Greenleaf writes: This is an interesting word, healing, with its meaning ‘to make whole.’ …It is always something sought. …the servant leader might also acknowledge that his own healing is his motivation. There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.
This is a passage that for forty-plus years I keep returning to. The implications are, for me, legion. I begin with the four dimensions that help define me as a fully human being. These are my P.I.E.S. – my Physical, my Intellectual, my Emotional, and my Spiritual dimensions (NOTE: for some ‘Spirit’ resonates more with them than does ‘Spiritual’). When I reflect upon this passage I also add another dimension, another ‘S’ – my Social dimension; think: ‘relationships’ [which then gives us either S.P.I.E.S. or P.I.E.S.S.].
At any one time I am either nurturing or depleting one or more of these dimensions. Nurturance, for me, promotes ‘healing’ and ‘wholeness’ while depletion, for me, promotes wounding, fragmenting, self-violence (hence a need for healing and a need to help make whole). I have my ‘favorite’ ways of both nurturing myself and depleting myself (I do not think I am alone when it comes to having ‘favorite’ ways of doing both).
During these past forty-plus years many folks have told me that they are ‘turned off’ by Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant’ because it appears to them to be a self-sacrificial model. One serves and serves and serves and is finally used up – their inner fire is extinguished and they fill with dense smoke and suffocate from within. They are harmed, not healed – actually, they are more than harmed, they are sacrificed on the altar of service; this, they say, is when ‘serving becomes immoral.’
Because of their belief/interpretation of Greenleaf this passage becomes even more crucial. I have read and re-read every article, essay and letter that Greenleaf wrote (the many that I have been able to obtain) and this is one of the few passages where he directly addresses the need for the servant to heal – for the servant to become ‘whole.’ [By the by, gentle reader, if you want to read and reflect upon two powerful books which focuses on ‘healing/wholeness’ I invite you to explore Henri Nouwen’s book ‘The Wounded Healer’ and Parker J. Palmer’s book ‘A Hidden Wholeness’. Nouwen’s book has been a staple for me for more than fifty years.]
As imperfect human beings we all need ‘healing,’ we all need to become ‘whole’ – the frame this takes for each of us varies greatly. Often our healing involves forgiveness and reconciliation – for ‘wounds’ received and for ‘wounds’ delivered. Each of the five P.I.E.S.S. dimensions at times experience a need for healing and a need to become whole. Because each of us is an imperfect human being the need for healing and the need to become ‘whole’ will continue to exist.
Greenleaf says that the servant seeks ‘to serve the highest priority needs’ of the other. What could be of a higher priority than the ‘need to heal’ and the ‘need to make whole’? An appropriate question for me to end with this morning.