“If there is any posture that disturbs a suffering man or woman, it is aloofness… After so much stress on the necessity of a leader to prevent his own personal feelings and attitudes from interfering in a helping relationship it seems necessary to re-establish the basic principle that no one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, even destroyed in the process. The beginning of all [good spiritual leadership] is to give your life for others. Thing about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh, and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.
“…In short: ‘Who can take away suffering without entering it?’
“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there. Our lives are filled with examples which tell us that leadership asks for understanding and that understanding requires sharing. So long as we define leadership in terms of preventing or establishing precedents, or in terms of being responsible for some kind of abstract ‘general good,’ we have forgotten that no God can save us except a suffering God, and that no man can lead his people except the man who is crushed by its [pain]... Personal concern makes it possible to experience that going after the ‘lost sheep’ is really a service to those who are left alone.” (Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer) Italics mine
One of the things that I love most about offering spiritual direction and companioning as my practice as work is that there is so much more room for responding to the movements of Spirit and less “protocol” for staying removed from people’s pain. So often, directees have left my office and I have found myself crying in compassion and sadness for their situation. How needed are those who will enter the pain with us and let us know that we are not alone.
Though Nouwen asks his question about taking away suffering by entering into it, I don’t believe that it is the director who does this. What I do believe is that the director points to and helps to notice a compassionate Source who does take away suffering and does enter into it. Healing happens… I don’t know when, who, where, or always how, but it is always a reality in the midst of our pain.
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