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The "Wounded Healer" - A Social Worker's Journey of Transformation

Several months ago, I wrote about the vulnerability of telling an unfinished story. I'd much rather share something wrapped in ribbon with a nice bow on top than something with shreds of newspaper held together by duct tape.

While my story continues to unfold, there are a few new chapters being written:

I am entering the final semester of a 10 month journey towards a master's degree in social work, specializing in non-profit leadership at Wayne State University. While my heart is for helping hurting people, this crazy brain of mine also thinks in terms of broad community and organizational change. I guess it's the whole "catch him a fish vs. teach him how to fish" mentality. I should probably learn how to fish if I'm going to keep using this analogy...

Additionally, I am starting in a new position at New Hope Center for Grief Support. For the first two years my role was primarily with fund development and special events. Last summer, I became the Program Director, leading the grief programs and building up teams of volunteers to best use their skills and life experiences to help others. However, I am honored to have been selected as the new Executive Director for New Hope and will fully step into this position upon graduation in May of 2017.

I have no doubt that God has used this blog to help prepare my heart for this position. It is a beautiful privilege to serve people during such a painful time and help them begin their journey towards hope, healing, and new beginnings.

Why Social Work?

After watching his famous TED talk, I recently read the book, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. As the responsibilities at work and workload of grad school increase, I thought it would be wise to go back to why I first made the decision to enter the field of social work.

10 years ago, I was at the darkest place in my life. I had lost the ability to laugh and enjoy life. I felt hopeless and saw no purpose to my existence. My self hatred had grown to the point where I no longer thought the world benefited with me in it. I had reached rock bottom.

It was at this point when God began to grab ahold of my heart. I just didn't know it yet. He began to bring people in my life to reflect His love, grace, and compassion, even using someone's story of intense grief to build connection. They bore the weight of my pain while showing me there was so much more to life than what I was currently experiencing. This message was much deeper than the "Jesus loves me this I know...for the Bible tells me so" I grew up with. It was a message about redeeming painful life experiences. He wasn't just interested in helping me feel better - this was an opportunity to find meaning and purpose for the first time in my life.

My growth began by addressing an identity issue: I didn't know who I was. I had always saw myself as someone who was broken and defective, a "reject" who hides his insecurity behind his humor. However, a pastor and mentor helped me recognize this as a lie and discover a new identity as God's child - a masterpiece being redeemed with a unique purpose in life. (Ephesians 2:10).

As I healed emotionally, I began to find significance in life. I felt that my story could bring hope to others, and I began to feel more alive and experience purpose like I never thought possible. But it all started with one word: Trust.

I had to trust God enough that he could redeem my pain and bring meaning to it.

How do you find meaning in your own pain and suffering? By making it available as a source of hope and healing for someone else. As author Henri Nouwen calls it, we become Wounded Healers. By tapping into our own stories, we become empathetic and compassionate towards the struggles of those around us. That's what people have done for me, and that's what I am in a position to do for others. While this started years ago through serving in a recovery group, leading an ongoing group for singles, and helping at-risk teens at a shelter, I have the privilege of doing this with New Hope Center for Grief Support. And while I've been with the organization for several years, my new role allows me to invest in other leaders to help them grow as "wounded healers" and invest their lives in other people.

I am still a work in progress. But I am in a position to use these experiences to serve people in a higher capacity - to help lead people on a journey of life-transformation. Ultimately, I believe that God is the source of all comfort and is the one who transforms our hearts. But he also uses us to do it (2 Corinthians 1:4). The church does an incredible job, but sometimes people need a little more specialized help than what some churches are equipped to provide.

This is why I chose social work. This is what is driving me to step into a new role at New Hope and go through the daily grind of grad school. I am driven to help people find meaning in their suffering and allow it to transform them into a person that can now share that redeemed pain as a resource for others. Little of this falls into the traditional view of social work. But my desire isn't to become a "social worker." Instead, I view this as an opportunity to cultivate and add new skills to best serve those who are hurting. I just happen to be spending $30K to add a few letters next to my name.

***This article was modified from a previous version that was published on July 5, 2016.

Join The Conversation

Have you ever felt an intense burden in your heart to serve others? Have you had a moment or series of events that has altered the direction of your life and caused you to dedicate yourself to helping others? Or are you in the midst of life-transformation right now? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below, or share them with me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.

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