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Velveteen Rabbit Style Healing

Remember the Velveteen Rabbit? It's that marvelous timeless story of a stuffed animal that came to life, was thrown out for being worn out, and later became the most loved toy of the sick little boy. The Velveteen Rabbit was dirty, his fur almost rubbed off, one eye missing, but he was real. And that's why the little boy loved him.

His 'authenticity' has much to teach us about successful healers. You see, a prime tenet of traditional counseling is that the therapist doesn't reveal himself to the client. He also dare not risk intimacy. The great psychotherapist and author Dr. Carl Menninger mused on the pity of all this propriety. He understood that the deepest psychotherapeutic need is love. And love is neither emotionally detached nor holier than thou. Love requires no mask or pretense.

At the first growth retreat I attended, I was astonished by the vulnerability of the facilitators. They openly shared their own struggles with us -- 'modeling' they called it. They taught us lessons from their own failures as well as victories, and they openly reveled to us their weaknesses and humanity. That in turn allowed us to be instantly open with our small group. And THAT enabled us to come out of hiding, move beyond pretense and get help from each other that we never could have received otherwise.  

Jesus and the Apostle Paul were vulnerable leaders. For Pete's sake, Jesus lived with His followers for three years. They saw him sweat, cry, and get angry and frustrated -- sometimes with them. Paul openly admitted his weaknesses and even his struggle with lust. He feared it could rob him of salvation. No self respecting seminary or grad school of psychology would recommend these methods but God did. Because they work. And if it's good enough for God's  Son and His greatest servants, it's good enough for me.

When I returned from that first retreat, I changed how I related to people. I still do that with my clients. Healing ministry isn't about telling people what they need to change. It's about getting into the reality of the struggle of life; sharing the grit and determination of a client; being real, and thus helping others overcome their own hurts, condemnations and shortcomings. It's no secret to them I'm dirty and had some fur rubbed off. I firmly believe there's no place for false pride either in preaching or healing work.

Years ago, Keith Miller wrote a terrific book called HABITATION OF DRAGONS. In it he shared how, in his devotional reading, he occasionally came across an admission of failure or weakness in a great Christian. These rare revelations helped him so much more than all the 'glory stories' he read from famous saints that he wrote an entire book on his failures, hence HABITATION OF DRAGONS.

In that same spirit, the Catholic monk and mystic Henri Nouwen wrote a book years ago called WOUNDED HEALERS. In it he also shared his struggles, and examined the very real fact that we are all wounded people; that we all benefit most from reality, not pretense, especially in the person of our healers and helpers.

Pay close attention the next time you hear a sermon. I was shocked when I resigned from the pastoral ministry years ago and began attending churches. Almost every pastor I heard used guilt to motivate his parishioners. Liberal and conservative churches alike seemed to value the emotional stick far more than the carrot. The rare sermon in which the speaker shared out of his struggle instantly got my attention. I was all ears to hear that unique person who, instead of pontificating, vulnerably revealed his or her proclivities. Such sermons give me much needed hope. The other kind merely remind me what a worm I am and thus make it even harder to overcome my own wormnosity.

Last week I heard one of the best sermons I have heard in a long time. It was delivered by Dr. Clive Calver, who runs a ministry called WORLD RELIEF. He shared lessons from Jesus' first miracle, the changing of water into wine. One of the main lessons, he said, is that God uses frail, broken sinners like you and me. He wants to change the water of our own human inadequacy and weakness into the wine of His Spirit's work. We need not be perfect to serve Him, we just need to be available.

So why do I share this? Because nothing enables a client to open up their entire life like vulnerability in a facilitator or counselor. In therapy or healing work, I need a client to level with me. I need him to get down and dirty -- to admit where he really lives, to reveal the darkest most hidden closets in his very soul. If he doesn't do that it wastes his time and mine, and healing simply won't happen. He can only become that honest if he trusts me and knows that I won't judge or condemn him. And that can only happen when he discovers I have feet of clay just like he does.

I think this is why, when James tells us how people get healed, he tells us they must first call for the elders. In doing that, they admit they have a need. Secondly, they must confess "one to another." This is radical stuff! That means the spiritual leaders, to be effective, must be willing to be vulnerable to the person who is in need. Then and only then will the prayer of faith release its power. Only after that can you pray and anoint with oil.

I know hordes of people who will anoint with oil and pray for the sick. I know precious few who will engage in mutual confession before they pray for a person. And THAT'S what releases the power to heal. That's what brings the person back to God. That's what enables the sick and hurting to find hope. These things come, not from feeling low and less than others, but from having the kind of deep, trusting, open relationships with their spiritual leaders that enable them to realize we're all in this together. Along with sickness pretense, religiosity and hypocrisy flee from such encounters. The ill are healed, demons cast out, perchance even the dead shall rise.

When I was a young Christian and my own misery convicted me of a sin, I used to promise God I'd never do it again. I now picture Him laughing lovingly at that. He knows better than I how weak I really am.

I no longer do that. I no longer promise to be a good little boy forever. I now also know myself too well.

Thankfully, such vain and lofty promises aren't necessary. God looks on my heart. He knows my spirit is willing but He also know my flesh is abysmally weak. He understands. So much so that now when I confess, all I need to do is exactly that and I am forgiven. I John 1, verses 8-10 says this: "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. "

Please notice it doesn't say we must confess, repent and promise to never do it again. The sole precondition for receiving forgiveness is naked, bald, unvarnished confession. God doesn't ask us to genuflect, say a million Hail Mary's, or even promise to be good. All we must do is confess. Once we truly believe that, we can receive grace. And with grace comes healing and the blessed power to change. Without it, we remain bound to the endless downward spiral of our own bondage and destructive compulsions.

Grace is mediated through courageous wounded healers, people brave enough to share their own pain, frustration and defeats. Anything less is the impotent religion of psychology or organized religion. And anything less, is simply not good enough.

Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at The Ultimate Breakthrough "


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