"Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God." - Isaiah 40:1
The psychologist Susan Silk published an article about the psychology of comfort called "Ring Theory," or, for short: Comfort In, Dump Out. It’s personal for her: after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in the hospital, she got tired of having to comfort people who were supposed to be comforting her.
Ring Theory puts the wounded person at the center of a circle, and everybody else in concentric rings around the wounded. Their distance from the center corresponds to the closeness of their relationship: partners are closest in, followed by family, close friends, work colleagues, and, finally, Facebook friends.
The rule of Ring Theory is that you have to comfort anyone in a circle smaller than yours, and get your own needs met by someone in a circle larger than yours.
The priest Henri Nouwen didn’t coin the phrase Wounded Healer—Carl Jung did that—but Henri popularized it. He said that we Jesus-people are called to put our wounds, once they have begun healing, into the service of the newly wounded, and he also told this story:
A Rabbi came to the prophet Elijah and asked, "Tell me, when will the Messiah come?" The reply, "Go ask him yourself," surprised the Rabbi. "Where is he?" he asked. "He's sitting at the gates of the city," Elijah said. "But how will I know which one he is?" the Rabbi inquired.
"He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all of their wounds all at one time and then bind them up again; but he unbinds his wounds one at a time and then binds that wound up again. He says to himself, 'Perhaps I shall be needed and I must always be ready.'"
If we are the hands and feet and wounds of Christ in the world, what does it mean to be "always ready"?
It has something to do with sitting among others who are wounded.
It has something to do with only unbinding one wound at a time.
It has something to do with acknowledging that we are not only here for ourselves, but might be needed, and called by God to respond to that need, at any moment.
God, bind up my old wounds, and help me to get a grip, that I may comfort in, and dump out, as the day requires. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister at First Church Somerville UCC, in Somerville, Massachusetts.