‘In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.’ The words of Henri Nouwen in his book ‘The Wounded Healer’.
In the aftermath of election night, amid the many voices trying to make sense of what has happened, I heard someone comment that the electorate would have been more forgiving of Theresa May if she had just admitted she made a mistake over the so-called ‘dementia tax’. Easier said than done. Few of us find it comes naturally to make ourselves vulnerable in that way, to be open about our mistakes, our failings, our wounds, especially when we are in a privileged position of power.
When I set off on my walk4andy, I had a number of goals. First and foremost I wanted to raise the profile of VHL and raise funds for research and support for families living with it. Second, I wanted to do something memorable in Andy’s memory, something I could point to and say ‘I did that for you, brother’. In doing so, I hoped that it would also help me work through my grief at losing both Andy and Dad so close together.
Thirdly, I wanted to give a kind of witness, a witness to my faith which has taken some battering in all this but is stronger than ever at the end of my journey. I also wanted to be a witness in the sense that I wanted to speak openly and honestly about my own struggles, in the hope that something of what I have been through might encourage or comfort others experiencing similar journeys.
Since I finished, I have been humbled by the number of people who have spoken to me and said that something in my blog had touched them or moved them or resonated for them or even helped them a little in their own walk with grief and God.
I know some people still regret the rise of the therapeutic age and the constant need to talk about our feelings but it really does help. The alternative is a myth that we are all just fine, thank you very much; the stiff upper lip that the English are renowned for. This creates a veneer of overcompetence hiding the real fear that many of us have that we are just one slip away from being found out – the ‘imposter phenomenon’.
It also generates a false belief that everything can be fixed. Even in church there have been times where I’ve felt forced to bounce up and down be jolly and happy and pretend that everything’s ok because Jesus loves us, when what I really want to say is more like ‘God, I feel crap right now, actually I’ve no idea if you’re even listening, I don’t understand why my life is such a mess, what have I done wrong and why don’t I feel happy like everybody else?’
I long to see a Christian community that can be honest about its weaknesses and failings, where you don’t have to be perfect to have a go at something, where those who appear very competent and confident can reveal their own woundedness to those who have been frightened to put their head above the parapet for fear of stepping on someone’s toes. This would be a community with space to grieve and cry and question as well as celebrate and praise and give thanks. After all, we find that whole range of emotions expressed in the psalms of the Bible.
Henri Nouwen writes, ‘A Christian community is a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.’ It shouldn’t really be a surprise from a Christian point of view that the wounded make the best healers.
Andy knew all about wounds. He had plenty of them – staples, stitches, glue, all leaving their scars and bald patches. In the last few years of his life, Andy began to see how his suffering, his wounds, might be turned into a gift rather than a curse. (That’s not to say I believe for a moment that God wanted to cause him pain, any more than he wanted Jesus to die in agony on the cross, but I do believe that suffering and pain are never the end for God. They can be transformed by His grace into something new.)
In one of the last conversations I had with Andy he told me that he had begun thinking that maybe he had a calling to be a hospital chaplain, that maybe others might find hope and faith through him. From talking to people who knew him, I know that that was already happening, and, even as I share his story today, I’m sure that God is still at work through him, kindling hope and faith in a broken and wounded world.