About four years ago, I was flipping through books in a church library during a break from choir rehearsal. These words made me stop flipping:
I believe that many – perhaps all – of our gifts may be understood in terms of our suffering. The relation is simple: if we did not have the specific set of wounds we have, we would not have the specific set of gifts we have.
Gifts? Wounds? Suffering?
My interest was piqued.
I kept reading:
Our uniqueness as individual humans, while the product of many influences, is intimately related to our wounds. We are shaped and molded by them, made sensitive and toughened by them and by our responses to them through the years. Our particular collection of wounds is a kind of signature or thumbprint for us, for it is unique.
The excerpts above are from the book “Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts” by Lloyd Edwards. I don’t know about you, but I believe there are coincidences and then there are coincidences. Finding this book was a coincidence. It came at just the right time, a time when I was in the middle of a career crisis. Having recently applied for (and been denied) a promotion at my job, I felt lost. I felt stuck. I wanted to grow and learn in ways that my employer could neither see nor support. (Of course there are deeper wounds than not getting a promotion. But when my employer hired someone else for the position, I ended up being the person who had to train him. Ouch.)
The notion of having “spiritual gifts” is not something I grew up with as a Unitarian Universalist. But the notion resonates with me; it speaks to an innermost part which wants to serve others. Spiritual gifts are gifts that come from Spirit, gifts we could not hide if we tried. Have you ever had someone remark on something you do well, but that thing comes so naturally to you that it doesn’t seem remarkable? That’s a gift. Our gifts are often invisible to us because they’re so deeply a part of who we are. We have to work hard to see them.
What feels transformative in Edwards’ book is the invitation to see wounds in a new way. Edwards invites us to understand wounds differently, but without dismissing or diminishing them. Edwards explains that part of valuing the wounds is looking at the gifts that surface from them. My wounds are an integral part of who I am, a part of myself that I have long undervalued. He writes:
The wounds we have suffered are in some sense the prerequisite for the gifts we now enjoy. This insight may not take away the pain and suffering of the wounds, but it may help us to understand painful past experiences in a different light.
Granted, there is more to being a healer than simply being wounded. One must have undergone the healing process in such a way as to be helpful to another wounded person, through insights, sensitivities, and perceptions gained through that experience, but my claim stands: if we did not have the particular set of wounds we have, we would not have the particular set of gifts we have. The gifts are related to the wounds.
By reflecting on the tender places in our lives – whether caused by painful relationships or painful experiences – we can come to know ourselves and our gifts more fully. And the world needs you and your gifts.
So I’m curious, friends: what wounds have you already been transforming into gifts? What have you healed from that you can put in service to those who need your wisdom?
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a favorite poem, “What to Remember When Waking”, by David Whyte:
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.