At some point in our life, we will find ourselves broken. This is an absolute non-negotiable. It may come earlier for you, or later for you, or in a different form than you expected. But we all suffer; we all hold, in our hearts, minds, and bodies, the lingering wounds. So, almost inevitably, we will all find ourselves in that lonely chapel, right at our breaking point, begging God for healing. Yet don’t we find that healing never comes as we think it will?
Fall of my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad in my school’s Austrian program. It was an incredible and cleansing experience, but it was a difficult semester. The distance from home and all things familiar gave me space and silence to look at my life in a new light, with a new clarity of depth, and I found a lot of brokenness. And not just any brokenness, but a deeper level of brokenness from wounds I thought I had already dealt with. I was struggling, and I felt ashamed, as if I were a failure in my attempts to heal. Towards the end of the semester, the program sent us on a ten-day pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, which all the other students enjoyed in raptures of awe and prayer, and which I struggled through, trying to pretend I wasn’t numb, exhausted, and miserable. On one of the last days in Assisi, there was an opportunity for me to go to prayer teams after a Eucharistic praise and worship, and I poured out my misery to that prayer team like I never have before. As they prayed with me, one of them told me that he had an image for me, an image that was deeply healing and that I have treasured and prayed with ever since.
He told me to imagine I was walking deep into the crypt of St. Francis and kneeling before the tomb to pray. He told me to imagine that as I was kneeling there, I was crying, mourning my own brokenness and grieving what had been lost, ruined, stolen. And to imagine that as I did, Christ rose out of the tomb and stood in front of me, crying just as I was. Then I could see every wound of my own in Him. I could know that He bore each of my wounds, He knew them intimately and tenderly, and He mourned them as I did. My wounds were the place of my deepest similarity, connection, and intimacy with Christ suffering. My wounds were how I knew Him and how He knew me, and therefore, were also wounds of the greatest glory and rejoicing.
There is a technique used in Japanese pottery called kintsugi. When a dish breaks, instead of throwing it out, the potter will essentially weld the pieces back together with liquid gold. When it is finished, the dish is more beautiful than before, not despite the cracks but because of them. The veins of gold make it clear that the dish is not whole and untouched, and will never be so, yet they restore the dish’s ability to hold water and beautify the piece as a whole. They glorify the dish precisely in the place of its greatest weakness.
If His glory is in His wounds, if He is truly a God who knows the intimacy of our small suffering, then His healing grace will never really be as small and confined as just making your wounds disappear. In a smaller way, your own glory will be in your wounds. He doesn’t want to make your wounds disappear, or even to work past them or despite them. He wants to work specifically in them; your greatest shame turned into His greatest glory. Your wounds are not just your place of greatest hurt; they are the place He is going to embrace, gild with gold, and come to dwell in. Your wounds will be your sanctity, if you let them.
Great, you say. I don’t know about that image stuff, you say. That pottery metaphor is old news, you say. You’re not actually telling me what I can do. Well then, buckle up for some real concrete tips on how to live out this understanding of healing.
1. Check your language.
When you are in prayer, what language do you use when asking for healing? What language does your heart use? Are you asking Him to wave a magic wand, so all your hurt disappears? Are you asking Him to just take away your suffering? Or are you asking Him to work in your hurt, to sit in your suffering, to transform your wounds? He is a miracle-worker, and if it be His will, maybe one day your suffering will just disappear. But it’s a lot more likely that these requests are a convenient way for you to hide from your own wounds. Which gets me to my second tip.
2. Get intimate.
If your wounds are this important, then you need to get to know them. Hiding from your own hurt is a natural human impulse, and probably not a sin, but there is a beautiful power in pursuing an intimacy with your wounds. Here are some very important questions you may want to take to prayer and silence. What are your wounds? Where do they come from? What patterns of action stem from these wounds? Which of these patterns are healthy and which do you need to fix? How have you actively pursued fixing these patterns? Name the answers to all of these questions. Pursue your wounds with a gentle curiosity instead of dread and fear and watch how He meets you there.
3. Be bold.
Once you have answered some of these questions, or at least started to, make a concrete plan. You cannot just tell yourself you wish to heal and then do nothing. Pursue what it takes to transform your wounds. No matter what. If you decide you need more prayer time, commit to it. If you decide you need therapy (PSA: you probably do), swallow the butterflies and sign up. If you decide you need more sleep, exercise, or food, start building those habits. This is not just our comfort we are talking about; this is not just a hot tip to hopefully cry less or laugh more. Our approach to our wounds runs parallel to our approach to God’s call. Our approach to our wounds is our approach to sainthood. Hold nothing back.