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Becoming a Godly Healer


I had finished an evening of Bishop interviews and was about to head home when the office phone rang. A woman in the ward asked if she could discuss a problem with me. I was tired but glad to do my father-of-the-ward duty.

She told me that she was totally disappointed with her husband. She found him to be completely useless. As she warmed to the subject she declared that he had never contributed anything to her or their family.

I should tell you about her husband. He was indeed somewhat scatterbrained. I think of him as a gentle eccentric. But he worked hard as a university professor, supported his family well, was almost uniformly gentle, spent spare time caring for their home, and was active in the Church.

Limited options

The woman who called was famously volatile so, in spite of the seeming unfairness of her accusations, I made extra efforts to be understanding, patient, and supportive of her. The woman continued her complaint. In fact, she continued for more than an hour.

Two response options seemed to be available to me:

  1. I could agree with her. The troubled woman seemed to favor this option. She seemed to want justification to exit her disappointing marriage. She was frustrated and unhappy.
  2. I could disagree with her. I could challenge her to see her husband’s contributions and intentions.

For an hour or two I did something like #1. I tried to be supportive even though I didn’t fully agree with her. Then, for 5 minutes, I did #2. Because her complaints were unfair and extreme, I challenged her to be more balanced. That was when our discussion broke down. I had missed the real point. She was trying to tell me something I was missing entirely. I was listening to the words and missing the message.

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Missed messages

She was trying to tell me that she felt lonely and trapped. She had been injured by life. She, like the man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho in Jesus’ famous parable, felt wounded and half dead. Was the problem one of crushed idealism? Was it one of conflicting styles between husband and wife? Was it a matter of exhaustion and loneliness?

I will never know. By turning my will against hers, I closed off the channels of communication. I was suckered into a debate about the merits of her complaint and missed the cry of her soul. I was like either the priest or Levite. I had walked around the injured one without being touched by the feeling of her infirmity (See Hebrews 4:15).

Imitating a better model

I wish I had known at the time how to be a good Samaritan. The Samaritan did not chide the injured one for his foolish journey. He did something wonderfully different. “When he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:33-34).

In this great story Jesus offers us the model of a compassionate healer. The good Samaritan does not even consider the foolishness or deservingness of the injured traveler. He does not seek to assign blame. He has compassion, offers all the healing available, and carries him to a place of further healing.

Consider how much better compassion serves us than any debating of culpability. I did not need to weigh in on her argument or her husband’s merits. I could offer compassion. Imagine that I had said any or all of the following:

  • You must feel terribly lonely.
  • You sound very hurt and disappointed.
  • Every day that you feel that way must be a terrible burden.
  • I don’t know how you keep going when you feel that way.

Note that none of these compassionate responses suggest that I either agree or disagree with her. I do not need to take sides. I simply offer compassion on the altar of her suffering.

Continued healing

Yet there is another vital step on the road to being made whole. When an injured one is starting to feel peaceful, we carry her or him to the inn where the Perfect Innkeeper and His helpers can minister to her. As the pastor of her soul, I could have offered my compassion and tears. Then I might have invited her to the next stage of healing. I might have invited her: “I honor you for continuing to try when you feel so discouraged. Given that you have made covenants with God and your husband, what do you think God would have you do to make your marriage more of what it should be?”

I have no illusions that she would immediately say, “Wow! I have not been fair to my husband. I need to cultivate some charity in my heart and find ways to work with him.” A woman who had felt hurt and alienated for decades was not going to instantly become a glad spouse. Healing takes time—and often a big chunk of eternity.

But by trying to force my version of correction on her, I dishonored the only One who can heal reliably. I tried to play healer and righter of wrongs. I turned my will against her and she turned hers against me. I wish I had known more about how to invite people to the Healer.

Periodic conversations with her might have involved continuing doses of compassion. And various forms of the question about God’s plan for her might have been supplemented by a joint exploration of scripture. We could have sought to be taught from on High.

Injury in the workplace

Recently I experienced another form of the same challenge. A colleague shared with me that she worried that our work group was sometimes too negative. Sometimes we may have ganged up on this administrator or that colleague. She was right. But notice the complication. When a co-worker complains about an administrator, I can challenge my co-worker. “I think we should speak more kindly.” But maybe this is akin to telling the injured traveler that he was unwise to travel alone from Jerusalem to Jericho. Maybe I am turning against my co-worker. If I accuse the complainer of being judgmental or a gossip, I have become an accuser rather than a healer.

So how do we bring a positive spirit to our conversations without turning against co-workers, friends, and family members? The formula is the same. First, we show compassion. We try to understand what the complaint means to the person who makes it. Maybe the person feels personally hurt or worried about her job. We offer empathy. Second, we invite positive action: “What do you think we can do to make things better with that person?”

God has not appointed us to be the ultimate fixers. He invites us to be fellow travelers. If I hope to be the kind of fellow traveler that the good Samaritan was, I must monitor my heart. Is it filled with harrowing or healing, tearing down or lifting up, accusing or advocating?

The good Samaritan not only carried the injured traveler to a place of healing, he also paid the two pence for future healing. That two pence was the exact amount of the man’s annual temple tax. In other words, he actively sought to put the person right with God. When we accuse anyone—a complaining co-worker, an unhappy spouse, or an imperfect administrator—of badness, we are stealing from their account with God. We are presuming to regulate His goodness and love.

The challenge

The story of the good Samaritan was evoked by the question about neighbors and our obligation to love them. Jesus’ message to all of us is that anytime we see anyone who is injured, we are invited to minister with all the healing means available to us. I think He even challenges us to see that those who are mad at a spouse, a child, a neighbor, or the world are also injured ones. Underneath the anger is hurt. We are invited to carry all injured souls to Him. That is the duty of every believer.
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Thanks to Barbara for her penetrating insight and welcome suggestions.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Jim April 22, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Brother Wally,
    I enjoyed this- thank you for sharing.

    First, I admire that you patiently and compassionately listened and were supportive for more than an hour. I also admire that you considered the outcome and recognized an even better way to handle that and other similar situations.

    Regarding the parable, it is wonderful, and you have really brought it to life. For me, the key is to truly love our neighbor. When we are filled with love for others and as we convey that love and compassion, I think our actual words are less important as others understand that we truly care and want to help them.

    Also, for me, compassion is usually not a normal reaction. I think that having the compassion of the Good Samaritan requires not just saying or doing compassionate things but being compassionate. It requires a real change of heart.

    Thank you again.

    • Reply admin April 24, 2008 at 11:56 am

      You’re so right, Jim! We need a change of heart! When we have that
      might change, the right reaction will come automatically. I’m working on
      it–but it seems that God wants lots of evidence that the change of
      heart really is our innermost desire.

      Blessings to you.
      Wally

  • Reply Natalie April 22, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Dear Wally,
    Well I think at this moment in time there are probably 10 friends at church that would definitely benefit from reading your blog. Myself included. My husband and I have been going through some trials, both from outside work etc, and from inside with church etc. We’ve found ourselves on two different sides of the same street, trying to travel in the same direction together but having to yell across busy traffic just doesn’t seem to work.
    I need to step back and centre on Christ in my life.
    Thanks for your advice. Perhaps soft words are the way to go.
    Kindest regards,
    Natalie.

  • Reply Candleman April 23, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Wonderful post! There’s a talk on CD by Jack R. Christianson called Healing the Wounded Soul, that I recommend highly. He teaches this concept marvelously. It’s like we say in addiction recovery. It’s not about the substance that is abused, it’s about the pain. Your point, Dr. Wally, that treating the symptoms rather than the source, is well taken. I languished all too many years in addiction precisely because I was focused on the symptoms rather than the cause of my pain. It’s like taking aspirin to help a brain tumor. The pain may be masked, but the problem isn’t solved. Clearly, only Christ can heal the wounded soul. We can help by lovingly bringing wounded souls to him.

    As always, thanks for your insight and wisdom.

    • Reply admin April 24, 2008 at 11:57 am

      You said it beautifully! Our opportunity is to point wounded souls (all of us!) to Christ!

      -Wally

  • Reply Deanna April 28, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I just read your article on Meridian magazine and wanted to thank you for your loving reminder of how to treat others and myself. As a hospice nurse, I frequently deal with family members in crisis, whose pain is sometimes manifested in anger and lashing out triggered by some percieved mistake or shortcoming. It can be hard not to become defensive and to fail to look to the root of the anger and compassionately listen. The compassionate responses you outlined are wonderful tools to help them talk out and find their own answers. For myself, I too find myself “trapped” and “lonely” in a marriage. Over the years I have ridden the rollercoaster of emotions and at times wanted nothing more than to escape but whenever I have been at the brink, I have been blessed with the peace and the resolve to continue. While my spouse’s issues and choices isolate him from most activites and relationships including me and his family, I do know that he is a beloved child of God and I continue to hope for his recovery if not in this life than the next. That does not however ease the pain of not having a partner to share, plan, talk and laugh with, nor does it make me a horrible person when at times I daydream of a life where I have a partner who is helping me row towards the shore rather than one who has dropped his anchor so I must struggle alone against it to make any progress.

    • Reply admin April 29, 2008 at 9:15 pm

      Friend,

      I am humbled by the burdens that some are called to carry. May the grace of Christ lift you up.

      -Wally

  • Reply Jenn April 28, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I love this article especially because you teach principles and then illustrate how to apply the principle with specific words we could use to show compassion. I want to work on this exactly as you’ve laid it out. I have the faith that it will bring good results.

  • Reply Jim April 30, 2008 at 10:10 am

    I appreciate your insight. As a new Bishop, I struggle with the area of counseling and consoling the members who come to me to “fix” their problems. Several of your articles have helped me greatly. This particular one was amusing as well as my wife has told me for years that she doesn’t want me to fix the problem, but just to listen and have compassion. I’m usually in a rush to just tell my family how I would handle the problem instead of allowing them to vent and then guide them through a growing and learning process. I’m always looking forward to my next learning experience in your next blog.

    • Reply admin May 2, 2008 at 10:37 am

      Jim,
      I am amazed that compassion is the first gift that the good Samaritan offered the injured one. I suppose we should do the same thing for those with injuries as simple as those inflicted by daily life.

      -Wally

  • Reply Charity and the Good Samaritan « Be Not Weary May 12, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    […] has been written about this great parable.  I particularly like this post from “Dr. Wally’s” blog and this article from the Ensign titled The Good […]

  • Reply Christi January 8, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I have reread this article and found it very helpful as I have been having difficulty communicating with a sister in law that has gone through some severe trials without the knowledge of the restored gospel. She has been offered the truth for years, especially at this time in her life but refuses to hear it.

    Anyway, she has taken care of my brother who was diagnosed with Leukemia a year ago. She pretty much has gone through the wringer, but has had help from me and my siblings. My husband and sons have been the most involved and me personally. We physically moved them to Idaho, let them live in a house of ours rent free, gave them money, helped them get a new checking acct, helped move their adult children and I have been there emotionally for her and literally have been burned out from giving of myself.

    Anyway, after treatment for my brother in Utah, they are back in Idaho and I have set some boundaries, but they seem to get forgotten. So during my recent visits, my sister in law complains, and I’m not there for the complaints at all.

    But all I seem to hear is that we aren’t doing enough to make their lives comfortable in so many words. The latest was that handles were missing from an antique dresser and certain a valuable rock from a relative of hers is not there at the house.

    I then was hearing accusatory words. As if we might have taken these items or someone stole them, which couldn’t possibly be our wonderful nonmember neighbors that came over and unloaded a large box truck and large enclosed trailer while they were still traveling at their own speed.

    I spotted the stone she was talking about right where it was placed and I’m pretty sure the handles on the dresser were missing the day we packed it into our box truck. That packing day involved 3 sets of missionaries, my husband and her two sons. We made it possible for her collection of rocks to come with her as she was mourning the loss of other items she loved. They were carefully packed and she chose not to supervise as she was under so much stress and sadness.

    All of their belongings were carefully carried into our rental house and garage and there wasn’t anytime for either the 3 sets of missionaries at my brother’s old home nor our neighbor’s sons at the new home to take the stone nor the dresser’s handles. Which not all handles were missing. This task was done last April and she seems to find the time to question this 8 months later. Always in front of her adult children and my brother.

    I really wanted to ask her why she is asking about this now. Also, logically how would the stone be taken. I held my tongue as I’ve been through these type of conversations before and she ends up in tears and very upset. But I am left downtrodded and frustrated and just don’t have nor want to have the arguing skills that she has. As like the woman Bro Goddard spoke with, I would say my sister in law is volatile.

    I could look at it this way to comfort her, as she is thinking of all her losses which many happened before my brother’s illness. So the missing handles and the stone (which I believe is still on the porch) was just a reminder of what her life use to be like and because her mind is so full of tasks to do that she can’t see the stone nor remember what happened to the dresser’s handles at this time.

    I know that I’m not going to change this woman, she has had too many years thinking in this manner and still has trials ahead, but my brother has won the battle of Leukemia and can return to his old job but in the state they were living in.

    This is still a few months away and my sister in law is taking on the task of finding work and getting more education. As they have had no income for over a year, except for what the government has allowed for my brother’s disability and health insurance.

    I think I said the right things for my sister in law’s comments, but it is the getting it off my mind when I am at home. All the feelings that come with such comments from a relative that we have spent over a year helping at the sacrifice of my own children and husband’s goals. My husband and children have been generous and understanding, but do feel the same feelings of frustration after all they have done for my brother’s family.

    This article reminds me to know that Heavenly Father is the healer and I am an instrument in His hands and realize that He can soothe my pains too. This test isn’t over yet, but my reactions to the test can be changed.

    • Reply admin January 26, 2009 at 9:44 pm

      Christi,

      May the Lord pour grace upon you to help you manage a difficult task.

      Wally

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