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.