I met her 29 years ago. I only spent three hours with her and then never saw her again. At the time she was 13, and I was 18. I can still remember her first and last name. I can still picture her pretty blue eyes looking up at me through her cute glasses, with tears trickling down her face.
Our lives intersected on a brisk October evening in a small town in northern Wisconsin. I was taking a gap year after high school - traveling the country giving youth retreats with an organization called NET.
On this particular night, my team leader had purposefully placed her in my small group - because she was living the very same nightmare I had lived five years earlier. Not even a month had passed since her dad died suddenly in a tragic logging accident.
That fall of her 8th grade year, her dad was gone in an instant. The fall of my 8th grade year, mine was too.
It was just an evening retreat, so my time with her was short. At the end we spread out in the church and prayed individually with each young person in our small group.
When I sat down next to her, we both started to cry. My heart broke for her. I could feel her pain and fear like it was my own. In that moment, few words were spoken between us. I knew my presence was enough. Then these simple words came softly out of me: “I understand.” We sat for another moment. Then I assured her, “You’re gonna be okay.”
All these years later, I can still remember whispering those two things to her: “I understand”, and “You’re gonna be okay.”
I also remember what I told myself when I left the church that night. If God had allowed me to endure the pain of losing my dad when I was 13, just so I could comfort this precious 13 year-old girl when she faced the same devastating loss - it was all worth it.
That unforgettable night, I found the most unexpected meaning to my suffering.
Not long after, I received a letter from her. She told me how thankful she was that God had brought me into her life. She told me how much comfort it gave her to know that there was someone else who understood what she was going through. She also told me how much hope it gave her to know that my life hadn’t ended when my dad died; that God had given me the strength to go on; that I had found happiness again; and that I really was okay.
Meeting me had changed her life.
I never imagined how powerful it could be to share in another’s suffering. Even though I was still wounded; still on the path to my own healing; I had been an instrument of hope and healing for someone else.
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. Not long after my diagnosis, I discovered a transforming book by Dr. Izabella Wentz, who also has Hashimoto’s.
It was Dr. Wentz who introduced me to “the way of the wounded healer”. Hashimoto’s had inflicted her with countless debilitating symptoms, both physical and mental. She writes,
“I continued to see a decline in my health, and I often pitied myself. Why me? Why do I have to suffer and go through so much? … I didn’t find meaning in this until one day when I was discussing my past with a brilliant retired physician… He credited this (his) success with his patients not to his intellect but rather to having endured his own suffering… his revelation was enlightening. It was then that I realized I had a purpose and had been given health problems so I could overcome them and then help other people to do the same. This was my way, the way of the wounded healer.”
Dr. Izabella Wentz’ revelation was enlightening for me too! The way of the wounded healer… this was the way of my Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus became our Wounded Healer. We’re reminded of this in the book Hebrews,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus is our Wounded Healer, and He invites us to share in His mission of healing and transformation.
One of the teachers at my children’s middle school lost his beloved wife after a long battle with cancer. A few years after she died, I had the most beautiful encounter with him in the hallway at school.
Though still aching from her loss, he shared that he knew God had given him a profound mission. With joy in his voice and hope in his eyes, he quoted 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, explaining how the Lord had comforted him in his own suffering so that he would have the capacity to comfort others in theirs.
I understood completely. This is what had happened in my own life. My own personal sufferings had given me a capacity to empathize with others in a way I never would have otherwise. They had expanded my perception of life - of who I am, of who God is, and of who other people are.
Have you experienced suffering in your own life? Perhaps you have wondered like Dr. Wentz, “Why me? Why do I have to suffer and go through so much?”
Could it be that God has a greater plan and purpose for your pain?
“Suffering can soften our hearts to those who mourn, those who sorrow, those who hunger and thirst.” (Sr. Miriam James Heidland)
Sr. Miriam, the author of this quote, also says that one of the most mysterious things about suffering is that “it can lead us out of ourselves into communion with others.”
But we have to have the courage to step into our story and let the Lord comfort us there. And heal us there. Only then can we step out of ourselves - to share our own suffering and comfort another in theirs.
Jesus wants us to know Him as our Wounded Healer. “By His wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) And if we allow Him, He can use us mightily to comfort others - along the way of the wounded healer.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
(Quotes taken from “Hashimotos Protocol” by Izabella Wentz and “Loved As I Am” by Miriam James Heidland, S.O.L.T.)