Review: The Wounded Healer

Any Henri Nouwen fans in the house? Just wondering. I just finished The Wounded Healer, and I just know I'll be passing it along. Not this particular copy, of course. It belongs to Lovey Loverpants. And that would be impolite. Paying it forward when I didn't pay for it in the beginning.

Nouwen's books are generally quite short and the language is very plain, but the message is always deeply profound. Like if Dr. Seuss became a Jesuit and wrote for adults.

My first encounter with Nouwen changed my life. I know that sounds like a canned reaction from an Oprah Book Club audience member, but let me take you back. Just a month or so into my first semester of college, I attended a weekend conference where one of the books being sold was The Return of the Prodigal Son. I took that book home and spent nearly all of my holiday break poring over it. The way that Nouwen unravels the parable is so basic and beautiful. I took a long look at my life's relationships and particularly at my family's. As I began to understand the parable, I could actually feel the glacier moving in my heart to let new love flow in where there had previously only been an impasse. I have gone back many, many times to read this book and I recommend it often.

I was stunned, then, when Lovey Loverpants brought up Nouwen this past spring when he was thinking of a book to give a departing intern. One of his co-workers, Doc Martin, had recommended The Wounded Healer. I was further stunned to hear of this recommendation, given that Doc Martin is who he is: the Cuba-loving, conspiracy theorizing, Jewish shrink with a passel of jokes about Mainers. But after reading the book, I now understand why anyone in the social services field would find this book to be a prize, even if ministry is viewed here through a Christian lens.

Nouwen addresses the oft-asked Who's healing the healer? Who listens to the listener? Who cares for those in the business of caring for others? Doctors, social workers, ministers -- their jobs can be so lonely when it seems that no one is asking them, So, how are you?

Nouwen offers this - in this life, we can be empowered by our loneliness, because it can put us in touch with the suffering of others. Sounds perfectly pleasant, right?

Like everyone, I've had my bouts of loneliness, and I can't deny that some days at home with Baby Girl do get a tad isolating. But I remember a time the year when I bought The Return of the Prodigal Son when the loneliness felt interminable. Like everyday was Christmas and everyone else had a family with whom to celebrate, besides myself. The next year, though, I became an RA and I think I was a good RA because I had experienced the loneliness that my residents would manifest time and time again.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who works in direct service to people or, in my case, if you sometimes find people absolutely exhausting (see also: the exhaustion of living with yourself). Nouwen's insights are rich and unforgettable.

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