is not (or is no longer) leading us closer to God, and to choose instead those ways that for us personally lead us closer to him and to the fulfillment of his dream for us.  (Inner Compass, p. 108)

Richard Rohr says that “for properly detached persons . . . . deeper consciousness comes rather naturally.  They discover their own soul – which is their deepest self – and yet have access to a Larger Knowing beyond themselves.”  He goes on to say that when Jesus speaks of “giving us the Spirit,” he is saying he is “sharing his consciousness with us. One whose soul is thus awakened actually has ‘the mind of Christ’ (I Cor. 2 10-16)  (Breathing Under Water, p. 86-87).

Mulling it Over – Take on the discipline of praying this prayer every day.  “Lord, give me a growing spirit of detachment from anything that separates me from you” (Richard Foster).  Pay attention to the effect it has on your willingness to look at yourself from outside yourself.

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Apr 21

Spiritual Formation and Superhero Thinking

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One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may


One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may be in the mindset of the individual.

Confession is good for the soul. “The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. motivated this installment.” Wow, that felt refreshing! Having identified my inspiration, I highly recommend her book. Since opening its front cover (or rather swiping through its pages on Kindle), I have been sharing insights with my sons, students, and colleagues. It is like seeing the spring grass and flowers anew following an atmosphere clearing thunderstorm.

I want to identify the core idea from Dweck’s book for the reader and then suggest how understanding this idea might make a difference for those of us who seek to help others with their own spiritual formation. Dweck labels her two mindsets Fixed and Growth. The key point of Dweck’s work is that a person’s mindset is not permanent; a mindset can be modified and manipulated by oneself and others. To summarize her distinctions between the two, “children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed . . . But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.” (p. 17) To extend her thought into Christian Spiritual Formation, for Christians with a fixed mindset Spiritual Formation is about being like Jesus and for those with the growth mindset it is about becoming like Jesus. Since the first sees talents and abilities as innate, any struggle or setback leads them to stop trying, while for the second each challenge is viewed as an opportunity to grow a bit more like the Master.

“People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.” (p. 28) The inverse is that people with the fixed mindset don’t use the word “potential,” one either has IT or they don’t. As the author herself notes, “Until I discovered the mindsets and how they work, I, too, thought of myself as more talented than others, maybe even more worthy than others because of my endowments.” (p. 29-30) A fixed mindset considers that “effort is for those who don’t have the ability.” (p. 40) In one study with children some were praised for their ability while others were praised for their effort. “Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students’ IQs. And that praising their effort raised them.” (p. 73)

A final note of clarification from Dweck: “Perhaps it’s because, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, people prize natural endowment over earned ability. . . . We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” (p. 90)

What does this have to do with Spiritual Formation?

We should recognize first and foremost that a fixed mindset is detrimental to spiritual formation. Because of this reality, it is crucial for CSF directors to be cautious of the language they use in describing formation. We don’t help others if we indirectly reinforce their own fixed mindset. Formation directors must also learn to see a fixed mindset in those they are leading and consciously move them toward a growth mindset in other avenues of their life as well. These conversations can focus on the worlds of the two mindsets. In the world of the fixed mindset, “success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself.” However, in the world of the growth mindset, “it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.” (p. 16) This is where a conversation can begin with other directors you know.

What language do you use? How might you rephrase your language to develop a growth mindset in a mentee?

Second, it is critical for those of us involved in spiritual formation to avoid creating our own superheroes. The spiritually mature have not always been where they are today. We applaud them for their status, adore them for their spirituality, and admire them for their seeming superiority. In so doing we reinforce a fixed mindset in ourselves and remain behind a self-imposed barricade to our own journey. If I have a fixed mindset (which I discovered is a default for me) then I see in others the same qualities. I easily forget the years they spent undergoing transformation. I have learned to recognize that my “spiritually formed” friends have not always been so. Their lives have not been a smooth road protected from difficulty. Some have tragically lost a child; others suffered from unspeakable childhoods. A few have suffered physical illness in their body, while one dear friend was the lone survivor from her family of a car accident. These individuals were formed through time, trials, and trust in a merciful god. The true danger of creating spiritual superheroes is that we relegate them to a solitary life because they can no longer walk among us as regular humans who themselves are in the process of being transformed by God. We risk stunting their spiritual formation

How do you speak about the authors you are reading? Do you impose on them fixed traits? Do you validate yourself by seeing them as having this static spirituality?

A third application of Dweck’s material for spiritual formation may be less obvious. One characteristic frequently identified as the Greek virtue unique to Christianity is humility. I wonder whether the fixed mindset with its concern for maintaining superior positioning based on an innate quality can actually practice humility. It seems that the growth mindset with its better recognition of abilities and areas for improvement may have the upper hand in actually living a life of humility. This might also help explain Paul’s admonition to the Philippians in 2:5 “You should think among yourselves in the same way that Christ Jesus thought!”

Does the unrealistic self-identity associated with a fixed mindset hinder the development of humility? How do you understand humility to be developed?

Finally, I must recognize the real danger a fixed mindset presents to spiritual development. Dweck notes, “In the end, many people with the fixed mindset understand that their cloak of specialness was really a suit of armor they built to feel safe, strong, and worthy. While it may have protected them early on, later it constricted their growth, sent them into self-defeating battles, and cut them off from satisfying, mutual relationships.” (p. 232) Armor we have worn for decades is not easily removed. Quick and easy is not the way of Jesus. Faithfulness over the long haul reflects the narrow pathway of discipleship.

Do you see yourself as being transformed by God as you journey with God through this life or as having already arrived? Is your mindset one of growth or is it fixed?


Mindset The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 2006



An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.




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Feb 03

Living in a Posture of Surrender

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“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat.  I am.”  (MSG) Mark 8:34     Who doesn’t want to be in the driver’s seat? The driver controls where we go, when we stop, how we


“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.

You’re not in the driver’s seat.  I am.”  (MSG)

Mark 8:34



Who doesn’t want to be in the driver’s seat? The driver controls where we go, when we stop, how we get there, what radio station we listen to, whether the heat is turned up or down. Don’t we all wish we were sitting in the driver’s seat so everything can go our way?

Unfortunately, the eagerness to be in control is the bane of every follower of Jesus’ existence. We want it, but when we attempt it, we mess up royally. In fact, as William Temple says, “From the beginning, I put myself in God’s place. This is my original sin. I was doing it before I could speak, as has everyone else . . . . I am in a state, from birth, in which I shall bring disaster on myself unless I escape it” (Devotional Classics, p. 224).

Surrendering the goal (and illusion) of being in charge is the foundational task of our spiritual journey. Jesus says that very plainly. He is the leader. Jesus is Lord. If we want to walk with Jesus, we have to give up control of our lives. There is no room on the throne for two lords; we need to get up off the throne, renounce all claims to lordship, and declare allegiance to the one who is the Lord. As Eugene Peterson expresses so well, we can’t go or grow with God and at the same time remain in charge of our lives (Mark 8: 34). We need to continually and consciously turn our will over to God.

However, turning over or surrendering remind us of actions that most of us see as adverse and undesirable: submitting, letting go, yielding, capitulating, giving in, throwing in the towel, laying down arms. We don’t want to even think about these words, let alone be forced into doing them. Why do we resist and fear these actions? Because the result is powerlessness, and when 21st century Christians read powerless they read weakness, helplessness, and loss. In groups I teach, just thinking about losing control creates fear, anxiety, and even panic among participants. The idea of purposely giving up control – even to God – is foreign.

The Value of Powerlessness

The authors of the Twelve Steps, “hopeless” alcoholics, understood the value of powerlessness very well. The first step of the spiritual program they created to help them regain sanity after a life of addiction is to admit “we are powerless” and that our “lives have become unmanageable.” The second step recognizes that “a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” In the third step, we turn our wills and lives over to the care of God as we understand God. In other words – surrender.

Perhaps we resist the word surrender because it seems we are “giving up.” The Twelve Steps and Scripture both encourage us to see that we are “giving to.” If our God is trustworthy and loving, we don’t have to be afraid of surrendering the driver’s seat to him. What do we have to lose? Fear, anger, worry, pride, judgmentalism? I, for one, could stand to lose those.

Recently it occurred to me that as we consciously and continually turn over the reins to God, we come closer to the original intention of God’s creation. In the Garden of Eden, harmony was the way of the world. Adam and Eve were in harmony with God, obediently accepting their place as creature, responding when God called. They were in harmony with each other as co-laborers, companions, and friends of God. They were in harmony with nature, understanding their role in the preservation and enrichment of God’s creation.

Harmony even reigned in their own minds, in their “self.” There was no artificial split between body, mind, and soul. No cacophony of voices clamored for control of their minds. They were at peace with themselves. God was in control and they were content. There was no need in Eden for masks to hide who they really were, for shields against vulnerability, for negotiation or compromise. Indeed, there was no need for “power.” They were “powerless” and it was heavenly.

But then God directed Adam and Eve to eat from any tree except the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The serpent played his wily hand; his challenge led to rebellion in the Garden. Humans walked blindly out of harmony into disharmony. A struggle of wills replaced harmonious relationship. Power now became essential and powerlessness was to be feared. And this is the world we live in.

Now we can see the truth of the paradox Jesus taught in Mark 8. At first glance, having power seems to be an advantage. Instead it ushers in wariness, confusion, corruption, pain and loss. Powerlessness and surrender, on the other hand, which seem to be postures of weakness nurture community, understanding, harmony, and joy. What we “give up” when we surrender is a life of struggle and disharmony. When we surrender and give ourselves more and more to God, we come closer and closer to Eden.

Please take a second and share with us your thoughts about giving up control in today’s world.


This blog post is an excerpt from Under Ordinary Skies, Living as Apprentices Every Day, written by Karen Bables for apprentices of Jesus. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com

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