Dec 8th to Dec 14th—Advent Week 2: The Challenge & The Cost

Reading Chapter 3–The Challenge; Chapter 4–The Cost. (p. 51 to p. 90)

The original love is the original blessing.
The original love is the original acceptance.
Long before we talk about original sin or original rejection
we should speak of God’s original love.

– Henri Nouwen, (p. 57)

What a wonderful first week of insightful and thought-provoking comments from so many of you!  I have been deeply touched by your reflections. Your comments strengthen my conviction that Following Jesus is a superb addition to the Nouwen canon  Thanks to all of you joining us on our Advent journey—those sharing their thoughts and comments and those reading and reflecting silently. 

Last week we heard Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” and we chose to answer his call to “come follow me.”  Those are important first steps on our spiritual journey—necessary, but not sufficient. In essence, we focused on who we follow (Jesus). This week we realize that to move forward when following Jesus we must accept the challenge to live a Christian life of love. We must also be willing to pay the cost through our compassionate suffering, but knowing that we are not suffering alone. So, this week we focus on how we follow Jesus. Henri gently guides us to “love your enemies” through acts of forgiveness and service and to “take up your cross” by connecting our suffering to the suffering of Jesus. This and so much more is awaiting your discovery in our reading this week.

Here are some questions that might prompt your thinking as you reflect on the reading. As always, the questions are merely suggestions.  Please share whatever touched your heart and mind from the reading. You are also welcome to share your reflections and insights prompted by the comments of others, as you did so wonderfully last week.

1. In chapter 3 Henri says, “Jesus came to reveal to us the first love. The original love. We are called by Jesus to come in touch with that first love.” (p. 56) In the next paragraph Henri further describes the first love. He then writes, “The whole spiritual life is a life where we come in touch with that first love.”

  • Before describing the first love, Henri discusses our woundedness. What is your response to Henri’s understanding of our woundedness? Have you seen this in yourself or in others?
  • What is your understanding of the first love as described by Henri?  How do you experience the first love in your life?
  • How does the first love relate to worldly love in our society? In your life?

2. In chapter 4 we read, “God came to invite us to connect our burden with God’s burden, to connect our suffering with God’s suffering, to connect our pain with God’s pain. . .  Compassion means not only that God suffers with us but that now we are invited to suffer with God.” (p. 80) Henri then describes several great saints that spoke about their suffering as a participation in God’s suffering and how, as a result, their difficult suffering becomes something new.

  • How does Henri’s description of suffering better help you understand the suffering in our world? 
  • What do you think about Henri’s idea to start focusing on our small problems when we are considering what it means to suffer in our lives?
  • What is your response to Henri’s description how to link our suffering and our prayer? (p. 83-85).

3. Finally, as we asked last week, do the issues Henri brings up connect with your own experience? If so, how?  You might want to share the insights you have gained, the questions that arose, or how your life might change your life as a result.

May we have another fruitful week of Following Jesus.
Peace and all good.

48 Replies to “Dec 8th to Dec 14th—Advent Week 2: The Challenge & The Cost”

  1. Despite today being Dec 19, I’m still pondering Week Two. Henri’s movement from ‘who’ we follow to ‘how’ we follow Jesus is one of the most compelling and concrete invitations I’ve experienced. It needs to be said again out loud that we are wounded. Because contemporary culture has contempt for weakness. So people hide rather than disclose.

    To reflect on relationships as an “interlocking network of wounds” (56) is eye opening. It evokes compassion for others whose wounds are as deep as our own. It reveals why we can’t get our needs met in one another leaving us not just disappointed, but rejected.

    Only in returning to my first love, a theme echoed in Revelation 2: 4, can I experience my Belovedness. That said, it’s not a ‘one and done.’ But it’s a deepening practice of prayer: sitting in silence, seeing God seeing me and remembering my baptism in that interior hold I experience God’s gaze galvanizing my true self one glance at a time.

    No one like Henri sees the plight of people so crystal calling us all to follow Jesus and return to our first love. I am grateful for his life and legacy. And though I never knew him personally, his writing keeps calling me to a vow of stability when I veer off track.

  2. Henri’s concept of “Original Love is the Original Blessing. The Original Love is the Original Acceptance,” brought tears to my eyes, that I am loved and have been my entire life and even before I existed. What a beautiful concept to hold onto as you journey thru life! As I look back on my life, I have listened to and believed others, on how to love conditionally. That all changed many years ago when our daughter was born still. It was a mountain top experience, here in Colorado, where God hugged me and I opened my heart to God’s Love for me. I realized that I had and continue to have a companion on the journey!
    As I have walked this journey, many wounds have festered and tried to tear me apart but as I read Henri’s statement on pg.83, “Let my woundedness become part of your woundedness,” I realized that God has been teaching me how to surrender, to let go and face the truth of all of our lives, that we have been loved deeply and guided by Love all of our lives especially during the darkest of times. Original Love is our Gift!

    1. Linda, I was so moved by your sharing, and found it so hopeful- thank you. When I think of sad and painful times, both in my life and in the life of my loved ones, these days I soon remind myself that pure Love was present during those times, always is present. The truth of this stops me from spiralling down, and in fact fills me with hope; the suffering is never in vain- which strengthens my heart.

  3. From Meena
    Henri has shed beautiful light on Jesus’words that I wasn’t quite sure how to connect. “Come to Me all you who carry heavy burdens…..Take my yoke…my burden is light”. “It is not that God came to take our burden away or to take our cross away or to take our agony away. No. God came to invite us to connect our burden with God’s burden, to connect our suffering with God’s suffering, to connect our pain to God’s pain.” (read from last para p.79, to first para p.80). That is so profoundly beautiful and life affirming. Similarly his clarifying of Jesus saying to Peter that he Peter will be led to where he doesn’t really want to go…and that’s because love makes him do that. Henri makes succinct so much and helps me see the depth in Jesus’ words. ‘Take up your cross and follow Me”. Previously I had interpreted this solely as the hardship one encounters when choosing to follow and obey Him. Henri makes it clear in helping me see it is about suffering and pain in the whole of our life. I found all this so profound that I haven’t quite grasped it fully although it resonates so deeply. I will need to go back and read it again until I can truly internalise the truth of it all.

  4. Hi Ray, I just posted a comment which was meant for the previous week and chapters 3&4. Please do attach it there and not in this week’s post if you can.

  5. Everyone’s comments are adding to the impact of this book for me. I have heard Nouwen’s thoughts before but have felt isolated in my community because of the emphasis on fear and original sin instead of original love. Hearing the thoughts you all have greatly adds to how i am processing the mystery of our faith. I would love to meet you all. This is church for me right now, and I’m feeling extremely grateful. Can we just start up another book study when this one is finished?

  6. Woundedness should be addressed in an ongoing manner. The degree of woundedness of course varies. Without having that first love known to us deep in our souls the wounds build. Quiet time with our creator reveals this love as well as God’s grace. This unconditional, all forgiving , all merciful love is just not going to be found in abundance in us sinners. So why dependent on it?Henri’s thoughts on suffering is life changing. Unite our suffering to Gods . We know that whatever we experience Jesus has experienced and conquered it. Somewhere in John’s Gospel Jesus says ” in the world you will have troubles, but rejoice, I have overcome the world. This gives us hope in our suffering.This also makes our burden light. Starting with our small problems prevents a build up of anger, despair, discouragement, etc. The Ignatius examen prayer helps me with this. The review of the day. Reflecting on when I felt close to God and consoled and when I felt far from God and desolate allows me ,in prayer, to address my suffering in the small problems of life so my joy is not stolen. Of course if I am not brutally honest , sincere, sincere with my God I’m spinning my wheels.

  7. Well I missed the first week….I will jump into the second week!

    The parts of the chapters that resonated with me was the idea to act, say a prayer and then deal with the feelings later. Fear or feeling very uncomfortable for me can be a significant factor at wanting everything in order before acting as a disciple of Jesus. So regardless of feelings if my actions are lovingly responsible I move closer to God and experience God’s love.

    The description of two concrete things a person can do to love enemies was demanding! However, makes so much sense…when my heart is harden and rigid with angry, revenge or worst about an enemy I cannot feel God’s love….and probably other people’s love. Softening my heart towards my enemies will open myself and be vulnerable to God. It is always good for me to be reminded of the transformative power of prayer.

    However, it is the sentence on page 81 “Look at the man who is pierced and broken and you see the love of God radiating out to you.” that puts “loving my enemies” into perspective. Jesus is the model of forgiving his enemies in this horrific act of the crucifixion.

    What I appreciated was acknowledging how suffering and pain through prayer allows us to be embraced by God’s love and that can lead us to joy. It was the Grand Canyon description that made this concept clear for me. The grand canyon picture helped to clarify the sentence on page 88 “When we are in love we can go to very difficult places and feel, not the pain first of all, but the love.”

    The chapters reminded me of how – hopefully like many others- my spiritual life is constantly evolving and changing and the importance of prayer during the evolution and the great reward of continually staying the course….even if I think I am not ready!

  8. After reading chapter 4, I am again reminded of why I like Henri Nouwen so much; he has the unique ability to bring God, Gods word, and our relationship to him into our life in real, relatable ways. I think I highlighted almost all of the chapter because it connected so personally to my experience and how to bring God more fully into my everyday life. P 79, “ sometimes the small crosses seem even harder to bear than the large crosses”. P 81, “ to take up your cross means to first of all to acknowledge where we are suffering, to recognize it”. P 85, “ take your worries and connect it with Gods fear. Take your depression and see it in the presence of Gods dying on the cross “. Often my little crosses can seem so insignificant, yet this chapter showed me how to bring all my feelings into Gods presence and to see how I am embraced by Gods love.

    1. It seems easy to lay my sufferings at the foot of the Cross, Yet in short time, I am picking them up again and complaining. One thing that helps is to have an image of the crucified Jesus present; I have a crucifix hanging where it’s visible.

  9. I am really enjoying this book and Henri’s concept on woundedness is interesting. I participate in centering prayer every day and Thomas Merton and Thomas Keaton also talk about this woundedness tht often begins i childhood and is buried over time. I accept that I am wounded, knowing that my parents, siblings, teachers did their best. I am fortunate that I was not deliberately mistreated and I know that it is more difficult for those who have been.
    No one is perfect which is why we need the blessing of the first love or original love. God’s unconditional love and grace so the we can overcome the obstacles of life.
    The first love reminds me of my feelings when my children and grandchildren were born. I felt this first love for them not the conditional love of the world. I love Henri’s concept of original love instead of original sin which I have difficulty with. We need more love in the world.

    In chapter it was hard to understand that God suffers with us especially when western culture focuses on life without suffering. Henri’s idea of starting small is great because as individuals we can make small changes in the world of suffering. I live in one of the poorest countries of the world and it is only thru God’s help and prayer that I do not become overwhelmed each day by the poverty that I see.
    I arrived in Madagascar March 2018 and for the first 6 months I was lost, I knew that I’d followed God here, but what was I supposed to do. I thought I had come to teach the women, but everyday they were teaching me more that I taught them. They are so humble and hard working and they have nothing but the hope of the Lord. I struggled and suffered for 6 months thru fear pain, loneliness but God was with me and during this time I learnt trust God. Yes i can use my teaching skills but my main purpose is to be a prayer warrior, to pray with the people, pray for the people and to teach them how to pray as many are new Christians.
    We need to pray to be in the presence of God every minute of each day knowing that he is with us in the joy and the suffering.

    1. Hello Jacky,

      I agree with your comment about the first love and your feelings when your children and grandchildren were born. When our first children were born (and again with the grandchildren) I felt what might be called that “first love,” something I had never encountered before!

      “Jesus came to reveal to us the first love. The original love. We are called by Jesus to come in touch with that first love” (Nouwen, p. 56).

      I also agree with your thoughts about suffering and the difficulty we have, especially in our Western culture, in understanding this perplexing subject. Thanks for sharing the insights you have garnered from your important work in Madagascar and your role as a “prayer warrior.”

      In case you haven’t seen it, below is a meditation from Henri Nouwen sent a few days ago from the Henri Nouwen Society. It addresses the problems we all face with fear and anxieties as well as the peace and joy we pray for in this Advent season.

      “God is Faithful
      The situation in our world is frightening, and many people experience deep anxieties. More than ever we will be tested in our faith. I hope and pray that the Lord will deepen our faith during these weeks of Advent and will fill us with peace and joy, which belong to his kingdom. Hope is not optimism and I pray that we all will be able to live hopefully in the midst of our apocalyptic time. We have a promise and God is faithful to his promise even when we are doubtful and fearful. As Paul says: ‘Our hope is not deceptive because the Holy Spirit has already been poured into us’ (Romans 5:5).” Henri Nouwen.


      1. Thank you Barry yes I saw the meditation I receive it each day and it simply reinforced for me what Henri was saying in Chapter 5.
        It is difficult living where there is so much poverty and suffering, but I am comforted knowing that God is there in the suffering so there is hope.

  10. This is one of the best books of Henry’s that I have read in quite a while.

    The idea that speaks to me is just how God is with us and has compassion for our suffering.

    1. Henri Nouwen is gently leading me to see that I have known something about the spiritual life but have little true experience of it. I recognized something familiar in the first pages of chapter 3; a time when I was four and walking by myself somewhere on a sunny day feeling very loved and full of joy. That memory, which warms me as though by sunshine, has been something of a mystery and source of wonder to me over the years. I’ve been busy doing things more important than wasting time with Jesus in prayer, so it has been seldom that I have encountered the Original Love I remember from childhood. A love that is the remedy for the aching consequences of original sin in my life.

  11. As I finish Chapter 3, getting my attention is Nouwen’s daring to say, “Following Jesus means everything changes while everything remains the same.” p. 71 what a paradox, one of many that challenges me to trust, companion up with Jesus…today I read in Isaiah 30:29 “You shall have a song in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as one who sets out to the sound of the flute, to go to the mountain of the Lord….”…..for me, seems to underscore “Following Jesus means a life in communion, with a guide”, even when I cannot visibly see change, my heart is helped, and I pray other hearts are ministered to, and I’m encouraged to continue to do what is right, not based on feelings, but trust the Original Love for self, others…

    1. Nouwen says it so much better: “…a rejuvenated heart”…..I read today I John 2:8b….”…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” And John 16:33b “In the world you will have tribulation. BUT TAKE HEART, I have overcome the world.” Yes, Lord, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24b

  12. “An enemy is someone …. against us…rather than for us. Our identity is often defined dependent on having enemies.”
    As a native Argentine, who has lived in the USA most of my life, I find myself immersed in twin political situations. In both countries, there is so much hate on both sides that social media is inundated with articles about how horrible “the other side is.”
    I think hate multiplies into more hate, and will literally fill the world with hate.
    I will not repeat nor repost any “against” articles or stories. I will not post or speak about the “other side” except in the privacy of my own home, if needed to comment on a current event with my loved ones. I am “praying for my enemy” and in so doing, dissolve the possible hate in my heart. All of our enemies were once the newborn babies we held in our arms with unequivocal and unconditional love.
    Let us all spew love, not hate. The world will be a better place for it.

  13. (Chapter 4)
    At first reading, this chapter seemed unconnected to the rest. Tonight my contemplation settled into sorrow over troubling family relationships, which led me to appreciation of the way love requires vulnerability to loss and sadness. And there was the connection I had lacked: Expressing God’s love would also, likely more so, require vulnerability to loss and sadness. It certainly did for Jesus.
    I am comforted to be reminded that I have God’s companionship as I experience my human portion of sorrow. Tonight, I accept Jesus’s challenge to carry my sorrow so that I can also express my human portion of God’s love.

    1. Hi Fran,

      Chapter 4 is challenging in many ways, but I think your effort to make those connections between your sorrows and the vulnerability and loss suffered by Jesus is a path to follow.

      Why do we have to suffer? A question I have asked myself for many years. In the end, it seems that, while I still don’t comprehend why, the message provided by Henri (see especially pages 80-81) provides guidance. As he notes:

      “This is the mystery of the Christian life. It is not that God came to take our burden away or to take our cross away or to take our agony away. No. God came to invite us to connect our burden with God’s burden, to connect our suffering with God’s suffering, to connect our pain to God’s pain…The invitation to suffer with God is probably the most profound thing that we see in the Christian tradition. Compassion means not only that God suffers with us but that now we are invited to suffer with God” (p. 80).

      Again, even with Henri’s guidance, I don’t pretend to truly understand the “why” of suffering. But I will pray tonight that you feel God’s presence in your life as you face these sorrows.

      A portion of today’s readings from Isaiah 40:31:
      “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
      they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
      They will run and not grow weary,
      walk and not grow faint.”


  14. My challenge invitation from reading Nouwen this week: do not operate from your “wounded mess”, be healed by my cleansing grace and operate under my overpowering love for you!

  15. …on Chapter 3 –Love Your Enemy

    Nathan was a teacher’s worst nightmare. He was impulsive, rude, easily overstimulated, loud, lacked “a filter,” disregarded authority, and was incredibly smart. When his 7th grade social studies teacher returned to school after giving birth to her first child, who was born with cleft palate, Nathan boldly walked up to her in front of the class and said, “How’s your hairlip kid doing?” Several months after that disaster, teachers began receiving pornographic emails from the superintendent –yep, some of Nathan’s handiwork. I work with gifted and talented students in a pull-out resource/enrichment class; I would have several years with Nathan. After thinking about how best to deal with him, I came up with a plan: I decided to “PRETEND” I really liked him.

    On his first day in my class, I began intentionally visiting with Nathan –getting him to talk about himself and letting go of much of his craziness that had the knack of making my eye twitch. He quickly began coming up to my desk as soon as he walked in the room, talking, talking, talking. I listened, listened, listened. After three months of this, I asked Nathan to stay after class. I told him that I hated to admit it, but sometimes I needed calm because unfortunately, I become really gripey if the energy level stays elevated. I told him that I admired his enthusiasm and active mind, but would he be willing, every once in awhile, to help me out by giving me five minutes so “I” could calm down. He asked how he could do that. I replied, “What would you think about maybe… if I hold up five fingers …you step outside the door for five minutes to give me time to reset so I don’t become a gripe bag?” His response? “Why sure, Miss Hesse, I’d be glad to help you!” This worked. It helped Nathan to calm down, lowering his energy level. He kept up with the five minutes perfectly and returned to class a new person, knowing he had helped me.

    One day, about four months after my “PRETEND” campaign began, it dawned on me that I really liked Nathan –in fact, I loved Nathan! I admired his openness, his vulnerability, and his zest for living. He worked hard in my class and paid attention to what I said. Oh, he was still Nathan –but, he seemed to feel comfortable, which lessened his need to “entertain.” At semester of his junior year, Nathan transferred to a nearby, much larger high school. Teachers here breathed a true, sigh of relief. In late spring, I called to check on Nathan and learned he managed to be elected Student Council PRESIDENT. He returned to school in the fall sporting a bright, red mohawk. He also earned the distinction of being impeached from office after only a month. In late fall of that year, Nathan came to see me in the middle of the school day –there were serious family problems at home. He hung his head and said, “Miss Hesse, not many grown-ups like me, but you always have. I don’t know what to do?” After he left, I felt tears sting my eyes –not because of Nathan’s pain, but because I deeply felt the shame of knowing my relationship with this precious young man began as an intentional lie –”pretending” –with the goal of making my own life better.

    Henri powerfully yet gently forces us to realize what “love your enemies” really means. He states: “God himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Nathan was kind to me) He doesn’t pretend to love us. (Nathan genuinely loved me) God loves us as we are, even if we are impulsive, rude, easily overstimulated, loud or lack “a filter.” (Nathan accepted me as I was) God loves us with a perfect, unconditional love. (Nathan willingly did what he thought was helping me) Henri said, “We are called to make our enemies, again and again and again, into friends.”

    My experience with Nathan proved that actions can change feelings; it proved that “love your enemies” can begin with the small but often difficult step of DOING and showing the caring you would give someone you love …even if it’s not what you feel or want to do.

    ***After high school, Nathan predictably “flunked” out of college and then joined the Navy. When they discovered how high his I.Q. was, they placed him in nuclear training school. He ended up teaching there for a time. Today he is married, has two children, and manages a power plant in the southeast. Nathan is a great husband and dad. He occasionally comes back to this area, typically stopping in to see me. I love him dearly.

    1. Wonderful slice of life you shared, Patricia. Thanks for reminding me of the challenges of teaching and the fruits of our efforts as educators. I can relate.

    2. Wow, Patricia, thank you for bringing Nouwen’s thoughts to light with such clarity….truly, “a window” for me, not only to see through, but to open up as I carry and live the challenge and cost of following Jesus today……

    3. Wow!! Thank you for a wonderful story of love bearing fruit of redemption in another’s life. What you call pretending I call “acting in hope” (I just made that up). I believe you were putting love in action hoping that the evidence of love would follow. God blessed it because of your sacrifice, risk and willingness to love the unlovely when you didn’t know how. Now we “know how” your example will reside in my memory and hopefully will find traction in my actions.
      I was a secondary educator for 46 years and wish I had heard this story when I was teaching. it may have resulted in me loving those difficult, unlovable kids better. THANK YOU May God continue to bless you and see you invest His love in the kids you have the privilege to work with.

    4. Patricia an amazing story, what a wonderful thing to do to pretend to love Nathan. Thank you for your insight, it is not an easy task to teach teenagers but is very rewarding I did it for 40 years. Thank you for sharing.

    5. Patricia, Thank you for sharing your story and, much more important, your commitment to following Jesus by living out the challenge of “love your enemies.” You serve as a great example to for us all.

  16. The reference to “first love” brings to mind the words in 1 John 4
    We love because God first loved us. I will find love for others, especially those I don’t like, when I realize God’s love is not based on merit. I am beloved of God without being perfect: rather I’m a work of God in progress. I like Henri’s emphasis on God’s original love. Too much stress has been put on our “Original sin” to the point of making one feel unworthy, guilty and maybe more negatives. In Genesis creation passage, God saw that his creation was good. Good comes from goodness.
    Love Comes from God
    …18There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.…”

      1. Hi Liz,
        Thanks for those important insights you draw from the readings. I agree that too much stress has been put on “original sin.” Instead, we should focus on “original love.” And your comments about God seeing creation as good, as stated in Genesis, along with those references from 1 John 4 about love drive home your point very well!

    1. Regarding your comment about original sin, Liz, I felt the same way when I encountered Henri’s term original love. At least the greater emphasis could have been on the First Love.

  17. I equate the first love that Henri describes with the love I felt when first holding any one of my children. In those very first moments there was an expansive feeling of complete love and acceptance of the newborn I held in my arms. Of couse those overwhelming feelings were soon held in the background as the daily work of care and protection and rearing those children came to the forefront.

    Henri wrote, “When we come in touch with the first love we come in touch with that center of our being where we feel totally loved without condition or limits.” If I could truly accept God’s constant, unconditional love, I suspect I would move through our troubled world with a much lighter step.

  18. So much of what Henri describes resonates deeply with my own experience. I am late in responding to last week’s discussion, so I am sharing my thoughts about both weeks here.
    What strikes me most from both weeks’ readings is the mystery, the paradox, of the Christian faith. As many of you have mentioned, Henri’s lovely invitation last week to “waste time with Jesus” grabbed my attention because of that paradox. Henri draws attention to the truth that time spent with Jesus is never wasted, yet reminds me that left to my own devices, I will choose the lesser thing every time. Earlier this year I wrote the following question in my journal: “I say that spiritual growth is my first priority, but is that how I act? Is it how I choose to spend my time?” It is essentially the same question: “Are you following Jesus?” Wow. That got my attention.
    The irony Henri calls out is that too often, when I go about the business of my day thinking I am headed in some important direction, I am aimlessly wandering. It is when I am “wasting time with Jesus” that I am on the right path. The same is true of this concept of “home.” I tend to think of the spiritual journey as this place I am searching for or trying to return to. But God turns the tables. God tells me that I am God’s home. As Henri writes, “We realize that right where we are, right here in this body, with this face, with these hands, with this heart, we are the place where God can dwell.” (p. 22)
    This week, I keep thinking of the paradox of surrender—that it is surrender to our suffering rather than resistance to it that connects us with God’s heart of compassion, and transforms suffering into something greater. “First love” and “suffering with” are inextricably connected.
    I was so struck by the image of Jesus turning developmental psychology on its head in John 21:18 (p. 87-88): “[Jesus] doesn’t say, ‘When you are young you stretch out your hands and let other people gird you and when you grow old you can do your own thing.’ No, Jesus says it the other way.” Again, the paradox of following Jesus is that the “older we grow” with him, the more we surrender our own will to God’s, the more we are willing “to be guided to hard places.”

  19. From Greg Bruckner
    Comment from Advent Week 1:

    I am late to the first’s weeks discussion, but I wanted to add two thoughts to the discussion.

    The first is regarding the concept of home. As we grew up and left home, my mother would always remind us that ‘home’ was a place where we could return and always be accepted for who are. I am struck by how well this describes the concept of home for Henri. Jesus will always accept us and love us if we just return to him and allow him to be present in our life.

    Second is Henri’s idea of ‘wasting time’ with Jesus. I am so struck by the similarity of this concept to the basic premise of centering prayer. I recently joined a centering prayer group and began reading more about this practice. I feel that this is exactly what I try to do each time I engage in this practice – to be silent and empty myself of ‘me’ to allow the presence of Jesus to fill that space with his love. This is my small step to allow the abundance of Jesus to fill my life and respond to his invitation to ‘come and see’ and to ‘follow him’.

    1. Hello Greg,
      After reading yours and other comments about Henri’s thoughts on “wasting time” with Jesus, I happened to find this quote from Francis de Sales, as cited in an article by Fr. James Martin:

      St. Francis de Sales, the story goes, was once asked how long people should pray. “A half hour,” he is supposed to have said. “Unless the person is busy. If they’re busy, then they should pray for an hour.”

      Also, thanks for making that thoughtful connection with centering prayer.


  20. (Chapter 3)
    Loving our enemies is such a daunting challenge. I finished the chapter thinking that Nouwen’s advice was not proportional to the challenge, although he clearly recognizes the magnitude of the challenge. In the hours since, I have started to think that the path must be lived to be believed. Follow Jesus, and the rest will fall into place. Trust.

  21. The title of Chapter three—The Challenge, Love Your Enemies—has always seemed a challenge beyond (way beyond on some days) my comprehension. Although I have been fortunate in my life that I have not had true “enemies,” at least to my knowledge, this challenge from Jesus has always seemed so impossible that, candidly, I sometimes simply ignore it!

    Yet, Henri calls “Love your enemies” as “most central to the whole Christian message. It touches precisely where the New Testament is really new.”

    What has helped me is how Henri walks us through the process on pages 52-63 before addressing love of enemies. My attention was especially drawn to the nature of “love,” our “neediness and “woundedness,” “rejection” or not being fully loved, and finally the “first love.” That first love or original love is the “original blessing” or “original acceptance.” And we get to the that first love through prayer, freeing us to live a life in which we love each other “with God’s original love and not with the needy and wounded love that harms others.”

    This is a critical message, it seems to me, and one that I had not really considered in this way before. Those “preliminary” insights from Henri were eye-opening, helping me greatly in considering how I can try to meet this imposing challenge!

    “The good news of the Gospel is that God has no enemies” (p. 65).

    What an important message.

    1. I, too, picked up on loving enemies as New Testament’s NEW… I read, my prayer became “Lord, free me from the chains that imprison me.” p. 57…a paragraph that stands alone, in the middle of the page, “The spiritual life is really a life that wants to set us free. Free to love.”

      Earlier in November I read and continue to ponder Chris Tiegreen’s prayer thought in his devotional, “Salt and Light”……”If the gospel I’m living isn’t setting me free, it isn’t the gospel.” And, quite sobering, is likely not helping to free others as well, whether friend or foe.

      “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless and free….” a song that continues to resonate within my heart and mind as I continue to read…..

  22. “They know not what they do.” Words of wisdom from the cross of suffering. These are challenging words when I meet up with a person whose behavior bears the signs of woundedness, weakness; maybe that person is acting anti-socially in a manner I will never understand. That person seems to like repelling rather than attracting others.
    Then is the time I need to step back from my accusing eyes and pray for that person.
    I see such a person daily and when I do, I say, “Lord, let you love and mercy be upon her.” Doe she know God’s love and mercy? She could know in a way that is different from the way I have known.
    “Compassion fatigue” as Elaine mentions will rob me of my ability to bless. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the horrific events in the news. Any small steps I can take are worthwhile. I recall the saying, “When you cannot sleep, give it to God. God is up 24/7.” Did I do that last night when the clock showed 1am and I lay awake. I got up and looked at the Isaiah 11, 1-10 passage which we are reflecting on in MOH Advent study. I googled and found a few paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom. I saved them.
    I shared one today and pray for that kingdom to come when the lion will lay down wit the lamb.

  23. First of all, I want to say how excited I am that we will again consider THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON this coming Lent. Like so many other Henri readers, I love this book, and I agree that it is time to take up this discussion again.

    Now for a few random thoughts about ch. 3 and 4 of FOLLOWING JESUS:
    On Jesus’ words “For they know not what they do”: As someone whose kneejerk reaction is to rankle at even small affronts, I can’t imagine the enormity of Jesus’ forgiveness of those who caused him unspeakable suffering. However, sometimes in keeping with the practice of the “small steps,” I will try to walk in the shoes of the student who shouted at me, the playground bully who broke my grandson’s collarbone, or the St. Vincent de Paul client who hurled profanities during a visit to her home. What life circumstances, physical suffering, or personal baggage may have caused their negativity? And when I see ignominious behavior in public figures, can I pray for those from families (and indeed a whole culture) who taught them that power and status were life’s priorities? Can I see at least a little bit of merit in both sides of a contentious debate?

    On Henri’s words “The person who loves can go to places where he or she would rather not go”: Childbirth, losing sleep with a sick child, or suffering heartbreak due to a child’s own heartbreaks is no walk in the park, but we mothers accept these as part of our maternal vocation (though easier said than done). Those who serve as caregivers for terminally or chronically ill children, parents, or spouses assume same kind of love in suffering. Watching the endless string of natural disasters, acts of violence, and acrimony on the news can make us recoil, yet a small step toward love might be prayers for victims of such horrors and prayers that we may have the vision and stamina to take larger steps to effect positive change in the world—and hopefully even prayers for the perpetrators. I do sometimes lose sleep after meeting with a St. Vincent client who has suffered the loss of a loved one or been physically abused or abandoned. In such cases, I need to pray that I don’t submit to compassion fatigue. Love demands faithfulness.

    1. Elaine –I found this powerful in your response: “What life circumstances, physical suffering, or personal baggage may have caused their negativity? And when I see ignominious behavior in public figures, can I pray for those from families (and indeed a whole culture) who taught them that power and status were life’s priorities?”

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