A wound is a terrible thing to waste. Each of us is at some time injured by the vicissitudes, the ups and downs of life, the thousand shocks that flesh is heir to (Shakespeare). Accidents, illness, vocational or geographical earthquakes seem to be like predatory interruptions of joy, waiting to pounce. The question is whether we will waste or make use of our woundedness.
My wife, Calder, and I went to see the movie A Beautiful Boy yesterday. It is a powerful portrayal of addiction, based on books by a father and son concerning the son’s addiction to multiple drugs, primarily crystal meth but also alcohol and many others. It is in some ways one of the best pictures I have seen of the crucial place of spirituality in recovery from any addiction, although neither God nor Higher Power nor spirituality is mentioned. At one point the son says in effect that all his life he felt he was living with a black hole of emptiness that he had tried to fill with his addictive substances. Anyone familiar with the recovery process would recognize that black hole as a place of deep, gnawing hunger for spirituality in some form, for “God as we understood Him” (Alcoholics Anonymous third step).
The movie brought me back through a labyrinth of painfully healing memories. A Beautiful Boy is one of many well done movies about addiction, including Flight, A Star is Born, and the classic The Days of Wine and Roses. Each of these movies, and the treatment journals which I still keep as a treasure of addiction and recovery, welled up inside me as a cry for my wounded soul to become unwasted. I recall memories of the hell on earth, for me and those close to me, of addiction: a DWI near Atlanta in 1974, falling and going to sleep on the beach in Panama City Beach, threats of suicide and scars from other alcoholically induced descent into the hell of painful mornings too numerous to count. But with time, the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous, a supportive though often frustrated family, and the help of several therapists, especially one in Mobile, Alabama, my wounds became unwasted.
Each of us can, if we will, become wounded healers (to use the title of Henri Nouwen’s wonderfully profound book). Whatever the form of our painful experiences, the scars left by those times can become occasions for healing, first for our own lives and then for the lives of others. Such was certainly the case when the authors behind A Beautiful Boy courageously chose to share their story. As Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3,4).
That is not easy; it is much, much easier once our wounds are healed to forget about them and go our happy way. It was not easy for me to watch that movie yesterday. It was not easy for me to struggle through to the healing possibilities in the chronic liver abscess disease I have lived with since early May. It is not easy for you to see yourself as a wounded healer recovering from the abuse, the accident, the acute or chronic illness, the financial earthquake, the ravaging fire of rejection by others that has tormented your life. It is easier for you, if the trauma is ever past, to forget about it, avoid talking about it, leave it in the past.
But your wounds and mine are treasures that can feed the storehouse of our love for God, others, ourselves, indeed for life itself. For example, due to my chronic illness I can not climb mountains or walk my dogs as often or as long as I once did. But I believe it praises God and helps others for me to experience the immense joy I receive from walking my dogs as far and as often as my body will allow. It helped my wife be the mother she was and still is that she herself was deeply deprived of the love she craved from her mother. It has given our twins immeasurable and highly contagious joy to be able to study, to work, to minister, to live each day after the precarious health of their premature birth, early childhood, and the struggle to achieve the remarkable productivity of their lives.
You see the healing quality of our woundedness does not need to take the form of twelve step work in AA, of preaching, or even of sharing with others exactly what God has done for us. Unwasted wounds can bring life simply by living as fully as we can, filled with gratitude that we were not forsaken but joined by Jesus in the valleys of our affliction, by simply but powerfully letting God love us into life.
It is good to remember, occasionally, whence we came, the wounds that have made us who we are. For it is then that our lives can be lived in gratitude that God has made Himself known in coming to us, loving us into life, within the depths of whatever wounds we have known. It is then that we live with unwasted wounds.