Don’t Check Your Wounds at the Door

Don’t Check Your Wounds at the Door

“The best church I’ve ever been a part of is Alcoholics Anonymous!” I was shocked to hear the words tumble from my friend’s mouth, and embarrassed that he would share such a personal detail of his life with our whole class. The uncomfortably casual quip arose in the midst of a heated class discussion. “What makes for a good or successful church anyway?” the professor had asked. In the midst of the lively and energetic debate, my friend chimed in with his surprisingly vulnerable comment. A hush fell over the class. “I’m serious!” he said. “The church never feels more like church than when they share in your wounds.” I think about that conversation often. I think about how feeble our attempts to evaluate church success seem now, and I wonder who was nearest to the truth that day. I generally believe my friend had the most important contribution for the discussion. In a world where people so often customize their public image online, and micromanage the reception of their image through obsessive monitoring of likes, dislikes, shares, and retweets, I think the church could and should offer a different kind of space: a space that welcomes authentic selves, wounds and all.

When I was growing up, my dad who is a minister used to take me with him to visit congregants in the hospital. During the lengthy drive to the hospital, my dad would talk to me about the people we were going to meet, what I should expect to see or hear, things the people might say, and questions they might ask. My role was to observe, and to be a kind and warm presence in the room. My dad was teaching me how to engage wounds. I remember one time we visited a woman whose husband was dying. The doctors had predicted that he might die any time within the next few days. The wife was reasonably grief-stricken. She oscillated between periods of weeping, and periods of silence. Occasionally she would turn to us to process what was happening. I remember one of her friends came into the room as she was crying, and said to her, “Oh, don’t cry! It will be okay!” I was a teenager at the time, and even then, I thought, “Well, that’s ridiculous. It will actually not be okay. She has every right to cry.”

Sometimes we rush to calm the weeping of our neighbors. We’re quick to conceal their wounds. We divert our attention, or indulge in distractions, all in an attempt to avoid wounds. In our wound-avoidance, I believe we miss an essential element of the gospel.

John 20:24-29 tells us about Jesus’s appearance to Thomas in the upper room. Jesus had already appeared to his disciples, but poor Thomas had missed out. Everyone likes to bash Thomas—“doubting Thomas.” Silly, foolish, obstinate Thomas becomes the foil to our own self-aggrandizing imaginations. We like to think that we would require no such proof in order to believe. We would never demand such a display for our faith. Thomas comes to represent for us the secular, broken world, which demands God to come to its doorstep and prove God’s self. And we separate ourselves from such a world, in our cloistered religious communities. We gaze upon stylized, unblemished crucifixes, and we deny that our faith ever flounders. Indeed, we deny that the wounds of Christ are relevant to our lives at all. [1]

The wounds are surely incidental, right? Maybe in the same way that Jesus seems to vaporize through doors and walls to arrive in the upper room, so his wounds will soon vaporize from his skin. And perhaps in one way or another, we wish his wounds would go ahead and disappear. Nobody really wants to see all that blood and gore, right?

This is why the lepers call out through the streets of their hometowns, “unclean!” to ward people away. It’s why Jesus approaches the sick or wounded in such a gentle manner—they are often timid, unaccustomed to meaningful social interaction. Most people don’t engage wounds; they push wounds away.

I would like to believe that our tendency to avoid wounds—to erase wounds—has more to do with a deep longing for peace and wholeness than any less admirable desire. And yet, sometimes our longing for peace, wholeness, and healing prevents us from engaging wounds. It prevents us from paying attention to the pain. When we divert our attention from the wounds of society, when we rush people to heal and resume life as normal, when we say, “Don’t cry!” to a person experiencing deep grief or fear, we are choosing to ignore an important part of the gospel: the resurrection wounds of Christ.

It is perhaps a little startling to imagine Jesus’s gaping wounds. One might think about the famous painting by Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, in which Thomas’s finger pries into the open wound of Jesus’s side. It’s grotesque. It feels invasive, too intimate, too revealing. I’m almost incensed by Thomas’s insistent reach. And yet, unexpectedly, I also find it hopeful. Look at how Jesus guides his hand. Look at the way Jesus holds back his robe to reveal the full wound. See the gentle, yet slightly pained expression on his face. A sort of healing is taking place that does not demand the erasure of wounds. [2]

When our bodies experience the impact of mortality, when our spirits endure the pain that accompanies joy, and the heartache that accompanies love, these are not proofs that the Great Physician skipped us over. They are proof that we are human beings. Wounds, when hidden away or left untended do fester. Wounds have to breathe a little. Wounds can heal over time, but they often become scars that we carry with us. Some wounds never fully go away; they become integral parts of our lives. Wounds are often sites of shame or stigmatization, but what if the church reimagined wounds as sites of solidarity, welcome, love, and insight? Wounds transform our theological perceptions, and our views of self and others. Is there a place for these important perspectives in church? I’m not advocating for an all-out parade of wounds, or a reckless exploitation of wounds. What I am advocating for is the development of safe and destigmatized places in our faith communities, where people feel free to be fully seen, fully known, and fully loved.

When we survey the wounds of Christ on his resurrected body, we are reminded that our healer is wounded, and that his wounds are not to be conquered or tamed, but to be engaged. His wounds welcome us: come share in the wounds. The body of Christ is wounded, and somehow also resurrected and whole all at once. So, don’t check your wounds at the door. Your wounds have a place here. The church never feels more like church than when they share in your wounds.


[1] For an incredible and compelling examination of the story of Thomas in the upper room with Jesus’s wounds, see Shelly Rambo’s latest book, Resurrecting Wounds. Her book deeply impacted my interpretation of this text, and the direction of this article.

Shelly Rambo, Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017).


Without Vision, Ministry Perishes (Part 3)

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When You're Standing in the Struggle

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