Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr, in the two-year Living School I began this month, teaches that for us to “grow up”—that is, to continue moving toward wholeness, balance, and maturity—we need an experience that wounds us, that opens our heart to an ever-deepening wisdom that’s there to help us deal with life because we can’t do it on our own. In other words, those experiences of being wounded are the jumpstart, the kick-in-the-butt that moves us to the next level of inner growth.
We don’t like to talk about this stuff. It’s too messy and ugly. It leaves us vulnerable.
But the death and resurrection of Christ models that this is the natural process of how we move from one stage of spiritual maturity to the next. Our wounds cause us to grow, if we let them. If we discover the deeper wisdom they’re inviting us to move toward, our suffering becomes the rough and uneven stepping stones leading to deeper wholeness.
As he experienced the horror of being betrayed, beaten, and killed, Christ turned to his father both in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross, and essentially told his dad:
I can’t do this on my own.
This is beyond my human capability.
I need your Divine Strength to get through this.
Through his wounds, Christ was healed because he reached out to the Creator and found the wisdom that opened his heart fully so eventually he could say:
Dad, I forgive those who’ve hurt me.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
Hopefully, none of us have to go through the extreme of physical crucifixion to experience our resurrection. Although the suffering we all go through in life may very well feel like a crucifixion. And it’s supposed to, so we can grow, so we can reach out to our Higher Power and say:
I need you.
I can’t do this on my own.
I’m asking you to walk alongside me as my guide.
I’m asking you to open my heart and let You love me into wholeness.
As I look back at my 58 years of life, there are three experiences of suffering that really kicked my butt. The first was the death of my father when I was sixteen. The second, a bout with addiction. And most recently, a minor stroke.
My father’s death left me wounded with a sense of abandonment. The man I needed most to show me, to teach me how to grow up, died of cancer. I had no other strong, wise man in my life to look to.
So, my heart eventually led me to turn to my heavenly father. I became needy, dependent upon God to guide me from adolescence into the next phase of life as a young adult, husband, and father. Without that turn of my heart, without those gradual moments of saying, I can’t do this on my own, Dad, I would have been stuck in the wounds of bitterness and despair. I would have been trapped by my fear of abandonment.
The next wound came in my thirties. As a lawyer, father of four young children, and husband, the busyness and demands of life became too much for me. Although my life looked perfect on the outside, I was filled with fear on the inside. The burdens of carrying my law practice and family felt like heavy concrete slabs on my back. I was bent over with the fear that I couldn’t handle the responsibility.
And so, I tried to numb the pain. Eventually, the numbing wasn’t working. It wasn’t getting rid of the pain. It only made life more complicated. Worse.
So, somehow, through the grace of God, I joined a 12-step group. There, around shared stories of death and resurrection, I learned to surrender to my powerlessness and open my heart more widely to my Higher Power.
Through the steps, I learned to seek the wisdom of God on a daily basis by setting aside quiet time to be with the Creator and do what I refer to as sipping coffee with God. Through this practice that some may call contemplation or meditation—but that I call Quiet Time so it doesn’t get too heady—I learned deeper wisdom. As a result, I grew. I spring-boarded into the next phase of life: middle age.
The middle age butt-kicker was a mild stroke I had in June of this year. As a result of an adjustment to my neck, the doctors believe my left carotid artery was torn, and a blood clot formed, fully shutting down the flow of blood to the left side of my brain.
Due to what I believe was Divine Intervention or what you might call a miracle, the right artery created new capillaries that crossed over from my right brain into my left brain, supplying it with the rich blood it needed to thrive.
As a result, my left brain survived. What should have left me in a wheelchair, unable to walk or talk, didn’t. Instead, I experience minor residual speech impediments and daily headaches and tiredness as my brain heals.
At 58, I could have shaken my fist at God and demanded, “Why did this happen to me?” But, instead of making life more difficult, the wound to my left brain has allowed my right brain to become more dominant. Now, I’m experiencing life more fully from the creative, spiritual side of my right brain, and, as a bonus, the constant chatter of my left brain has quieted.
This “shift to the right” has given me a deep sense of peace beyond understanding. And my response to this miracle of being alive is to say yes to the Living School, so God can kick my butt to the next stage of inner growth and healing.
I’ve come to believe that we are utterly dependent upon God. That’s how we were created. And it’s a good thing. It’s a relationship, a partnership, a mutual agreement, a contract that both of us have to co-sign.
God signed the contract for each of us when he breathed his first breath into our lungs at birth. Now it’s my turn to sign the contract—which is to realize I can’t even take the next breath without God breathing life into me, one-breath-at-a-time.
I’m grateful that through my wounds, the Creator gently opened and turned my heart toward him. Because He signed his part of the contract first, I’ve learned to sign my name on the bottom line by responding:
I’ll sign the contract because I need you.
I love you.
This, I’m coming to understand, is the natural, organic process of growing up. By opening our hearts wider in the midst of our pain, we move to the next level of maturity and wholeness. We gain wisdom.
Through our wounds, we are healed.
—brian j plachta
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.