By Donald Miller
March 30, 2010
Have you ever met somebody who has been hurt, wrongfully hurt and is bitter about it? It’s difficult to have compassionr, even though they have a right and reason to be bitter. We may want justice for them, and may even have empathy, but there is something imperfect about the story. And yet I find bitterness is easy when I’ve been wronged. Vengeance is a normal reaction, it seems, a human reaction. What else are we supposed to to with our pain?
Years ago I read a book called Country of my Skull, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The TRC was a commission put together by Nelson Mandella to hear cases of crimes against humanity committed under apartheid. Mandella asked Bishop Desmond Tutu to head up the commission.
When asked what sort of people Tutu wanted to serve with him, he answered he wanted victims, people who knew firsthand the atrocities of apartheid, those whose lives had been ripped open, who’d lost families and loved ones. But what he said next would change my life forever. Tutu said he did not just want the victims who had stayed victims, but he wanted victims who had forgiven the guilty, who had the moral character to give of themselves when they had every right to be angry and vindictive. These people, Tutu said, are the most capable to help others heal, because they have the education of empathy, they know what pain feels like, and can guide the bitter into forgiveness and strength, and the guilty into reconciliation. He called these people wounded healers.
At the time I read that book, I was working on my own book about growing up without a father. And at the time, having to mine my own childhood, I was tempted toward bitterness. It was Bishop Tutu’s words that steered me clear of sharp rocks.
When we stay bitter, we don’t grow, and we don’t help the people around us. What God wants to do with our pain is turn it into ministry, into an empathy that will heal others. Some of the darkest seasons in your life may turn into a gift for somebody else. And if we are willing to allow our pain and hardship to be used to help others, our pain is given dignity.
I’m often asked if I could, would I change my life so that my father would have stayed around. That’s a difficult question to answer, honestly. Were it not for the pain in my life, I wouldn’t have started The Mentoring Project, and potentially millions of young men would not be provided a positive male role model. I believe in a God who can take our pain, heal it, and use the empathy to spread light rather than darkness. So in short, I do not wish for anything in my life to have been changed, no matter how hard.
To be sure, there are some dark things that happen in our lives that require the aid of somebody else to help us through them. Sexual abuse is, perhaps, the worst kind of pain. Sexual abuse in your past is best aided by a counselor. But after the process of healing, even the hardest, darkest pains can be transformed to help others.
So my question is, what does God want to do with your pain? Is it a blessing or a curse? My prayer is that it would move from the former to the latter, and you would become a wounded healer.
What pain in your life does God want to use to help others?