It is important to preserve a pastoral identity. Amid a crisis like the one we are currently facing, how do we survive? Get up? How do we fulfill the call that God has made to us? How do I rescue my family and help my church when I am as broken as they are?
We all have history, a sad one, we are all wounded. We have emotional, physical, or spiritual wounds.
I like the question that Henri Nouwen asks in his book “The Wounded Healer.” The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds for the fear of being ashamed?” But “How can we put our wounds at the service of others?”
This is the opposite of everything we have been taught in the seminary. We have been trained to hide our wounds, which brings us shame. And we have been encouraged to present ourselves as infallible beings who are above the pain of those we serve. We say, “my family cannot know I suffer because I have to be strong for them. My parishioners cannot know my story of pain and shame because I am going to lose influence on them. My conference leaders cannot know that I have mental health problems, that I am depressed, anxious, and have panic attacks. I have to hide my history, my injuries.”
A new concept to keep a pastoral identity
Today, I challenge that concept and present something revolutionary. I can rewrite my history of shame. My history of wounds, trauma, exhaustion and mental health problems does not need to be hidden. My history does not have to continue to be a history of shame. Jesus died on the cross so that what has caused me shame can be used by God as a source of healing for those around me.
Jesus is the healer of human wounds sent by God: by his wounds, we are healed. His suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation was brought to glory. The rejection he suffered brought a community of love and grace. As followers of Jesus, we can also allow our wounds to be a source of healing for others.
The same way the Father sent Jesus with a mission that through His wounds, others can receive healing, Jesus sends us, as John 20:21 says, so that through our wounds, others can come out of the shame produced by their histories, their wounds, and may achieve healing.
A teaching from an old legend
I found an old legend in the Talmud that can help us understand this concept:
Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi met the prophet Elijah while he was standing at the entrance to Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai’s cave. . . He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.” “Where is He?” “Sitting at the gates of the city.” “How am I going to recognize Him?” “He is sitting among the poor, covered in wounds.
The poor who are next to him untie all their wounds at the same time and then bandage them again. But He unties them one by one and bandages them one by one again, saying, ‘Perhaps someone needs me, and if it happens so, I must always be ready not to be late not even for one minute to help others to bandage their wounds.”
The Messiah, the old legend tells us, is sitting among the poor, bandaging their wounds one at a time, always ready for the moment when He can be called to serve. The same happens with us.
God has sent us to work on our wounds first, with a broken identity, and then to help others bandage their wounds.
What is the process to bandage my wounds and be ready to help others bandage theirs? I ask because you cannot help others heal their wounds if you have not worked on your wounds first.
Rediscover your pastoral identity
First, it is necessary to rediscover your identity because, as a result of the trauma and exhaustion brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, it is likely that our vision of who we are and what we have created has been clouded. Perhaps your wounds and your broken identity do not let you see the wounds of those around you. Therefore, you need to rediscover your identity and ask yourself, “What is my reason for existence?” The answer to this existential question defines the course of your life.
Your pastoral identity is not in what you do, what you possess, or your popularity. Those are broken false identities that Satan wants you to assimilate. Your pastoral identity is in who you are, not in what you do. You are a human being, created in the image of God to receive and give love. That is your pastoral identity. It is that simple. It is not complex. Your identity must be based on the love that God feels for you.
When you understand this reality, you are completely free. Free from the pressure of having to prove that you are good and have something to offer in order to be accepted by the leaders of the conference or your church, free from the pressure of proving that you have something of value according to others, free from the pressure of wanting to impress to be accepted by others. You are free to live in the love of God.
When you understand your identity, you will understand your professional and social identities too. Keep in mind, that the Bible uses different images to describe your professional identity: You are a shepherd of sheep, you are a priest, a prophet, a minister of the Highest. What greater responsibility is there than that?
How do you rediscover your pastoral identity?
You just need to slow down your life and focus on connecting to Jesus, the source of life and power. You need to develop a structure in your life, where the most important thing for you is to live connected to God. To achieve this, we need to set clear limits so that the church and the pressures of life do not occupy the space that belongs to God in our lives. A more practical solution is to take time to rest and be in solitude.
I am not talking about the spiritual rest on Saturday because that day is the one when we work the most. I am talking about choosing another day of the week to rest and recharge your emotional, physical, and spiritual batteries. It is the structure established by God. He worked six days and then he rested. He gave us a day to work and a night to rest. But we believe that the more we work, the more we achieve. If you are still immersed in that trap of Satan, your identity revolves around your achievements and popularity.