Healing Spiritual Wounds - Review

TLDR version: A much needed resource for people of faith, and for those in ministry.
Increasingly, those of us in ministry are finding ourselves spending more time with people who are either new to the church or returning to the church. Once upon a time, people were raised in the church and stayed in the church - I mean, maybe they drifted away for a few years in their 20s, but just for a moment.

There is a set of tools for cradle-to-grave church members. Here are the steps of faith formation ("confirmation then graduation then marriage, etc"). Here's how to build on your positive experience and grow deeper in faith. These tools - these steps - are what most people learn when they train for ministry.

Now a growing population has left the community we call "church," or has intentionally chosen to stay away from it. Some were raised in the church and walked away. Others saw the church at a distance and have worked to keep the church at arm’s length. And still others remain in the church with an uneasy peace. 

This new population has awoken important realizations among those of us who provide pastoral care – that many people have been hurt by the church, many people have been taught faith in a way that is counter to the good news of Jesus, many people have deep spiritual wounds. 

The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt's new publication from HarperOne - Healing Spiritual Wounds - is written with just such realizations in mind. It is theology, pastoral care, and a workbook for all those who carry spiritual wounds and all those whose ministry is the healing of those wounds. 

Many a Christian memoirist will write with honesty about the struggles that they once overcame, long ago. Pastor Merritt's memoir is raw and honest about the wounds she carries to this day, and the work she is currently and continuing to doing to heal from them. 

With humor, candor, and deep insight, Pastor Merritt opens up to the reader some of the most painful intersections of faith, Christian community, and human frailty in her life. 

Each chapter deals with a different type of spiritual wound. Pastor Merritt describes the ways many of us have been hurt, points to some of the effects of that pain on our lives, and then – and this is key – offers tools to help the reader unpack that wound and begin the process of healing.

“Our souls are tender places. We hold our ideals, hopes, wishes, and dreams there. That’s why spiritual wounds can feel so devastating … There seem to be so many people who want to heal, but they can’t figure out where they placed the balm.” 

Merritt’s personal stories in Healing Spiritual Wounds held up a mirror to my own stories, and her healing points her readers toward their own peace. For all of us imperfect people, living out our faith in community with other imperfect people, Carol Howard Merritt gives us tools for a healthier, more compassionate spiritual life. 

As a person of faith, I am looking forward to returning to this book again and again as I work through the exercises provided in each chapter. As a pastor, Healing Spiritual Wounds provides me with an extremely helpful set of insights and tools as I care for those I am called to serve. 

With Healing Spiritual Wounds, Carol Howard Merritt provided me with the spiritual direction that I didn't know I needed, and given me some of the tools I've been looking for in my ministry. 

Disclosure: I am fortunate to count Carol as a friend, and was provided with a review copy of this book from HarperOne.

The Sin of Boring Church

Earlier, a conversation happening at UNCO asked the question "Why can't we get as excited about church as we do about the new Star Wars movie?"

As someone who engages with the meeting places of faith and culture, I've thought about this question before.
As someone who leads worship and preaches, leading a congregation in faith formation, I've thought about this question before.
I knew my answer.

While I am prone to hyperbole (aren't all preachers?) I really believe this to be true.

My friend Tripp Hudgins called me out on this, and invited me to a deeper, more nuanced conversation about it.

Now, let me be clear - Tripp is one of the smartest people I know. He has spent years studying worship, and I learn a lot from him. We agree on much more than we disagree on - and in our disagreement I continue to learn from his wisdom.

(Read Tripp's counterpoint to this post - "In Praise of Boredom")

Now, to the point.

The church has been entrusted with one of the most exciting stories ever. A story filled with drama and intrigue, with humor and sadness, with celebration and sorrow.

Yes, the overarching story - the story of creation and redemption, of God and the world.
But also the stories within the story - stories of death and resurrection, of adventure and betrayal, or redemption and romance.

Most people experience our telling of this powerful story like Mr Bean:

The church has been handed this gift - these powerful, world-changing stories - and all too often we tell them as if they are as exciting as watching paint dry.

And that's a sin.

It is a disservice to and misuse of the gift that God has entrusted to us. 

Not all of our proclamation is needs to be "exciting" - it's not about turning the church nonstop into the adrenaline rush of watching Rey pilot the Millennium Falcon (although there are moments like that).
But our proclamation should always be engaging.

Proclaiming the story invites us to be a part of it. 
Their story then becomes my story now.

Some clarifications.

This is not about worship style - contemporary or traditional or postmodern or ancient-modern, they can all be boring, they can all be engaging.

It's not about preaching style - manuscript or not, behind a pulpit or perambulating - they can all be boring, they can all be engaging.

I agree with Tripp: boredom - that place of giving one's mind the unencumbered space to wander free - can be a beneficial part of the life of faith.

But the central act of proclamation, within the central gathering of the worshiping community, should not be boring.

We have gotten lazy with how we tell the story.

We (proclaimers) need to re-learn the power of inviting people into the drama of the story entrusted to us.
We need to let boring church die, and engaging church be reborn.

Our task, our calling, is to invite people into the most exciting and amazing story of all time and give them the tools to make it their own story.

And there is nothing boring about that.

Living Together

The central element of the Christian life is baptism - the waters that unite us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. I offer you this little devotion, as a way of rooting your day in the gift God has given in baptism.

What we have is two problems

  1. An Identity problem
  2. An Identification problem

My Identity
We have many things asking to be a part of our identity. Profession, family, politics, friendships, ideologies. Some of these are good things, some or not. But our problems start when those identities become more important than our baptismal identity. Before I am anything else, I am God's beloved child. That supersedes everything else. Child of God.

My Identification of Others
Our many identities affect how we view others, and how we define them and interact with them. Are they the opponent, the other side, wrong, sinful, hateful, etc, etc. Disagreement is a part of life, and a part of the life of faith. But when we look at others, we are called to primarily to see their baptismal identity. They may be many things, but in our eyes they are first God's beloved child. And that should shape every word we say to and about them.

You are God's beloved child.
They are God's beloved child.

Now then, children of God, how shall we live together?

Joy Jar

For the last month at Spirit of Joy! Lutheran Church, we have been talking about joy - what joy means, where it comes from, and how we experience.

Last Sunday, we talked there are times when it is hard to find joy - times when life is hard, or maybe we just have a bad day.

As a part of Growing In Faith Together (our intergenerational education hour) we made "Joy Jars" for just such days. This is a great project for any age group - our group ranged from 6 months old to 80+ years old.


  • A jar (we used plastic storage containers from a discount store, but anything will work that has an opening large enough to reach into)
  • Squares of paper in 3 different colors
  • Supplies for writing and decorating 
And that's it! 

On the three colored pieces of paper, we wrote things that give us joy
  1. On one color piece of paper, write memories that make you happy when you think about them.
  2. On a second color of paper, write Bible verses or stories that make you happy or give you strength.
  3. On a third color of paper, write activities that give you joy.
If you are doing this activity as a group, do one color at a time and discuss them around your table. What memories give you joy? What stories in the Bible give you strength? What activities give you joy? 

When you are done, take you joy jar home and put where you can find it quickly (perhaps a family devotional space, if you have one). 

When you have a hard day, when you are upset, worried, sad, or angry, reach into your joy jar. 

If you pull out a memory, spend some time savoring that memory.

If you pull out a Bible verse or story, look it up. Read it out loud. Pray the story. Make a sketch or a piece of art based on it. Share it online with friends. 

If you pull out an activity, go and do it. 

Be joy in the world.  

Hear more about our ministry at Spirit of Joy! - connect with us on facebook and sign up for my weekly email devotional

Want to learn more about Intergenerational (Cross+Gen) ministries? Check out this great retreat and learning event in Colorado this October

Pentecost Call to Worship

As we prepare for Pentecost this year, I couldn't find a piece of the liturgy that fit well with what we are doing at Spirit of Joy! Lutheran Church, so I wrote this call to worship. With the thought that perhaps it will be useful to others, I am sharing it here.

Welcome in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On that first Pentecost, God Spirit transformed the lives of the disciples and changed the world. As we gather, we pray for that same Spirit to be poured out on us.
Come, Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit is a fire, consuming our selfishness, our hatred, and our indifference – filling our lives with new life and the light of God.
Come, Holy Spirit!

Filled with the Holy Spirit, our lives bear fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Like the beacon of a lighthouse, may the fruit of the Spirit shine in our lives.
Come, Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit never leaves us where we are – we are sent by the Spirit out into the world to be the salt of the earth, to show God’s love to all people, to bring God’s Spirit of joy to the world.
Come, Holy Spirit!

Gracious God, pour your Spirit into our hearts, that we would worship today with all our hearts, that our lives would be transformed by your power, and that we would carry your joy from this place into all the world.

To you we give our honor and praise, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.