The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
I Will Make You Hurt

I Will Make You Hurt

A Reflection on a Song

I’m sitting in the living room of a beautiful home. It is late morning, and the light is streaming through the glass doors that lead out to the wooden porch. I’m not visiting friends. I’m actually here to get worked out. It’s the second day of a three-day one-to-one coaching session. It’s just me and my coach in the room. I’m on the couch facing the glass doors – looking towards the light, if you will. My coach is standing directly in front of me, pacing, taking notes on oversized post-it notes, as I share.

Through our conversations we discover that I have carried significant pain and grief through my life. This is not surprising nor something I consider unique to me. Many of us carry significant pain and grief without recognizing it, contending with it, or even letting it go. I discovered that this pain and grief seemed to sit in opposition to one of the deepest desires of my heart – to help.

In his book of the same name, Henri Nouwen presents the idea of the wounded healer. They are someone who, instead of hiding their wound, pressed their wound into the service of others. As much as this was a helpful start in my journey, something to do with the wounds I had experienced, by the time I had landed in that living room it had run its course. My experience was more of the, “hurt people hurt people,” kind. Wounded people wound people. And while the opportunity for confrontation, confession, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation is all there, I wanted to be less wounded. For my part, I wanted to cause less wounds.

And Early Revelation

I’m sitting in my car with a friend after a gig in New York City. We’re talking about relationships. From friendships to the romantic, we compare notes, exchange ideas. We are learning with each other, trying to navigate the complexities of such things. We are circling around ideas of what, in all of this, we can hold to be true. I hear myself say, “I think the only thing I can guarantee is that, even over the course of our own friendship, I will hurt you in some way.” We both sat in silence for a moment.

If that’s true, there has to be something deeper, more important, that’s worth working for, that allows us to work through the hurt. Maybe it’s the person, the connection, the relationship. Whatever it is, it is more important than the pain experienced. Not that the pain isn’t important. It must be acknowledged, and to avoid the real possibility of being formed by the pain we experience it can’t be the focus. I run the risk of becoming a very hard person if I’m immersed in the pain of this world.

Even more importantly, there has to be a way for us to work towards that. How do we do this?

Back to the Living Room

It was in that living room that I was first introduced to idea of the healed healer. Wounded healers in resolving to remain wounded will always have to contend with their wound and risk causing a particular kind of pain in the midst of their service. In the same way those who have healed cannot but contribute to the healing of others. What if this is possible? What if the idea that healed people heal people is true?

When a healed person encounters someone who is suffering their compassion is high. They know the experience of the other, and desire to do what they can to ease the other’s pain. The healed person is not fearful of engaging. There is very little resonance with the pain if any. Nothing of physical memory comes up for the healed person. There isn’t the kind of reaction that can cause further pain. Rather, the compassion is the driving energy. Additionally, the healed person may have a sense of the journey. They know the path. They can come alongside the suffering with recognition and ease. They aren’t trying to prove or runaway from anything. They are not trying. They are simply exuding the healing that is in them. In this context, if the one who is suffering is willing, there may be the possibility of a shift.

Resonance and Johnny Cash

Resonance is one of the ways that I find out what is happening inside me. What music is drawing me towards it? What stories do I find myself connected to? I keep an eye on these things as they help me see what is happening on my insides.

A few months ago, I found myself listening to the Johnny Cash version of the Nine Inch Nails song, Hurt. You can imagine what might have been going on in my life. In the wake of several broken relationships, I was spiraling in a web of thoughts about my responsibility in all of it. I was asking myself, “Who was I in all this?” What was happening inside me was the answer. The music helped me see it. I was the one that would make someone hurt. I was the problem. Whether this was true or not didn’t really matter in the wake of the pain. My reaction to the events was quick, sure, and heightened in expression by the song.

Getting Stuck and Unstuck

While I sat with Johnny and his moving rendition of Hurt for a while, I didn’t want to get stuck in it. Getting stuck in the resonance is often quite attractive. The resonance feels soothing, affirming (even of negative thoughts and feelings), and can be enticing. Still, I knew I didn’t want to be that person. That person whose inevitable end is to hurt people. I have desired to heal and done ongoing work towards that end. My aim is high – even that of Jesus Christ. So, of course, there is yet work to be done. But the work is not at the center of this for me.

There is a deeper reality that I hold on to in the process – and it is the process, even the context, that is central for me. The process looks something like accepting the fact that there is good and evil at work in me. Accurately and specifically addressing both. Being grateful for the good that is at work – so as to avoid becoming prideful – and being repentant at the evil that is at work – so as to avoid becoming stuck. Repentance is really rethinking – being willing to change how I think about things so as to free myself from the regular evil that seems at work in me.

I know that I can not change by sheer willpower or force. Rather I approach this work in relationship with Jesus Christ. His person and persona are the things that I follow out of the regular patterns of evil that exist in me. By spending time in the loving arms of God – literally – I find myself changing. It is in the acts of following and spending time that I find myself changing – healing and being healed. Is there pain? Of course. Is there effort? Most definitely. Is it worth it?

You will have to decide. Is there room in your imagination for an experience of life in which the events of your past do not run your present – and by extension your future? Can you imagine a life in which what comes out of you is pointed towards the good by nature. Personally, can I imagine a life in which I have no resonance with Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails, or even Henri Nouwen? If I can imagine it, I will not be willing to settle for being wounded, nor the beautification of pain. Rather I will put effort towards being a different kind of person. I’ll seek the how. Doing what I can – knowing I can’t do it alone. The alternative is resolving that the way of the world, with all its recursive pain, is just the way it will always be. Frankly, I don’t accept that.

The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.