November 4, 2008

walking wounded

The panga knife cuts deep, rips your skin, tears muscles, cracks bone. Mangled flesh, red blood, screaming pain. ‘I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.'

‘And if we are strong enough / to be weak enough / we are given a wound / that never heals. / It is the gift / that keeps the heart open.'

‘Broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations… broken with psychological wounds, physical limitations, and emotional needs… Our brokenness is so visible and tangible, so concrete and specific. You are a broken man. I am a broken man.’

OK life’s a bitch, so what? ‘We can’t control the world, but we can control our reactions to it.’

Reaction. Run away from pain; avoid it, ignore it, deny it. Grit your teeth. Bandage it up, cover it up, no one can see it. Take painkillers, kill the pain, don’t feel it. Don’t look at it, forget it. Life goes on, back to work... no big deal, nothing happened. Forgotten and untended, infection sets in. And maybe much later, an ugly, twisted scar.

Reaction. Step towards the pain; embrace and befriend it. Look at the bleeding gash, get to know it. Shocked, weak, cry, ask for help. Friends apply antiseptic that stings. Take advice; keep it clean, leave it open to the fresh air. Take leave days, take time to rest. Tell your story and gradually accept the pain, and learn how to live with a gaping wound.

‘Your pain is deep, and it won't just go away... Our sufferings and pains touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality.’ ‘I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow / if you have been opened by life’s betrayals / or have become shrivelled and closed / from fear of further pain.’

‘Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling the secret of who you are, but more often than not of the mystery of where you have come from and are summoning you to where you should go next.’

Actually ‘hurt’ is always a reminder of your essential human vulnerability and helplessness… so it reveals the truth about yourself. Loosing your illusions isn't loss at all. ‘Brokenness is the attitude that helps me to see myself in truth rather than in the false images that have made me feel secure...’ ‘Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.’

‘Your call is to bring that pain home. Yes, you have to incorporate your pain into yourself and let it bear fruit in your heart and in the hearts of others… Take up your cross.... first of all, befriending your wounds and letting them reveal to you your own truth.’

No doubt easier said than done, and when you’ve become best friends with your wounds, where’s God? 'God seeps through the cracks.’ ‘How can we live that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives?’ ‘He is afflicted in their afflictions, and knows their souls in adversity.’

Perhaps here we start to get a hint of meaning. 'Before God can use a man greatly, He must wound him deeply'. ‘He woundeth thee that thou mayest seek him… there is love in every blow, and grace in every stripe…’ Plough the field before the harvest. Crush the grapes to make wine. ‘Hardened steel is brittle. It cracks under pressure. To make it stronger, it must be tempered in a furnace. Just as steel, we must undergo a certain degree of softening in the crucible of life for us to be strengthened.’

Brokenness is 'a way of being human in this world, which is the way to wholeness.’ '[His] power is made perfect in weakness. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’.

And if your wounds are allowed to be gifts that keep your heart open... ‘intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another's wounds, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness’. So perhaps, 'The freest person in the world is one with an open heart, a broken spirit, and a new direction in which to travel.’

Oriah - The Invitation, Dreams of Desire 1995
Psalms, The Bible
Henry Nouwen - Life of the Beloved 1992
Susan Jeffers - Feel the Fear… And Do It Anyway
Frederick Buechner - Whistling in the Dark
Joel Klepac - Broken and Poured Out 2001
Henry Nouwen - The Inner Voice of Love 1998
Matthew Henry
P.E.P. de Leon
Oswald Chambers
Rev. C. H. Spurgeon - Healing for the Wounded Sermon 1855
Paul - 2 Corinthians, The Bible
Gordon McDonald - Rebuilding Your Broken World


  1. A highly relatable issue worth contemplating on.

    Other issues of high relevance that can not be ignored - that could pontentially enrich the discussion:

    - A misguided perception of self where invincibility is rewarded by the mind and vulnerability associated with weakness.

    - Fake it till you make it philosophy averse to accepting the reality that before all else, we're human. A form of weakeness disguised as a form of strength.

    - Second guessing what others' perception of "living with a wound" means and getting it wrong. That is, assuming "others" will consider it a weakness to exhibit vulnerability when in actual fact "others" realise how much strength it takes to accept the inevitable.

  2. hmmm john you’re right the wound = weakness logic is interesting. those are reactions most of us have felt at some point... 1 sounds egotistical, 2 seems immature and 3 must be self-conscious and a bit lonely. why is it so hard just to stay in full acceptance of the pain?

  3. africanpaidagogos06 November, 2008 14:45

    Hi John, i think if the piece is read as something that offers options to someone who perhaps is trying to deal with problems that are felt to be an open gaping unhealing wound then the three points that have been mentioned are completely irrelevant - when one is crying with emotional pain the last thing one really does is analyse the philosophy around self perceptions or misconceptions (as the case may be) - raw wounding emotion rarely comes in a form so mechanical that it allows one to contemplate the boundless possibilities of 'the self'. That said, in a different context (perhaps in a more Freudian conversation) then Yes that discussion would be enriched by your points, but an honest human reaction to emotional distress needs to FELT first - irrespective of whether allowing yourself that feeling means that you are weak or strong, and analyzed later, just as the post suggests.

  4. walt whitman wrote:
    i walked a mile with sorrow,
    never a word said she
    but oh the things i learnt from her
    when sorrow walked with me.
    i walked a mile with happiness
    she chattered all the way
    leaving me none the wiser
    with all she had to say.

    embracing pain is something you have to remind yourself to do because our natural response is to avoid it at all costs. i think pain happens at the cusp of human physicality and the spirit - it's where we have a clear choice to lean into God or duck and dive to distance ourselves from our suffering.

    like you, i never want to patch up the wound, i want to know God's profound healing and i want to walk with the marks of suffering so that i can be approachable to others and maybe help them to God in their pain.

  5. Here i stand, here i walk, here i limp, Here I fall, here i fall, Here i stand, Here I move speedily from vertical to horizontal, here I see my soul scattered

    Here my heart bleeds, here my soul remembers, Here my reason quickly tries to hide my fears and shame, and give a name to my nameless pain, Here I is

    Here lies the living dead, long gasped out the essence of joy and the tranquility of loving self, Here lies a sinner condemned by the voices of his fellow prisoners, Here I am

    Here I am the leader, the celebrity, the musician that prophesies over crazy beat patterns, the husband struggling to be true, the father crying to be strong, the son hoping to be successful, a friend wishing to be loyal, Here Wisdom lies

    Here is the time where my tears were stolen and the son of man hasnt wept ever since, here is the place where the manchild shouldnt make mistakes, there is no time and place for my brokenness

    Who should I ask so I can get back my flagon of holy tears? So i can break it on the Rock of Ages and bath my tired old soul in the healing saltiness?

    Who is willing to listen to my crap song? Who is willing to hear the history intro and the First verse of what was? Who will stay through the Bridge of Fear to reflect on the Chorus of The Flaws that remain and repeat?

    But there is no place, no time, no justification for my brokenness.when i intend to lay my head on the grass to rest my weary soul I hear them calling my lazy wussy butt to toughen up and get going

    There is no place for questions, no reason for doubt, no space for fear, no justification for inadequacies and mistakes. There is no time for healing only business and doing and speaking

    There is no chance for my healing, for every 1 hurt I have there are a thousand hurts of others calling for my attention. For every story I have, I hear my friends saying ''stop being selfish and listen to my sad story first''

    So my past, present and future brokenness lie hidden in the darkness of the uncertain constant, my living dead soul haunts each day secretly searching for the flagon of my tears, when I find them I will run to a lone distant place and there i will bath in the hot saltiness till my brown earthy self dissolves and becomes one with its Higher Self and its Maker

    As for now there is no time, no place for my brokenness


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