HENRY J.M. NOUWEN
The inner voice of love
A Journey Through Anguish To Freedom

Darton, Lonman and Todd Ltd London 1997

Acknowledgements Introduction A Suggestion to the Reader
Work Around Your Abyss Trust in the Place of Unity Tell Your Story in Freedom
Cling to the Promise Remain Attentive to Your Best Intuitions Find the Source of Your Loneliness
Stop Being a Pleaser Bring Your Body Home Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom
Trust the Inner Voice Enter the New Country Let Jesus Transform You
Cry Inward Keep Living Where God Is Befriend Your Emotions
Always Come Back to the Solid Place Rely on Your Spiritual Guides Follow Your Deepest Calling
Set Boundaries to Your Love Go into the Place of Your Pain Remain Anchored in Your Community
Give Gratuitously Open Yourself to the First Love Stay with Your Pain
Come Home Acknowledge Your Powerlessness Live Patiently with the 'Not Yet'
Understand the Limitations of Others Seek a New Spirituality Keep Moving Towards Full Incarnation
See Yourself Truthfully Know Yourself as Truly Loved Face the Enemy
Receive All the Love That Comes to You Protect Your Innocence Continue Seeking Communion
Stay United with the Larger Body Let Your Lion Lie Down with Your Lamb Separate the False Pains from the Real Pain
Love Deeply Be a Real Friend Say Often, 'Lord, Have Mercy'
Stand Erect in Your Sorrow Trust Your Friends Let God Speak Through You
Let Deep Speak to Deep Control Your Own Drawbridge Know That You Are Welcome
Allow Yourself to be Fully Received Avoid All Forms of Self-Rejection Permit Your Pain to Become the Pain
Claim Your Unique Presence in Your Community Take Up Your Cross Give Your Agenda to God
Accept Your Identity as a Child of God Keep Trusting God's Call Let Others Help You Die
Own Your Pain Claim the Victory Live Your Wounds Through
For Now, Hide Your Treasure Keep Choosing God Conclusion

Tell Your Story in Freedom

The years that he behind you, with all their struggles and pains, will in time be remembered only as the way that led to your new life. But as long as the new life is not fully yours, your memories will continue to cause you pain. When you keep reliving painful events of the past, you can feel victimized by them. But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain. Then, also, the need to tell your story will become less pressing. You will see that you are no longer there: the past is gone, the pain has left you, you no longer have to go back and relive it, you no longer depend on your past to identify yourself.

There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God's way of making you more compassionate and understanding towards others.

 

Find the Source of Your Loneliness

Whenever you feel lonely, you must try to find the source of this feeling. You are inclined either to run away from your loneliness or to dwell in it. When you run away from it, your loneliness does not really diminish; you simply force it out of your mind temporarily. When you start dwelling in it, your feelings only become stronger, and you slip into depression.

The spiritual task is not to escape your loneliness, not to let yourself drown in it, but to find its source. This is not so easy to do, but when you can somehow identify the place from which these feelings emerge, they will lose some of their power over you. This identification is not an intellectual task; it is a task of the heart. With your heart you must search for that place without fear.

This is an important search because it leads you to discern something good about yourself. The pain of your loneliness may be rooted in your deepest vocation. You might find that your loneliness is linked to your call to live completely for God. Thus your loneliness may be revealed to you as the other side of your unique gift. Once you can experience in your innermost being the truth of this, you may find your loneliness not only tolerable but even fruitful. What seemed primarily painful may then become a feeling that, though painful, opens for you the way to an even deeper knowledge of God's love.

Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom

When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don't say to yourself, "All is lost. I have to start all over again: This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.

Sometimes little things build up and make you lose ground for a moment. Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone's' inability to hear you, someone's innocent forgetfulness, which feels like rejection - when all these come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back where you started. But try to think about it instead as being pulled off the road for a while. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.

It is important not to dwell on the small moments when you feel pulled away from your progress. Try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately. Otherwise, these moments start connecting with similar moments, and together they become powerful enough to pull you far away from the road. Try to remain alert to seemingly innocuous distractions. It is easier to return to the road when you are on the shoulder than when you are pulled all the way into a nearby swamp.

In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey. Keep returning to the road to freedom.

Let Jesus Transform You

You are looking for ways to meet Jesus. You are trying to meet him not only in your mind but also in your body. You seek his affection, and you know that this affection involves his body as well as yours. He became flesh for you so that you could encounter him in the flesh and receive his love in the flesh.

But something remains in you that prevents this meeting. There is still a lot of shame and guilt stuck away in your body, blocking the presence of Jesus. You do not fully feel at home in your body; you look down on it as if it were not a good enough, beautiful enough, or pure enough place to meet Jesus.

When you look attentively at your life, you wili see how filled it has been with fears, especially fears of people in authority: your parents, your teachers, your bishops. your spiritual guides, even your friends. You never felt equal to them and kept putting yourself down in front of them. For most of your life, you have felt as if you needed their permission to be yourself.

Think about Jesus. He was totally free before the authorities of his time. He told people not to be guided by the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus carne among us as an equal, a brother. He broke down the pyramidal structures of relationship between God and people as well as those among people and offered a new model: the circle, where God lives in full solidarity with the people and the people with one another.

You will not be able to meet Jesus in your body while your body remains full of doubts and fears. Jesus carne to free you from these bonds and to create in you a space where you can be with him. He wants you to live the freedom of the children of God.

Do not despair, thinking that you cannot change yourself after so many years. Simply enter into the presence of Jesus as you are and ask him to give you a fearless heart where he can be with you. You cannot make yourself different. Jesus carne to give you a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind, and a new body. Let him transform you by his love and so enable you to receive his affection in your whole being.

Befriend Your Emotions

It can be discouraging to discover how quickly you lose your inner peace. Someone who happens to enter your life can suddenly create restlessness and anxiety in you. Sometimes this feeling is there before you fully realize it. You thought you were centered; you thought you could trust yourself; you thought you could stay with God. But then someone you do not even know intimately makes you feel insecure. You ask yourself whether you are loved or not, and that stranger becomes the criterion. Thus you start feeling disillusioned by your own reaction.

Don't whip yourself for your lack of spiritual progress. If you do, you will easily be pulled even further away from your center. You will damage yourself and make it more difficult to come home again. It is obviously good not to act on your sudden emotions. But you don't have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by. In a certain sense, you have to befriend them so that you do not become their victim.

The way to 'victory' is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved. Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers. .

Do not be discouraged. Be sure that God will truly fulfill all your needs. Keep remembering that. It will help you not to expect that fulfillment from people who you already know are incapable of giving it.

Follow Your Deepest Calling

When you discover in yourself something that is a gift from God, you have to claim it and not let it be taken away from you. Sometimes people who do not know your heart will altogether miss the importance of something that is part of your deepest self, precious in your eyes as well as God's. They might not know you well enough to be able to respond to your genuine needs. It is then that you have to speak your heart and follow your own deepest calling.

There is a part of you that too easily gives in to others' influence. As soon as someone questions your motives, you start doubting yourself. You end up agreeing with the other before you have consulted your own heart. Thus you grow passive and simply assume that the other knows better.

Here you have to be very attentive to your inner self. 'Coming home' and 'being given back. to yourself' are expressions that indicate that you have a solid inner base from which you can speak and act - without apologies - humbly but convincingly.

Remain Anchored in Your Community

When your call to be a compassionate healer gets mixed up with your need to be accepted, the people you want to heal will end up pulling you into their world and robbing you of your healing gift. But when, out of fear of becoming a person who suffers, you fail to get dose to such people, you cannot reach them and restore them to health. You feel deeply the loneliness, alienation, and spiritual poverty of your contemporaries. You want to offer them a truly healing response that comes from your faith in the Gospel. But often you have found yourself hooked by curiosity and a need for affection, and so you have lost the ability to bring the good news to those to whom you carne so dose.

It is important to remain as much in touch as possible with those who know you, love you, and protect your vocation. If you visit people with great needs and deep struggles that you can easily recognize in your own heart, remain anchored in your home community. Think about your community as holding a long line that girds your waist. Wherever you are, it holds that line. Thus you can be very dose to people in need of your healing without losing touch with those who protect your vocation. Your community can pull you back. when its members see that you are forgetting why you were sent out.

When you fee! a burgeoning need for sympathy, support, affection, and care from those to whom you are being sent, remember that there is a place where you can receive those gifts in a safe and responsible way. Do not let yourself be seduced by the dark powers that imprison those you want to set free. Keep returning to those to whom you belong and who keep you in the light. It is that light that you desire to bring into the darkness. You do not have to fear anyone as long as you remain safely anchored in your community. Then you can carry the light far and wide.

Stay with Your Pain

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When, underneath all the praise and acclaim, you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing - to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. The temptation is to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God's healing.

God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfils your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart. The person who was able to touch that place has revealed to you your pearl of great price.

lt is understandable that everything you did, are doing, or plan to do seems completely meaningless compared with that pearl. That pearl is the experience of being fully loved. When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for healing. But no human being can heal that pain. Still, people will be sent to you to mediate God's healing, and they will be able to offer you the deep sense of belonging that you desire and that gives meaning to all you do.

Dare to stay with your pain, and trust in God's promise to you.

Live Patiently with the "Not Yet"

A part of you was left behind very early in your life: the part that never felt completely received. It is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grew up with many survival skills. But you want your self to be one. So you have to bring home the part of you that was left behind. That is not easy, because you have become quite a formidable person, and your fearful part does not know if it can safely dwell with you. Your grown-up self has to become very childlike - hospitable, gentle, and caring - so your anxious self can return and feel safe.

You complain that it is hard for you to pray, to experience the love of Jesus. But Jesus dwells in your fearful, never fully received self. When you befriend your true self and discover that it is good and beautiful, you will see Jesus mere. Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, mere Jesus lives. Bringing your fearful self home is bringing Jesus home.

As long as your vulnerable self does not feel welcomed by you, it keeps so distant that it cannot show you its true beauty and wisdom. Thus, you survive without really living.

Try to keep your small, fearful self dose to you. This is going to be a struggle, because you have to live for a while with the 'not yet'. Your deepest, truest self is not yet home. It quickly gets scared. Since your intimate self does not feel safe with you, it continues to look for others, especially those who offer it some real, though temporary, consolation. But when you become more childlike, it will no longer feel the need to dwell elsewhere. It will begin to look to you as home. Be patient. When you feel lonely, stay with your loneliness. Avoid the temptation to let your fearful self run off. Let it teach you its wisdom; let it tell you that you can live instead of just surviving. Gradua1ly you will become one, and you wi11 find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all you need.

Keep Moving Towards Full lncarnation

Do not discount what you have already accomplished. You have made important steps towards the freedom you are searching for. You have decided to dedicate yourself completely to God, to make Jesus the center of your life, and to be fashioned into an instrument of God's grace. Yes, you still experience your inner dividedness, your need for approval and acclaim. But you see that you have made important choices that show where you want to go.

You can look at your life as a large cone that becomes narrower the deeper you go. There are many doors in that cone that give you chances to leave the journey. But you have been dosing these doors one after the other, making yourself go deeper and deeper into your center. You know that Jesus is waiting for you at the end, just as you know that he is guiding you -as you move in that direction. Every time you dose another door - be it the door of immediate satisfaction, the door of distracting entertainment, the door of busyness, the door of guilt and worry, or the door of self-rejection you commit yourself to go deeper into your heart and thus deeper into the heart of God.

This is a movement towards full incarnation. It leads you to become what you already are - a child of God; it lets you embody more and more the truth of your being; it makes you claim the God within you. You are tempted to think that you are a nobody in the spiritual life and that your friends are far beyond you on the journey. But this is a mistake. You must trust the depth of God's presence in you and live from there. This is the way to keep moving towards full incarnation.