Reading: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom
“Work Around Your Abyss” to “Bring Your Body Home” (pages 3 to 20)
Do not read too many of these spiritual imperatives at once!
They were written over a long period of time and
need to be read that way too. (p. xxi)
It was so wonderful to read all your introductions last week – again, a very warm welcome to each of you! This is the largest group that has gathered for these discussions since 2015. I think that speaks to the importance and timeliness of The Inner Voice of Love. It is book for difficult times. We are grateful for your presence, your vulnerability, and your honest and open sharing. You have joined a loving and supportive community–as is already evident by the comments exchanged among participants. We are excited to begin our first full week of exploring Henri’s secret and deeply personal journal.
As a number of you noted when introducing yourself, Henri’s words often speak directly a reader’s heart. That has certainly been the case for me. In this book, Henri shares his most personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a time of great anguish. Writing these spiritual imperatives was an important part of Henri’s healing process that, ultimately, contributed to his emotional and spiritual growth, and led to the most fruitful time of Henri’s ministry and his most popular and acclaimed books.
Although Henri wrote these spiritual imperatives when he was in crisis, the challenges and conditions he identifies and the influence they may have on a person’s life affects everyone, not just those in difficult circumstances. We all face similar conditions and situations during our journey through life and one or more of Henri’s imperatives may speak directly to our hearts—and through the imperatives we may gain a new perspective or insight that can guide us along the way. Sharing those perspectives and insights, to the extent you are comfortable, with the community of Nouwen readers gathered together this Lent may help us to support each other as we learn to live as God’s beloved children.
Veterans of previous Nouwen book discussions may recall that I would often select excerpts from the text and pose questions to prompt your reflections. That approach doesn’t work for this book. Henri’s spiritual imperatives are largely standalone reflections that may or may not apply to a particular reader on their journey. I found that four or five of the first thirteen imperatives were directly relevant to me. Therefore, rather than me posing questions, you are asked to reflect on the imperatives and share whatever issues come up or insights you gain in the readings. This group is here to listen, encourage and support each other as we discover the meaning of Henri’s spiritual imperatives in our individual lives.
Below is a process you might consider following to help you explore the readings and share your journey with the group. (With thanks to former facilitator Brynn Lawrence.)
- Briefly look over the thirteen imperatives assigned to this week (pages 3 through 20), either by simply reading the title or by lightly skimming the text. Don’t feel you need to closely read them all. Remember Henri’s advice on p xxi…too much salt can spoil a meal!
- Select a few (perhaps 3 or 4) imperatives that stand out to you, and read them thoroughly, perhaps several times.
- The thought or concept that stands out to you
- How does it relates to your personal experience? Look at your experience with the benefit of Henri’s insight. Does that help you to see things differently or to know yourself better?
- What is God speaking to your heart in this imperative? Has God touched your heart in other ways about this thought or concept (e.g., Scripture, spiritual reading, through another person)?
- How you will respond? Carefully (prayerfully) consider how your heart responds to the insights gained during your reflection. Are there small steps you can take to incorporate these insights and to move toward spiritual freedom in your life? Perhaps you would like to write your own Spiritual Imperative.
- Please share with the group to the extent you are comfortable. You might consider sharing on a single imperative per comment. If you have a second or third imperative that was meaningful to you, submit separate comments for each.
Of course, the above is only a suggestion. We are interested in learning whatever touched your heart during the reading. You are also welcome to comment on the sharing of others. We also welcome those that are reading along without posting; you are an important part of our Lenten community too.
Very much looking forward to hearing from each of you!
Peace and all good.
I’ve planned to write, my pc died before I could save, I’ve mulled on, avoided, spoke about, shared with others, but finally I am alone to respond and now not all I wanted to. I will choose two which kind of summarize the whole 13 for me:
Understand the Limitation of Others
Trust in the place of unity
These are two lessons that repeatedly come to me, draw me and scare me. I desire to fit in at times, without having to change me. And at times I have been too much for people, who do love me, but who because of their own trauma are triggered. Simultaneously I have been advised by counsellors to see what makes me happy or what is hell for me, and build from the inside out as opposed to allowing others to affect me so much. It has always been easier to open to God in a foreign place, on a mission trip, even in a train, than it is at home where people are or friends are, I felt God always used trips away to draw me closer.
In recent times I have had my first relationship in many years and where I thought I had breakthroughs before that I find myself still very far from whole. And still afraid to surrender, even though I know God is good.
I can only trust that these tiny steps are mustard seed steps to move Mountains.
Always come back to the solid place.” Very hard to do. Jesus is the Rock. I can trust Him or try to take control. When I choose Him, it makes a huge difference. “But keep saying, God loves me, and God’s love is enough.” That’s so consoling.
Thanks for your thoughts. Trusting God will provide for my needs leads me to pray. To rid my mind of doubts, I ask for grace to believe that all things are possible with God. Often look out my window and see sparrows. They remind me that God’s eye is on the sparrow and God watches over me.
I try to hold onto that image through the day but not 100per cent successful.
Many of these entries: “Trust the Inner Voice”; “Come Home”; “Trust in the Place of Unity”; “…keep living where God is …” perfectly resonated with a theme driving me these past weeks. Out of conditioning, reactivity, etc., I often think of “reaching out” to resolve inner issues, or gain something, either from relationships or materially, to bring peace in, or validation, or the comfort of “group-think.” etc. What has struck me of late, and really revolutionized my days (many which are very emotionally taxing) is the understanding that within me is a deep well of God’s love. Within each of us is that original, very endlessly deep and satisfying Garden of Eden. No sooner have I been indwelled with this deep love, then the next second I’m looking (emotionally/psychologically, etc) outward for what someone else has that I want that I think would add to my satisfaction.
When Nouwen writes “….enter a new country, where your beloved dwells….” in one entry, it actually, really – to me -is essentially the same as “Come Home,” the focus of a different entry.
I’ve spent many days lately thinking I’ve hit my limit but being gently coaxed back to the belief there is a bottomless “Well of Love” (water above and below, as depicted in the Genesis creation mythos) out of which I can spiritually return, and live out of that.
Your words resonate with me, and remind me how often I have looked to a particular therapist, medication, or other external source to heal or fix me. I’ve labeled myself “broken beyond repair” when my depression is at its worst.
Yet God does dwell within me, and I have a wise inner self (as well as a harsh inner critic who tries to convince me that wiser self is a liar) who listens to God’s voice and knows I am beloved and lovable no matter what.
Others can remind me of that truth and/or teach me techniques that help me deal with my negative core beliefs and anxious thoughts. Ultimately, though, I know what to do and when I listen to my “best intuitions” as Nouwen calls them I am happier and healthier and. Closer to becoming the person God created me and continues to call me to be.
I connected the meditation trust in the place of unity and remain attentive to your best intuitions . I am called to Live out of a new place beyond my emotions ,passions,and feelings. In other words stop worshiping my emotions . What’s on my mind could be what I worship.How do I do this? Henri says there’s another place at the core of our being .A Place of unification where you become one with God and yourself.
In the remain attentive to intuition meditation it seems he is describing the dark night of the soul.Something in us is dying . we grieve. Then something is born. Jesus is this place. The place of unification is born .The Place where all of me and all of God can dwell.He will show me the next step. My emotions, passions, and feelings are not leading me . I am clear headed . I can think and act truthfully and peacefully. I am not worshiping my emotions I am worshiping God .
I appreciated the wisdom offered so I settled in on “Come Home”, and especially appreciated Kathy Ebner’s insights… Simply put, home was not safe as a kiddo, so I have always wandered, restlessly, pulling up roots before they embed. But I stayed here all week, read “Come Home” every day, and Henri opened a door that had been locked. And so I am settling down, and welcome God’s invitation to “come home” with a sort of “it’s not what you have experienced, give it a try” nod from the Beloved on the side. Safe, held, and rest are the undercurrents of God’s promise in Henri’s experience. That sounds pretty warm, and so I enter with cautious and curious steps to this mystery…
Just lovely. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing this! I had not thought of the importance of having to come to a home until I read this. Perhaps I have been ignoring it over the years. The thought of our beloved God as home already feels warm and cozy.
I shared this quote from the book earlier, along with how it related to my life now:
“You know that something totally new, truly unique, is happening within you. It is clear that something in you is dying and something is being born. You must remain attentive, calm, and obedient to your best intuitions. …
The stage sets that have for so long provided a background for your thoughts, words, and actions are slowly being rolled away, and you know they won’t come back.”
Today I used that quote as the starting point for my article about the importance of listening to our “best intuitions” instead of our rational minds that try to convince us to play it safe, not take risks, do what seems sensible whether we want to or not, etc. Here’s the link in case you want to read it: https://open.substack.com/pub/wendigordon/p/let-your-intuition-lead-you-into?r=qs4u1&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web
This is where I am at 74 yrs. of age. A little/lot daunting, yet trusting. Easier said than done. Faith leads the way! Thanks for sharing!
Definitely easier said than done! Trust is hard for me because of some traumatic betrayals of my trust, especially in recent years. I’m trying not to be constantly on guard and wary of everyone I meet, especially other Christians, but it’s hard sometimes. Trusting God and myself can also be difficult.
WOW! What great, heartfelt reflections from everyone this week! My main focus this week had to be preparing for tomorrow’s Oblate meeting. This year we’re studying the Beatitudes (I really enjoyed the comments here that reflected on the Beatitudes!). We chose 5 books on the Beatitudes and one or two of our members committed to read one of them and comment at each meeting. Then the sisters, by Zoom, comment on that month’s Beatitude from a Benedictine perspective. As local leader, I read all 5 books in case someone else misses the meeting. I read one book each day so that its wisdom soaks in and doesn’t get diluted by one of the other book’s perspectives. I also read a couple of Henri’s Imperatives each day and let them soak deep within. I finished the Oblate assignment last night, and tonight I slowly reread all of Henri’s Imperatives and reflected on them. I think “Give Gratuitously” resonated the most with me. All these years of doing Therapy Dog visits to the nursing homes – particularly the Alzheimer’s Unit – have been a blessing because they have taught me to stop, be in the ‘now’ and just love without expecting anything in return and especially to stay in the background while my dog loved on the residents, and they on her. When I worked for our parish, I was usually detailed to take to the nursing homes the priest who came to do our mission. It was humbling to walk into the nursing home that I visited every week with a therapy dog, and not be recognized without it.
In the “Cry Inward” imperative Henri says I need to move from the crying outward stage to the crying inward place where I can let myself be held and carried by God who has become incarnate in the humanity of those that love me in community. (p. 7) This is a lot to ponder for me and takes great trust in God that he will allow me to feel the embrace and love I so desire. I come to God from a tragic broken marriage, that also resulted in broken community relationships. How I long to feel that I am held and carried by God who will not desert me and will love me forever! I know it is true, but so often my emotions still feel the hurt, lonliness and longing. Thank you, Henri, for helping me in this journey to find my deepest longings filled in God alone.
Like you I am drawn the imperative “Cry Inward.” To do this connecting with God I need to intentionally make time and space for inward reflection
Christ promises that connection is real and available when he said, “You are the branches, I am the vine.” I pray for you as I pray for Spirit guidance as we move forward through daily life.
Gina, Thank you for your honest and humble reflection. I agree with you that crying inward to God vs crying outward to people who cannot ultimately fulfill our core needs is “a lot to ponder.”
As a child I cried outward expecting a parent to fix my problem. But that didn’t work as an adult. Especially when I like you, had a “tragic broken marriage that also resulted in broken community relationships.” It’s a double dip of grief to lose family and friends because of circumstances totally beyond their knowing. I felt utterly alone and like a helpless child whose cries could not be heard.
But beginning to turn that cry inward to God at the Center changed things. I was seen and heard seeing God seeing me; inviting me in Henri’s words to “claim yourself for yourself so that you can contain your needs within the boundaries of yourself and hold them in the presence of those you love (p. 9). That practice healed my soul and restored my dignity. Gina, your sharing touched my soul.
I was struck by Nouwen’s metaphor, “basement of my soul.” He writes that the “interruption of friendship forced me to enter the basement of my soul…” Like the basement of our house, we don’t spend much time there. Often it is dark. We spend our quality time upstairs—-in the kitchen and living room. Maybe that is a cue how we need to care for our souls. The key is to get the soul and bring it upstairs. We can bring the soul out of darkness into the light of God. This requires paying attention and then some discipline. Paying attention to our soul is the antithesis to ignoring it. Ignoring our souls shoves it into the basement. We are called to care for our soul and then to be careful with our soul. I wonder if the basement of the soul is not akin to the abyss, which Henri talks about a little later? He tells us “there is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. One sentence last he counsels, “you have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.” May we use this Lenten season to work about our abyss, close it and lead the soul out of the basement.
Wise words. I think you are correct that we often relegate our souls to the basement, especially when we are hurting and want to avoid or escape painful emotions and memories. That tactic may work temporarily, but it ultimately causes more problems. As the saying goes, “What you resist, persists.”
Though unfinished with boulder rocks for foundation our basement holds an important place.
Our old house is resting on natural bedrocks put to use in making the foundation.
The furnace and water heater are there and demand regular servicing. Our electrical fuse box is there.
Access to the basement is by old wood steps. Not living space but surely necessary place.
Perhaps all of us begin life’s journey
in lower places. Only after ascending to the ground level will we begin to see the path God leads us on
” Be a light to my path and a lamp my feet. Lead me on, Lord. Keep my steps steadfast.”
St Teresa of Avila spoke of the Interior Castle where one could be on differ levels and spend time in various rooms.
Using metaphor she speaks about union with God in varying degrees of intimacy. Assuming that our love of God develops and deepens with time and prayer, I believe that God seeks me where I am and draws me deeper into Divine love. Amazing grace!
TRUST THE INNER VOICE…how long did it take me to even believe that I could do that? God has blessed me with a few ‘soul’ friends that were there to accompany me to trust…and my world changed! That inner voice of God can be gentle, forceful, or sometimes hard to hear, but God’s voice always leads me to be the person I was created to be, and that is what drives me (and sometimes haunts me) to look for the face of Jesus and to show the face of Jesus every day. I’ve never been disappointed.
The concept that stands out to me is unity. In my personal experience, I have not thought of my heart as a place from which I can feel, think and act. My Lenten devotion today was also talking about being transformed, so I think God is speaking to me about this. This unity is a big part of the deeper faith I am seeking, so I want to carefully consider this calling to live out of a new lace. I plan to continue exploring this new (to me) theme and and try to not be distracted by my emotions.
What I found most helpful was a nugget of wisdom in “Always Come Back to the Solid Place,” where Henri encourages us to keep saying to ourselves “God loves me and God’s love is enough.” Since coming across this I have been repeating it silently as a mantra, especially at night when I can’t sleep and am overcome with anxiety. Then there’s another little bit of gospel further on where Henri tells us to become aware of how close Jesus is to us and that he holds us safe in his love (Remain Attentive to Your Best Intuitions).
“Cry Inward” is another Imperative that resonates deeply within. “You have to move gradually from crying outward—crying out for people who you think can fulfill your needs—to crying inward to the place where you can let yourself be held and carried by God,” “No one person can fulfill all your needs.”
The journey inward has always been the call of my life. For Trailblazers and Pioneers, it can often be singular and lonely but always meaningful.
I really appreciated the suggestion to find just a few readings and reflect on them. I looked at the titles and a few of the first sentences like the suggestion and found 3 to read. I was surprised how the three went so well together. I think I was getting the message I needed for this week. I really enjoy taking the time each morning rereading the three passage and seeing something in them each day. thank you
“Trust in the Place of Unity” held great significance for me. Many years ago I was listening to classical music on the car radio when returning home from a day of retreat. Suddenly I was struck by the insight that the orchestra, made up of individual people and instruments playing in unison, reflected the spiritual desire to be one with God and all creation. This desire has been a constant for me throughout my life, and as an 80 year old woman, I find that the desire has increased. There have been brief moments when it seems that I am truly unified with God, and at those times I am filled with the presence of the loving God and a sense of peace. As Henri says in this spiritual imperative, “The word was made flesh, and thus a new place a new place is made where all of you and all of God can dwell. When you have found that unity, you will truly be free.” And for me, that the last line speaks of eternal life.
I was touched by many of these reading but the one that ‘struck’ me more than any other was Bring Your Body Home on pg 19. ‘You have never felt completely safe in your body.’ and ‘… you have come to see your body as an enemy that has to be conquered.’
I thought that I have had a good relationship with my body but actually I am beginning to see it hasn’t been healthy and at times I push it or even deprive it of the things it needs. Having not had a healthy or positive childhood, I am beginning to see and understand what I have thought was healthy and normal in fact wasn’t and isn’t.
I need to spend more time reflecting on this, despite this spiritual imperative being about the body (at first glance), there is such a deeper emotional aspect to this and it seems that a lot has been opened up, for me, through reading this.
The two reflections which I need to really dwell on and absorb are on page 9/10 Set Boundaries to Your Love and page 11 Give Gratiutiously. “True mutuality in love requires people who possess themselves and who can give to each other while holding on to their own identities.” I have always struggled with being able to work with other people in teams and groups. Often, I end up being passive as others exert their will and many times this leads to resentment in me so that the only thing I think I can actually do is work on my own projects that really no one else wants to do, and work on them by myself. For example, I do a lot of the weeding of the flower beds around my church. The other sentence which sounds so hopeful to me is “One day you will be free to give gratuitious love, a love that does not ask for anything in return. One day you will also be free to receive to receive gratuitious love.” Since Henri wrote these very relevant thoughts in this book, I am believing he might have gone through a process to actually get to this happy result so I am eager to read some more and get to more of his insights on this.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I relate to your challenges with team work. My experience has been that teams challenge me because some do nt want to do their slice of action or assignment. I found some would rather lay back and say “Let her do it, She’s so enegetic.” When we’d have team meetings that went on past the hour, I’d picture all the work piled up on my desk! Usually then I had to stay past regular hours to catch up.
i am trying to address the daily challenges of retired life as invitations rather than interruptions. I seem to cry out multiple times during the day. “Jesus,
have mercy. Give me your grace in this moment.”
I got the book on Audio through my library and have been listening to it and recognize that the need to really digest these beautiful truths and absorb Henri’s words, are going to necessitate me buying a copy of this book to re-read over and over. WOW! I am blown away by the comforting truths he is sharing with us, so early in the readings. The beauty of trusting Your Inner Voice is a concept I have struggled with over the years, and I have to say that I have fallen into the realm of “self-reliance” way too often. My gentle whisper from the Lord is the voice I need to heed. I need to be constantly listening for His voice. I need to apply His wisdom to my daily life. I am doing a deep dive in Proverbs this year, reading daily and journaling what I am learning in prayer and reflection, as well as copying the scriptures throughout the year, so that I will have a hand-written Proverbs journal at year’s end. Hearing his whisper so often comes when I don’t allow myself to be distracted or stuck in “busyness” of life. I am truly enjoying Henri’s messages in this book!!
Hello, my name is Sr. Lisa Grace. I’m a Franciscan Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart in New York. What an amazing book! Henri says, “You must choose this yes even when you do not experience it.” Very important reminder to not let myself get swept away by life’s little distractions!
“Home is where you are truly safe”. These words from Come Home rocked me. For years I had conversations with my daughter about where we felt safe. She felt safe at home and I never did, I don’t know where I felt safe, maybe nowhere. As I wrote before, I was always looking to please people so they would accept and love me. All my actions had a bottom line, so people would approve of me and love me.
God has healed me of
this misguided thinking. I retired from a powerful and respected job in 2019. The first 6 months were terrible, I felt abandoned, unloved, unappreciated and fought with these feelings the entire time. God then granted me relief by sending the pandemic and total withdrawal from all people and activities. I was shocked to discover I felt free! I didn’t have to do anything to be accepted and loved, what an amazing feeling. Gradually over the next few years God showed me that life all evolved around him, not the secular world. I have learned many things thanks to God’s gift to me of the pandemic, and obviously I’m still learning, but I’m learning with trust and am clinging to his promise, “God is faithful to God’s promises. Before you die, you will find the
acceptance and the love you crave.” I thank all of you for your sharings as they have touched my soul and brought into clearer vision the gifts I have received.
Thanks for sharing! I’m near a transition in terms of a long successful, meaningful career. Concerned, uncertain, and somewhat anxious about what is next. I know it will be good, but still…. I am encouraged by your journey.
Being a pleaser and charitable comes to mind in my struggle to Love as Jesus teaches. It’s an ongoing challenge to Love without it having to be reciprocal. Jesus tells us to Love and to truly Love, is not about the pleasure we get from how others make us feel. It’s a gift of oneself for the good of the other for their own sake.
The real test is when the desire to please others puts one in a conflict with pleasing God, Following Jesus Christ always contradicts the world one way or the another. The challenge is who do I want to please more.
Just read “Trust in the place of unity”….we are called to live out of a new place, beyond our emotions, passions and feelings. Wow…hard to do! Henri stated that as long as we live amid our emotions, passions and feelings, we will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, rage, and resentment because those are the most obvious responses to rejection and abandonment. This new place of unity he talks about is at the core of our being, our heart where everything is held together. It is the place where God dwells and holds each of us. I so struggle with being able to BE THERE. Henri says to trust the God of life who wants to embrace each of us and give us true safety. Truly, a life long task to accomplish.
So after giving myself a bit of time to recover from reading the first part of this week’s readings, I went back today to finish. Ever since I took my vows as a Benedictine oblate, I have longed for a centered spirituality, a peace that only Jesus could provide, while attending to the mundane. I longed for a silent life, a cloistered life, but this type of living doesn’t help to pay the bills, so I kept putting my dream to live that kind of life aside. I don’t think I ever intended to keep it there forever, but it’s looking
like that now. I know that You are with me on this journey, and that You will guide my steps from here. I know that I will not find genuine love until I can finally see You. Will You allow me to hug You?
Late arrival…..I will find book and read. I just want to say thank you all for your transparency in sharing here.
We retired, moved across country, had a bad moving experience, are now on fixed income, and I’m in mourning for my spiritual base that’s in civil war.
I spent around 6 months in a deep dark hole and have slowly clawed back to standing upright emotionally and spiritually, but only to realize I’ve never felt myself ok or good enough.
I pray this Lenten time with you & Henri’s writing will help my healing to move forward
I’m reading this on a book app $4.99
Same here, Suzanne … $4.99 on Amazon for the Kindle edition.
There’s also a free app (I have it on my iPhone but it’s probably available for Android phones also) called Libby that makes it possible to borrow ebooks for two weeks (and extend that time by renewing if no one else is waiting to get the book you have) just like you would borrow a physical book from the library. I borrow them through the app and then read them on my Kindle (it’s also possible to read them directly on the app).
I haven’t checked to see if Henri’s books are available that way, but so far every book I’ve wanted and can’t afford to buy has been. Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors so I’m currently reading one of her books (and just finished another one).
Letting go involves trust in what will become when rage, anger, hurt, or other exhausting emotions are left behind. Understanding an aspect of myself with no judgement – why something is, will allow me to risk letting go feelings of abandonment and injury. The inner self can be refilled with truth. God will care for me and hold me safely.
Henri meditates (page 14 ) that though the result of a trauma may be a large part of me, I can let it go with the promise of unity of heart with emotions, passions and feelings. God will care for me and hold me safely.
Hard to read his insights without each one touching my heart and soul. Having always felt that I didn’t stand up to my mother’s standards I can understand his relationship with his father. Also being a people pleaser and constantly looking for acceptance and love, his reflections have given me so much food for meditation and introspection
I find it very difficult to be disciplined. I want to say “to find the time” but truly, it is about prioritizing the time. My prayer for myself is to feel God’s prompting and deep desire to spend time together. I have been familiar with Henri Nouwen’s writing for many years. The depth and vulnerability of his writing has touched me on many levels. I am looking forward to being part of this group and hopefully deepening my spiritual life and my relationship with the creator. I long to long to spend time with Jesus each day. (BTW – Coming from Nova Scotia, Canada)
As the moderator I am awestruck (literally and seriously) by these deeply personal, vulnerable, and insightful comments as well as the support that members of our Lenten community are showing to each other. It is a privilege and blessing to share this journey with each of you.
On a personal note, these readings are especially challenging to me. Although I have been participating in these book discussions since 2010 and moderating them since 2014, I continue to struggle to incorporate Henri’s insights into my own life. While I know (in my head) that I am God’s beloved, like Henri, I often fail to live out that reality. Many of these imperatives apply to my life. I try to fill up my deep hole or abyss (p.3) by being a pleaser—“depending on others to give (me) an identity.” (p.5). Closely connected to being a pleaser is my need for affirmation to give me a sense of self worth. Henri wrote about the “disturbing desire to throw yourself into the world of pleasure.” (p.8 ) Rather than pleasure, I crave affirmation. I get involved in too many things, often volunteering rather than waiting to be asked, hoping or expecting to gain affirmation, rather than setting boundaries and being selective to identify areas of interest that “claim yourself for yourself” (p. 9)
The spiritual imperative that brings these others together for me is Trust the Inner Voice. (p. 6) It begins, “Do you really want to be converted?” As a Secular Franciscan, a commitment to daily conversion (i.e., turning away from ourselves and toward God) is supposed to be a key part of our way of life. Like Henri, I often hold on to my old way of life rather than trusting that I am truly God’s beloved. I, too, “become entangled in countless, often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lose touch with the God in (me).” (p. 6) My hope and prayer is that I can Trust in the Place of Unity (p. 14) and there discover the core of my being—the heart—where God dwells. And from that core, I will be able to move forward and “reclaim (my) identify as a free self” (p. 5) and “be converted to a new life of freedom and joy.” (p.6)
As St. Francis of Assisi (Henri Nouwen’s favorite saint) said to those he met, “May the Lord give you peace.”
I find these sentences profound–“So stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need (page 12).” I am working on coming home and trusting God.
I am working on this too. The part that hit me on p. 12 was, “God has promised you will receive the love you have been searching for.” I have been deeply wounded by those close to me and I need to trust that this is true. Jesus help me.
Thanks so much Ray for your reflections. Like you, I struggle to fully embrace being the beloved daughter of God. Looking back over the last few years of my life, I do see how Henry’s teachings have literally saved my life, mind you the circumstances have not changed much yet the way I deal with it and still now I struggle. I am very grateful to this online group, Henry’s teachings and a chance to post, all of this helps to stay close to my spiritual center.
Thanks to Beverly, Wendy, and Joanne for noting in their comments below how some of these spiritual imperatives can be related to co-dependency. Your insight reminded me that I should consider co-dependency as an interpretive lens when re-reading my comment above and reflecting on my feelings, behaviors, and relationships with others.
Thanks, Ray, for offering your thoughts and leadership during this discussion.
When you referenced “core of my being” I was reminded of the apple which is part of the lunch I prepare every day. Careful slicing will get a piece cut right to the core. Yet the core itself is not included in the dish. This is like the inner soul so precious because it contains seeds of new life. The core of my being is hidden yet precious life giving. Christ promises to be with me always; in anguish and in delight.
As one wide Franciscan, Richard Rohr has said, “You cannot not be in presence of God.”
Just got my book and my situation is to be humble at work and not to seek any type of position anymore but be a servant to the people where I ‘m employed.. Set Boundaries to Your Love speaks to me and my consecration to my Mother’s favorite Saint ,St. Therese the Little Flower through Merciful Love. If I don’t keep my steps small I’ll lose Love, Accept Your Identity as a Child of God is an on going conversation with St.Padre Pio . Seek a New Spirituality and Rely on Spiritual Guides is where I’m going… seeking A rooted Spiritual Direction /Director through reading St Faustina and Podcast from the Good Catholic Company, Scripture reading and Lives and writings of the Fathers and Mothers of the early Church. This is where I’m taking this Lenten readings of The Inner Voice of Love.
It is of primary importance to “set boundaries to your love” (9). I have been a people pleaser way too long, carrying others pain and not paying attention to my own. It is easy to lose my identity in this exchange. Especially thinking this is ‘Christian’ to care for others at the expense of losing self; to Jesus point “love others as you love yourself.”
How do we properly love ourself without falling into fatal narcissism? I love myself by being attentive to God and believing my baptismal identity. To be a true self who’s beloved. Listen to my body and my feelings rather than only hearing the needs of others and believing their need constitutes call. No it doesn’t. God’s voice constitutes call. So said St Benedict in his rule “listen.” Not first to others, but the still small voice of God.
Hence, it’s important for me to struggle with whose voice is commanding my attention. Who’s voice am I elevating above the Holy? Because community, “true mutuality,” says Henri Nouwen, requires people who possess themselves and who “while holding on to their own identities, give to one another” (10). This love is God’s love, not an enmeshed codependency. Therefore, it gives “gratuitously” (11), not asking for anything in return.
Codependency is at the heart of my struggle with with my adult daughter. The task is as Henri says “to hold on” to my “own identity”…to stay connected, but be defined. May God grant me divine grace to live out that imperative to “set boundaries to my love.”
Wow, Beverly. I really resonate with your response. I have just been praying about the same thing – codependency – and was even googling that term today.
Thank you for your comments: “To be a true self who’s beloved. Listen to my body and my feelings rather than only hearing the needs of others and believing their need constitutes call. No it doesn’t. God’s voice constitutes call. So said St Benedict in his rule “listen.” Not first to others, but the still small voice of God.”
Your words are an answer to my prayer today – especially the part about the needs of others do not necessarily constitute call. God’s voice constitutes call. I am trying to listen.
Thank you again for your powerful sharing.
Thank you Joanne, for your kind affirmation! If I may, I will pray for your desire to listen, distinguishing Gods call from codependency. Would you pray the same for me with my daughter? I could benefit by prayers right now. Thank you.
I will absolutely hold you and your situation with your daughter in prayer, Beverly. It will be an honor to do so. Thank you for praying for me, too.
Thanks to both you and Joanne for sharing your struggles with codependency. That was a huge issue for me, especially in my relationship with my mother, and I’m realizing how easy and natural it still is for me to let the needs of others take precedence over my own. I feel compelled to drop what I’m doing or had planned to do in order to immediately respond to what someone else asks me to do for them.
Years ago, I was very active in CoDA (Codependents Anonymous, a broad 12-step group for people who desire better relationships with themselves and others). I went to several meetings a week and it helped a lot. So did Melody Beattie’s books “Codependent No More” and “Beyond Codependency.” Perhaps I need to reread those books and/or see if there is a CoDA group near me or online.
Thank you Wendi, Joanne, and Beverly. I too am a people pleaser and codependent first with my mother and father, then with friends. I am willing to plan my calendar around what my friend(s) need before my own and feel guilty when I don’t. I too have often felt that I am selfish and narcissistic if I don’t “do” for others first. I need to take full responsibility for myself and to listen to and for God’s call. I stilll struggle to really feel and believe that I am God’s beloved. I can say it in my head but struggle to feel it in my heart. I so desperately want that and pray for that.
Do I work around the abyss? My answer in Yes…ever since my world disintegrated, I have been working around it, through prayer and meditation, Jesus walks, heart-ful conversations, journaling, being open to Gods presence through service and humility, getting up in the morning, and spending time with people I love. At the same time, contrary to H Nouwen’s advice, I have been consumed by anguish and have run away from it. But I keep coming back, to work around the abyss.
I thought today’s daily meditation from Henri Nowen was especially relevant to our current discussion even though it’s not from this book. Like many of you, I subscribe to get his reflections via email. For those who don’t, here it is:
“You are not what you do, although you do a lot. You are not what you have collected in terms of friendships and connections, although you might have many. You are not the popularity that you have received. You are not the success of your work. You are not what people say about you, whether they speak well or whether they speak poorly about you. All these things that keep you quite busy, quite occupied, and often quite preoccupied are not telling the truth about who you are. I am here to remind you in the name of God that you are the Beloved Daughters and Sons of God, and that God says to you, ‘I have called you from all eternity and you are engraved from all eternity in the palms of my hands. You are mine. You belong to me, and I love you with an everlasting love.’ ”
I also loved this reflection today. In the busyness of our world we tend to focus too much on all of the outward influences, opinions and comments. Instead, Henri calls us over and over to look within and see our own godliness. we are made in His image and likeness and loved beyond measure . . . no matter what the outside world tells us.
I agree, that daily meditation was right on target for the imperatives we’re thinking about this week.
So true! Attended a Day of Prayer on Ash Wednesday and this was opening of presentation
Remember who you are
Remember whose you are
Remember why you are alive.
Thanks Liz I like these 3 statements
Powerful and Meaningful!
Looking forward to discussions during this Lent Season
“After you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections… Thus you become entangled in countless often contradictory thoughts, feelings and ideas and lose touch with the God in you.”
I struggle in this way. I am a writer with three books and hundreds of published articles and plenty of notes and drafts, but recently, I always play the devil’s advocate to the point where I conclude that what I have to say is not worth publishing. However, reading the Trust the Inner Voice imperative gave me the courate to post these thoughts on race relations last weekend after sitting on them for a couple of years: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ed-wojcicki-bb02abb_blackhistorymonth-antiracist-leadersread-activity-7035640978338189312-Vd8z?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop
Ed, thank you for your sharing. Friends have been telling me for years, “you should write a book” and I have ignored them. Their comments are increasing and so I have begun, but I am constantly fighting off the thought, “what I have to say is not worth publishing.” I now will Trust the Inner Voice and your sharing and continue what I have started.
I agree with your friends… write the book! Please remember, though, that it’s important to get the first draft written, and you probably won’t like it! The key to good writing is rewriting, and you can modify, enhance and reorganize on the second draft.
So get going and see what happens. Blessings to you.
Every writer, even famous bestselling authors, struggles with impostor syndrome and questions the value of their work. I certainly question the value of mine and sometimes look back at earlier articles and cringe.
Anne Lamott is one of many very successful authors who have written about this issue and how it never goes away. You just have to feel the fear, think it’s not good enough, and publish your work anyway. If you haven’t read her book “Bird by Bird” I highly recommend it!
I’m glad you found the courage to publish your thoughts last weekend and publish three books and numerous articles.
I now regularly publish my articles, but over a decade ago I kept being nudged by God to write a devotional book. I resisted that call for several years and didn’t think I was capable of doing it. Finally God’s call to do it became so compelling I couldn’t ignore it. At the same time I got laid off so suddenly I had plenty of time to write and couldn’t use that excuse to avoid it.
I started writing and almost gave up several times along the way, but finally published “Timeless Truths for Troubled Times.” It’s on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3j1lpI0. It hasn’t made me rich or famous (major understatement ) but did get a few 5-star reviews. My favorite one called it “a cool glass of water for a thirsty soul.” Some churches also have used it in adult discussion groups and one pastor told me he usually doesn’t like devotional books but he really liked mine because I was honest about how hard life can be.
So I would encourage anyone who wants to publish their writing to take the leap and do it, not for the money but for the reward of knowing you helped someone else by sharing your experience (or entertaining novel, poem, investigative report, or whatever).
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on race relations. I found them thought provoking and will read the article/ book you referenced. Jane
Thanks for sharing, Ed! As a strong African-American man of color, 74 yrs. worth, I’m always appreciative of others who are courageous enough to speak of race matters and/or enter the world of another no matter how different. I am a product of total segregation, but not a victim of it. Born and raised in the “heart of dixie,” NOLA – 1948. I have lived, experienced, endured, and transcended, much. Jim Crow and I were contemporaries. Though raised, but no longer Catholic, one of my most memorable and toughest memories of my early years was a time when if I could enter a white Church at all, there was a roped-off section for Colored people like me.
Please, no guilt or need to feel bad. Simply Truth, my lived truth. No CRT. It forced me at an early age to Seek the Truth from God’s perspective, not of any particular religion or Church. Trust has always been the mission. Easier said than done! Yet a necessary journey!
Thanks again for sharing!
Prior to doing this book study I listened to the audiobook of The Inner Voice. When I listened, I felt like I was witnessing Henri’s inner guide talking to Henri, encouraging him to keep going, rather than Henri talking to me. It was a very beautiful experience. Looking forward to studying the passages further. Lyne
While reading “Bring Your Body Home” (and I realize that Henri was talking about himself and his feelings about his own body), I found myself remembering another of his books, “Adam, God’s Beloved”, which touched me deeply. As I pondered Henri’s coming to terms with the importance of simply “being” God’s beloved while he cared for Adam, I wonder how this revelation of his, that Adam does not have to do anything at all to be beloved by God, fits into the points made in “Bring Your Body Home”?
Particularly since Henri shared much quality community with disabled people, I wonder about what insights he came to on our resurrected bodies when (if) those bodies are wounded or even afflicted in some way?
Henri was a man of deep thought, analyzing much, so I think that he must have (at some point) thought deeply about all that he revealed in “Bring Your Body Home” as it relates to people with disabilities. Knowing more of his insights on this would be a help for any of us who have a disability or who share our life with someone with a disability.
This entry, along with the one that appears immediately before it, were the two that spoke most deeply to me. The prior one (“Remain Attentive To Your Best Intuitions”) is what I’ve been living during this pandemic, although my issues are different from his. I found it to be a very affirming entry.
18 years ago, I rescued my children from their father, who was later arrested and spent 2 years in jail for inappropriate behavior with them. The day he got out, he filed for divorce. I didn’t fight it, because there was no way we could reconcile (he hurt my babies who are still suffering the aftermath of his abuse). 2 months after the divorce was finalized, he remarried, then she divorced him, and remarried again a year later, then she died from cancer (according to my son), and he remarried again. I got to ‘Cry Inward’, and I was crying – not so inwardly, yet no one was around so I didn’t think it would bother anyone. I have not remarried as I took our wedding vows seriously, or at least more seriously than he did, and dating again just didn’t seem right, as I’m a Catholic Christian. I haven’t shared this story with many, and not at all for the last 10 years, so I figured that I was over the hurt of hearing about the man who promised to love me forever and then could so quickly find another love, over and over. I kept wiping my eyes reading through the remaining 13 chapters. Now I’ve read many Nouwen books in the past, but this one is just hitting my heart, so much so that I suggested to my son, who was also hurt, that he go through this study with us. For years I’ve been struggling with the loss of having a person who could love me, and I know that nuns ‘marry’ Jesus when they take their final vows, and I told myself that if nuns could find that enough, then I will too. It’s one of the reasons I became a Benedictine oblate, to live (kind of) cloistered as the monks do, and my fervor to love Jesus as my spouse has been reignited in these first chapters. I don’t think I found this study, I think this study found me.
After reading the 13 Imperatives, I realized that two had been called to my attention: Trust Your Inner Voice and Remain Attentive to Your Best Intuitions. In reflection I realized they shared an idea. I need to be constantly listening for and to the inner God voice and that something in me was diminishing while something new is increasing. I have sensed this change over the past year or two. Activities and relationships that once were interesting and fulfilling have become less so. At the same time I have been called to begin new pursuits such as the practice of Lectio, praying with my pastor the requests of church members. I don’t know what is next, but have faith God will show me.
I’m there with “something in me is diminishing while something new is increasing.” Waiting in the unknown, uncertainty, trusting that what’s coming will be good and meaningful. I’ve been here before.
I first read this book in 1999. After each imperative I wrote about how it struck me. I was at the beginnings of this remarkable spiritual journey and at a particularly low point in my life. Fear of my mother going into dementia and my husband and I loosing everything financially.
I have not looked at this book in a long time. What is hitting me as I reread what I wrote some 24 years ago is God’s faithfulness. In spite of the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, who God was, who I could trust. It’s not that my life is all on track and that I don’t find myself on a rollercoaster ride much of the time – but it’s different than it was 24 years ago.
“Coming Home” really stopped me in my tracks. Because in 1999 I never dreamed my “home” would end up being Santa Fe NM. But I have absolutely no doubt it was lead by God. My Nana died in the State Mental Hospital in Las Vegas, NM in 1970. She spent the last 4 years of her life there. She was buried in the hospital’s cemetery grounds because my family had no means to bury her. Some 30 years later I went on a search for her so I could put a proper headstone on her grave. The search lead to a cemetery in utter disrepair. It had been used as a cow pasture, bones were eroding to the surface and no markers anywhere. It took my husband and me 2 years fighting with the state, but we got it cleaned up, proper markers, headstones and I found my Nana.
It was during this time that we both knew we were meant to come back to NM. I always say I thought I was coming to my Nana, but she was the one calling me home.
A very long encapsulation of my story, but as I read about coming home in Nouwen’s book, I couldn’t help but think what lengths God went to to bring us home. How can I doubt? Yes I know that’s only human – but now I can go back to this book, and remind myself . Thanks for allowing me to share my story.
Wonderful testimony to God’s faithfulness. Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.
What a beautiful and encouraging story, thank you so much for sharing, God is truly guiding us and present.
Thank you. Funny, the story hasn’t been fresh on my mind for a long while either – even though it was such an intracle part of my life. This Lent is turning into one of remembering and cherishing what was at one time painful. I didn’t have this panned at all!
Thank you, Caroline for responding. Nouwen also talks about community – that’s what this forum is all about. I appreciate your comments.
What an amazing story full of hope, Carol!
god is always, always faithful to His promise of love for ALL!
I received wisdom from the words, ” Do not tell everyone your story. You will.only end up feeling more rejected people cannot give you what you long for.” Telling people enough to.let them know you are experiencing some struggles like I am struggling with some anxiety without the entire story is a helpful practice foe me to reflect on. Being present with God in just being .
“Understand the Limitation of Others”
Henri Nouwen writes, ” You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about *you*. They speak about their own limitations….They do not say that you are bad, ugly or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness.”
I wish I’d known about this meditation several years ago when I suffered the one really painful rejection of my adult life. Of course, friends have drifted away over the decades and I haven’t always been accepted by others, but only one was profound. My fiance with whom I was very much in love broke off our relationship just a couple of weeks before we were to be married. We had recently bought our wedding outfits in a vintage clothing store in east London. Naturally we communicated some but it never truly added up or fully made sense to me. I’d worked hard to be a good partner (it was to be a second marriage for both of us) and thought I’d done a decent job, at least, expressing and living my love. There was more to the breakup than was ever communicated, and though I’ve moved on, the episode has always rankled in the back of my mind.
This passage helps remind me that it wasn’t solely something I’d done wrong; it was more about their “poverty in the face of my needs and desires,” needing to get “some distance to survive emotionally.” It still stings but at least makes a different kind of sense from this wider perspective. I think this is a really important imperative also because we know it was a similar kind of rejection by a friend that plunged Nouwen into the crisis and depression that led to the writing of this book.
Thank you so much for your vulnerable sharing. I can sense your pain through your words, and agree this imperative has much wisdom for all of us.
David, thank you for sharing your story. This imperative is one of the three I chose. I too had an event of abandonment that caused me more pain than I’d ever felt. I read through Desmond Tutu’s book The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World five times, actively practiced the rituals Desmond prescribes, and spoke at length with my spiritual director, all in efforts to forgive. It’s been five years and remnants of my pain remain and rise up to haunt me still; I am dedicated to praying each time I get haunted to ask God to take my pain and replace it with love.. And God does. And then there is more. Repeat. Repeat. LOL! Willingness! Humility! And Henri’s wonderful imperative sums it all up so beautifully. Reading it was like turning on a light, opening the windows and letting the light of God in. Henri describes exactly what my close family member was doing: saying I can’t do what you ask of me. I am so grateful to Henri for his books. Maybe sometimes soon I will be done with my forgiveness. Thanks David for sharing.
I really appreciate what you share here, Martha. It does take time, patience and discernment to recover from rejection. Even though I’m remarried now, that experience still haunts me a bit, even makes me wonder if somehow I will screw it up again. But most of the time I know better.
Process — I’ve a copy of The Inner Voice of Love nestled in among a bundle of Henri’s books. I wanted a fresh way in. I checked on Audible for a recording and found one narrated by Franciscan Murray Bodo. Benedict or Bernard said “have the experience and you will understand what I am talking about. There was wisdom in choosing a Franciscan to give voice to Henri’s Imperatives. I set the book aside, pulled on my head phones and listened with my heart. When I got to the end of the 13th imperative, I started over. Then I started over and read along with the text in the book.
So this — a thus far
Mother Teresa often spoke of bringing the “fragrance” of Jesus. This is kind of like that though stronger… I kept catching the embodiment of the Beatitudes, the lived experience of one or the other of the Beatitudes. Blessed are they who know their need of God…. Blessed are the pure of heart, the undivided heart for they shall… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness… It was more like listening to a musical composition with a referential phrasing that kept reoccurring. It was like listening to being born into the Beatitudes, into blessedness.
The Beatitudes tell us clearly what it truly means to BE a Christian.
The Sermon on the Mount was about a whole lot more than loaves and fishes but THAT part is just so much easier to focus on, to talk about, to high five Jesus and slip into the comfort of awe and wonder.
Mmm, but those Beatitudes — mmm, the choices you got to make to go there = no resistance to the love of God = no resistance to the Will of God.
Cantalamessa calls the Beatitudes Jesus’ Self-Portrait… and in the Imperatives, I hear Henri IN the experience of embracing, embodying, Incarnating … the Beatitudes, The Face of Christ in Portraiture.
The Beatitudes scare me, humble me, show me the greater-than-ness that is Our Lord Jesus Christ, the mirror of Eternity. I get the raw vulnerability conveyed in what is meant by Our Lord emptied himself through the portraiture of the Beatitudes.
Through the Imperatives I hear Henri emptying self.
Henri is offering a primer, a sailor’s route book to guide a conversatio morum — a conversion of life, a commitment to choices completely oriented toward God.
What Henri is telling me is this —
this isn’t metaphor.
This isn’t the Hero’s Journey done in the Galilean outback.
This is the true meaning of Union and Communion. And the millions of individual choices that my free will must navigate everyday, all over again.
When I was born into the Body of Christ through my Baptism I truly did die and rose with Christ. And across all of my days, I’ve been dying and rising with Our Lord Jesus Christ again and again and again.
At the age of 76, I hear Henri’s IMPERATIVES quite differently than when I bought this book years ago. Frankly, when I first got the book I thought term Imperatives was a Jesuit thing. There is the Examine, and all those Jesuit Spiritual Direction models. But now, at my age — in this season of my life. The Imperatives have a place in this The Paraclete’s Year of Pentecost.
Imperatives – vitally important – crucial
vitally important – in a way that is extremely important, or necessary for the success or continued existence of something
crucial – decisive or critical, especially in the success or failure of something
If you haven’t written a book, you should. I am going to reread and meditate on your understanding of the Beatitudes and how you so beautifully explained them…mmm. I have been facilitating a Women’s Bible Study on The Sermon on on the Mount this winter and to understand that Jesus is reflected in each of the Blesseds and He wants to transform me into a meek and pure in heart peacemaker, clothed in His righteousness, invites me to take up my cross daily and put on His yoke and walk with Him because His way is hard but the load is easy. Thank you for your insight.
While this isn’t specifically related to our book, I think the message is similar. I needed to hear (read) it and thought some of you might, too. It’s a sermon from Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is wise and witty and gave me a new perspective on the parable of the ten bridesmaids. She emphasizes that the bridesmaids were not foolish for running out of oil or falling asleep; they were foolish for listening to the voices of others telling them they had to fix their mistake and should have known better.
“The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God’s faithful love” (7).
Just as God assumed a human form to demonstrate and intensify His/Her message of love, compassion, and connection with humankind, so too do the people in my life embody that divine spirit and remind me that, as amazing as my experiences of human love are, they pale in comparison to God’s perfect love. Even friends and relatives who don’t espouse any particular religious belief believe in the power of selfless love and live accordingly. I am inspired by their work with the poor, their advocacy for social justice, their willingness to go out of their way to run an errand for a housebound neighbor or to give up a whole afternoon to sit with a sick friend. I keep a gratitude journal to record acts of kindness I have experienced or witnessed every day, and I never lack for material.
As I await my copy of “The Inner Voice” I’m happy for all the thoughtful comments from this group. I notice that “Gratitude” has strong links to “Attitude” both phonetically and in meaning. Attention to blessings and keeping a Gratitude Journal is a great way to develop the attitude. Thanks, Elaine, for sharing your thoughts. John O’Donahue has a poem called “Blessing.” As he blesses his mother, the words speak of deep gratitude for having her.
Henri states “enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send to you the people with whom you can share your anguish, who can lead you closer to the true source of love.” There are times I have felt this but recently I struggle with my perception that I should be further along my journeys of pain than I am and resist going to the people from the past for fear they will expect me to be further along in this new journey also. But, each new journey of pain presents new challenges to work through. Very often I feel I should be able to make it on my own. Only through prayer do I find some solace.
I resonate with your post Joan. I often feel I should be further along in my journey with Jesus and healing. My spiritual Director, God bless him, reminds me, that growth is slow and steady with the graces of the Holy Spirit.
“So stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need… Trust that God will give you that all-fulfilling love and will give it in a human way. Before you die, God will offer you the deepest satisfaction you can desire. Just stop running and start trusting and receiving.”
This imperative spoke to me of hope and trust. I was widowed 8 1/2 years ago in a very sudden and unexpected fashion. My husband was only 51, and I had five children to finish raising on my own. Now that they are grown, I have been realizing how lonely I am and also how, although I would very much welcome love into my life, I just don’t see how it would happen. I feel hope stir in my heart as I read and reread, “Before you die, God will offer you the deepest satisfaction you can desire.” and “…start receiving.”
I believe that this deepest satisfaction could and might take many different forms, and might not mean a new partner/husband. It might be a fulfilling purpose or service or throwing myself into a labor of love. It would be so good to feel joy again, in whatever way God sends it. I trusts that God knows what is best for me and for those I may encounter.
AMEN! TRUST! Thank you for your open and honest sharing!
“You know that something totally new, truly unique, is happening within you. It is clear that something in you is dying and something is being born. You must remain attentive, calm, and obedient to your best intuitions. …
The stage sets that have for so long provided a background for your thoughts, words, and actions are slowly being rolled away, and you know they won’t come back.”
I highlighted multiple passages, but these are the words that spoke most powerfully to me. Something new is being born in me as I continue the transition from being a pastor to a freelance writer. I am free to write what I truly believe instead of feeling like I must censor or hide those beliefs (both theological and political) to avoid offending church members. I am free to choose where and how often I worship. I am free to post anything I want to on social media.
People in the city my husband and I recently moved to and the church we attended today don’t know we are former pastors. I can just interact as a normal person, and not be either put on a pedestal and expected to be perfect or scapegoated when attendance or offerings decline.
So the stage sets that were the background of my life are gone and won’t be back. In many ways that is a relief, but it is also scary. I’m still hurt and angry that I was forced to make this change because I could not in good conscience continue to be a pastor. Silence about the harm being done to people who identify as LGBTQ+, immigrants, are not white, and/or are not Christians was too high a price to pay. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak out against the discrimination and violence being done in Jesus’ name.
It’s still like the rug was pulled out from under me, though. My husband and I now face financial difficulties we weren’t expecting and don’t have health insurance. Our Master’s degrees from seminary are worthless, and it took more than 25 years to pay off the student loans necessary to get them.
I know others are facing greater challenges and try to be grateful for all that we do have, including each other. I’m just weary from the all of the trauma of the last two years and long for some stability, peace, and reason to believe the future will be better than our current reality.
Much love and fortitude I wish you Wendi! Thank you for sharing your story. I admire your courage very much, and grieve the harm being done by the church. Something good in each loss and harm is a theme in Henri’s book. I find this so helpful in my own struggles.
Reading Henri Nouwen’s imperatives, I am reminded of my own struggles. Wanting to please others and searching to be loved in return. That I would care so much for one person, put the person on a pedestal and want that person to love me as much as I loved them and cared for them. Then the person would ask me for space and I would feel rejected. Henri Nouwen’s mind, heart and soul were in turmoil as only the Lord can fill up our hearts with abundant love. And he reminds himself that other people he doesn’t think about might want to give him love and friendship. It is hard to love others genuinely and we are called to trust in Jesus and love our Lord with all our heart, mind and soul. We have to return to Jesus and seek solace in His arms when our heart is not at peace and desiring overflowing abundant love from someone else.
Stop being a pleaser, but a substitute of the word “father” for “mother.” My mother who is 85 still saw me as her baby girl. She states all the time she lives her life through her children. In August my father had a cardiac arrest and the next morning she fell and broke her hip. I had to assume the role of parent and caretaker for both of them. In some ways the event was healing because I realized I needed to make peace with my parents because they are in their twilight years. But as my mother healed her old habits and manipulation returned. I previously did a lot of therapy work and thought I was in a better place, but it was if she was getting into my head. The internal fight going on within me was exhausting. I had to step back and try to breathe. I will always carry the grief that our relationship will not be the perfect mother/daughter relationship I hope for. To find myself I need to realize to be free is to not look to her for approval. I made a copy of this devotion and placed it by my bedside to remind myself of my precious freedom.
You must come back to that solid place, I read and reread this spiritual imperative several times this morning and it speaks to me. Trusting that solid place even when the distractions and negative thoughts and urges are strong, trusting God even when I do not feel any connection to that solid place in God is an on- going challenge, a challenge so well written about by Henry yet a challenge so well worth it.
We have continued to have people join our Lenten community and introduce themselves in the Welcome and Introduction post. To see their introductions you can navigate there two ways: 1) Click the link at the bottom of the post with the left arrow and words Feb 22nd to Feb 25th: Lent 2023 Welcome and Introductions, or 2) in the right hand column of the page, look for Recent Posts and click the link Feb 22nd to Feb 25th: Lent 2023 Welcome and Introductions. This same process should work to navigate between posts throughout the discussion.
Stop Being a Pleaser. These words have resonated in my being for many years and the more I try, the more I recognize my failures. I have been a pleaser since as early as I can remember. Where this came from? I don’t know, I just know I am trying to be the person God created and not who I am pretending to be to please others. The next writing, Trust the Inner Voice, is how I focus my attention on Jesus, my Healer and My Lord.
I have had similar experiences. I was told by a wise friend that I was not so much a “people pleaser” as I was an “approval seeker.” That caused me to look differently at my actions and motives.
A favorite coffee mug reminds me to “Never trade your authenticity for affirmation.”
I love that coffee mug quote, Steve. I used to regularly make that trade and desperately seek affirmation from others. Sometimes I still do, but I don’t care as much about what other people think of me as I used to.
Thank you both for helping me see something In myself I had previously mislabeled.
Simple, yet profound!
I found/ was led to this book during a particularly difficult time in my life and I still find turning to read one of these meditations,when all else seems to fail, a wonderfully heart felt experience.
I cant read 13 at a time! each one speaks so much to me. Yes the hole of wanting of wanting acceptance love and belonging when one was deprived of it early in life seems unbridgeable. Even now I try not to run away and cling to the promise that before i die i will receive the love i crave albeit not how i might imagine.
Blessings to you all as we share and travel on sometimes crawl along on our Lenten and life journey
I am a retired educator living in Olympia WA. I am looking forward to reading this book and discussions.
The very first imperative: “Cling to the Promise” hits the center of my being as it speaks to the recognition, acknowledgment, and acceptance that we all crave deep inside. Aging is interesting to say the least! Honestly sharing, it is even more challenging in my 74th year on this earth.
The comforting words of guidance that speak deepest to me are: “Do not tell everyone your story. People can not give you what you long for in your heart. You have to close yourself to the outside world so that you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain.” Powerful words, indeed!
Trust! Trust in God totally, completely, is the general theme so far in the several imperatives I’ve read or skimmed through. Easier said than done!
Choose the ones you open up to! Wise words from Henri
that we need not tell our story to everyone we meet.
Discernment is valuable
I have a mixed reaction to the advice to not tell our story to everyone. Part of me thinks it’s wise advice because there are definitely people who can’t be trusted and would use their knowledge of my story to hurt or manipulate me. Others would try to fix me, or just not care to hear about my experiences.
On the other hand, I have learned that honestly sharing my mental health issues, traumatic experiences, and strongly held beliefs with anyone who reads my online articles has been so healing. Readers resonate and thank me for sharing my struggles and the coping strategies that help me. I feel much less shame and it is gratifying to know that I am helping other hurting people and reducing the stigma that still exists to some degree when it comes to mental health issues.
And isn’t telling his story to everyone through his books exactly what Henri himself did? So many of us have benefited from his willingness to do that!
Thanks for sharing Wendi, I agree, sharing our stories can bring healing to not only ourselves but to others. I think the one of the ways others can come to a better understanding of mental health issues, is from those who have walked that journey. I have journeyed through the valleys of depression, PTSD, and all that is encompassed with those illnesses. In sharing my story, I pray that others may see that God is with us in our darkest moments.
Thank you for sharing your story, Julie. I agree that those of us who have experienced depression, PTSD, etc and are willing to talk about it openly can help others come to a better understanding.
One time after I spoke at a workshop about mental health, a psychiatrist in the audience said he wished I could give that talk to his residents. A therapist who read some of my articles asked if he could share them with some of the people he counseled.
I was so honored and more than happy to have my work shared with anyone who might be helped by reading my words.
The flip side is that I often ask myself, “Who am I to give mental health advice and share coping strategies based on my experience when I still have major issues and my life is far from perfect?”
Answer in the number above: (Sorry for being late)
3 A. Finding identity based on what others think calls to my attention. Leaving the father figure shadow is essential to living in freedom.
3B. I have been on a long journey of healing with my father’s relationship. He passed away six years ago, and eight years before his death, we grew closer together and mended many wounds in our hearts. Henri’s writings have been good companions for this healing process. I feel a sense of peace in my heart, but sometimes I am tempted to cling to find others’ approval by performing for them. I have noticed deep within me that it is something innate I do, and I wouldn’t say I like it.
3C. A feeling of anguish seems to peek at its ugly face. My thoughts are driven by how well I can perform to be accepted for what I can do. I am not a young person anymore, and having this feeling in my early sixties bothers me. I learned not to pretend that this feeling is gone, but it is part of my healing journey, which continues even after my dad’s passing. Being self-aware has been a critical lesson from reading about Henri’s journey as a professor. Since I am in academics, I have found Henri’s experience helpful in confronting mine.
3D. I will name when I feel drawn to please others by performing. I will recall my belovedness which is truly embedded in the love of the Father for His Son, which is enough for me. What is said of the Son of God is said of me, so I reclaimed that truth.
4. The imperative Stop Being a Pleaser was very timely for me. I felt it was an invitation to keep on the journey toward freedom.
I completely resonate with what you have written – except for me, substitute mother for father. I learned early on to receive her approval and attention, I had to perform, usually academically sometimes socially. And the ante kept increasing so my efforts always increased.
I, too, am not a young person anymore and am frustrated that I still catch myself performing and feeling accepted for what I do instead of for who I am – a beloved child of God. I am in the beginning stages of self-awareness about this. I am thinking that Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward about the spirituality of the two halves of life will also be helpful to me as I continue to wrestle with this.
Joanne, I am 53 and experienced exactly what you described when I was growing up. Performing well (more than well; I once got all A’s except for one C on a report card and got criticized and told I could do better) academically was the key to getting approval from both my mom and dad. I learned to equate approval with love and tried desperately to please them.
I still struggle to believe I am good enough and lovable for who I am. I don’t have to earn love by doing anything.
I know that is true about God’s love, and my husband regularly tells me he loves me even when I stay in bed all day and do nothing that I consider worthwhile. Despite that, I still think I have to prove myself worthy of love by accomplishing something. I see any failure as evidence of my inferiority. As I titled one of my articles, “Self-love is a Never Ending Journey.”
Thanks for your words, Joanne. I have read Rohr’s Falling Upward, which helped me immensely to detach from the false self ways of thinking and to act in the world. The Life of the Beloved has been a source of hope and reminder that God the Father sees us in the Son and delights in us beyond anything we can do for Him.
Understand the limitations of others. At a recent celebration of life I was able to say to my friend that she and her husband had been the “wind beneath each others wings” because she supported him to be who he was and he supported her to be who she was. She nodded it was so. I’m sure this thought came to me in part because I am struggling to let my partner be who he is. I’m practicing not criticizing him, and at the same time not repressing the disappointment I feel when he does something that disturbs me. I meditate daily and see already how “letting go” is becoming doable. It has to be OK that he doesn’t build a fire properly, that he needs to know more than I, that he lectures… He is a wonderful man and his sometimes annoying behavior, only disturbed me when I don’t see him for the unique individual he is. I need to hold my tongue and trust that who I am as a beloved child of God is all I need.
How I relate your comments. I need to hold my tongue at lower my voice. Prayer for both of us that Lent will make us patiy.
I definitely relate to this struggle! I often feel ashamed of myself for getting irritated at my husband or reacting negatively (even if just in my thoughts when I do manage to hold my tongue). He is so good to me and has always been the primary person I lean on for support when I am depressed or scared about the future.
Hello, I am semi retired and drive a bus for the elderly, disabled and handicapped. I am also a volunteer prison chaplain for 20 years. I have felt drawn to Henri for five or more years now. I also thought about being a priest as a young boy but it never developed. Often the scripture and Henri’s words in the daily emails touch and help me in my day. I am looking forward to the study of The Inner Voice. Even the title resonates within me. Shalom John