There’s a drama series called “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” on Netflix. It tells the story of two people who end up healing each other’s wounds of childhood trauma through the power of empathy and mutual understanding. The resentful and hurting protagonist easily goes out of her way to hurt others, until she learns how to embrace herself through the help of another wounded person. What changes her life is self-acceptance and love that she so longed but could not find in the world.
I reflected on Jesus Christ our ultimate ‘wounded healer,’ the term coined by Henry Nouwen. God brought us healing and life through Jesus who entered into our suffering and experienced death – to the point of ‘descending into hell,’ as the traditional version of the Apostles’ Creed puts it. Jesus has been through it all and therefore sympathizes with all our weaknesses. What Nouwen recognized is that as followers of Jesus, our wounds can also become a source of emphatic understanding. In God’s hands, our woundedness can be put in the service to bring healing to others.
One scene from “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” left a lasting impression on me. A person with autism is screaming in great distress due to an emotional flashback of childhood trauma. What’s startling is the reaction from passersby: Some are just watching and pointing fingers, while others try to silence him by force, slapping him as if it’s okay to do so. Then steps out one person in blunt defense. It’s the protagonist who struggles with being ‘not okay,’ who understands what’s not okay and immediately stops the abuse. In the end, it’s the wounded who embraces and promotes healing of the other wounded.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And Jesus said that God hears the prayer of a sinner who humbly seeks mercy with a broken spirit and contrite heart, rather than that of the self-righteous. Why is that? This week, I read Richard Rohr’s “Breathing Under Water,” which talks about the spirituality and the gospel principles of the Twelve Steps programs for addiction recovery. I remember the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that met twice-weekly at the Boston church building our Korean congregation shared with a white congregation in the early 1980s. The doorway to healing in those meetings is to say your name and reveal that you are an alcoholic. The next step is to acknowledge that you cannot overcome addiction by yourself, seek help, and have a willingness to be healed by God’s help.
Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “In the four Gospels, Jesus did two things over and over again: he preached and he healed. We have done a lot of preaching, but not too much healing. We did not know how.” And he goes on to explain that the problem may be that we are not involved in healing ourselves by faith in Jesus, or in relating with love and compassion according to the words of Jesus. Through faith, healing of both body and soul happens by the indwelling Presence of Jesus, which is the incarnation of God’s infinite love in us. This faith is what needs to be recovered in us.
So many of us and our loved ones struggle with being ‘not okay.’ But in Jesus’ eyes, the world was ‘not okay’ to deem God’s children as godless and godforsaken. So Jesus embraced and communed with the sinners, the unclean, and the lost. And in the end, as Moltmann puts it, Jesus took upon himself the eternal death of all the godless and the godforsaken and died on the cross. How can we as a church go back to the love of God in Christ’s incarnation? There is no other way but to be where Jesus is present – among the least, the lost, and the last – and take part in God’s Kingdom that Jesus has established already here and now.
It’s the meaning of Peter’s vision as we read in Acts. So often we insist that it’s ‘not okay’ even after God proclaimed that it’s okay. Jesus has given us the Good News: By his wounds at the cross, we are healed. By his love and grace, we are saved.