HENRY J.M. NOUWEN
The inner voice of love
A Journey Through Anguish To Freedom
Darton, Lonman and Todd Ltd Ė 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|
Face the Enemy
As you see more dearly that your vocation is to be a witness to God's love in this world, and as you become more determined to live out that vocation, the attacks of the enemy will increase. You will hear voices saying, 'You are worth1ess, you have nothing to offer, you are unattractive, undesirable, unlovable: The more you sense God's call, the more you will discover in your own soul the cosmic battle between God and Satan. Do not be afraid. Keep deepening your conviction that God's love for you is enough, that you are in safe hands, and that you are being guided every step of the way. Dont be surprised by the demonic attacks. They will increase, but as you face them without fear, you will discover that they are powerless.
What is important is to keep dinging to the real, lasting, and unambiguous love of Jesus. Whenever you doubt that love, return to your inner spiritual home and listen there to love's voice. On1y when you know in your deepest being that you are intimately loved can you face the dark voices of the enemy without being seduced by them.
The love of Jesus will give you an ever-clearer vision of your call as well as of the many attempts to pull you away from that call. The more you are called to speak for God's love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. On1y when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant. The enemy is there, waiting to destroy you, but you can face the enemy without fear when you know that you are held safe in the love of Jesus.
Continue Seeking Communion
A desire for communion has been part of you since you were born. The pain of separation, which you experienced as a child and continue to experience now, reveals to you this deep hunger. All your life you have searched for a communion that would break your fear of death. This desire is sincere. Don't look on it as an expression of your neediness or as a symptom of your neurosis. It comes from God and is part of your true vocation.
Nonetheless, your fear of abandonment and rejection is so intense that your search for communion is often replaced by a longing for concrete expressions of friendship or affection. You want deep communion, but you end up looking for invitations, letters, phone calls, gifts, and similar gestures. When these do not come in the way you wish, you start distrusting even your deep desire for communion. Your search for communion often takes place too far from where true communion can be found.
Still, communion is your authentic desire, and it will be given to you. But you have to dare to stop seeking gifts and favors like a petulant child and trust that your deepest longing will be fulfilled. Dare to lose your life and you will find it. Trust in Jesus' words: 'There is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land - and persecutions too - now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life' (Mark 10:29-30).
Separate the False Pains from the Real Pain
There is a real pain in your heart, a pain that truly belongs to you. You know now that you cannot avoid, ignore, or repress it. It is this pain that reveals to you how you are called to live in solidarity with the broken human race.
You must distinguish carefully, however, between your pain and the pains that have attached themselves to it but are not truly yours. When you feel rejected, when you think of yourself as a failure and a misfit, you must be careful not to let these feelings and thoughts pierce your heart. You are not a failure or a misfit. Therefore, you have to disown these pains as false. They can paralyze you and prevent you from loving the way you are called to love.
It is a struggle to keep distinguishing the real pain from the false pains. But as you are faithful to that struggle, you will see more and more dearly your unique call to love. As you see that call, you will be more and more able to claim your real pain as your unique way to glory.
Say Often, 'Lord, Have Mercy'
You wonder what to do when you feel attacked on alI sides by seemingly irresistible forces, waves that cover you and want to sweep you off your feet. Sometimes these waves consist of feeling rejected, feeling forgotten, feeling misunderstood. Sometimes they consist of anger, resentment, or even the desire for revenge, and sometimes of self-pity and self rejection. These waves make you feel like a powerless child "L abandoned by your parents.
What are you to do? Make the conscious choice to move the attention of your anxious heart away from these waves and direct it to the One who walks on them and says, 'It's me. Donít be afraid' (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20). Keep turning your eyes to him and go on trusting that he will bring peace to your heart. Look at him and say, 'Lord, have mercy'. Say it again and again, not anxiously but with confidence that he is very dose to you and will put your soul to rest.
Let God Speak Through You
You are confronted again and again with the choice of letting God speak or letting your wounded self cry out. Although there has to be a place where you can allow your wounded part to get the attention it needs, your vocation is to speak from the place in you where God dwells.
When you let your wounded self express itself in the form of apologies, arguments, or complaints - through which it cannot be truly heard - you will only grow frustrated and increasingly feel rejected. Claim the God, in you, and let God speak words of forgiveness; healing, and reconciliation, words calling to obedience, radical commitment, and service.
People will constantly try to hook your wounded self. They will point out your needs, your character defects, your limitations and sins. That is how they attempt to dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them. Your temptation, arising from your great insecurity and doubt, is to begin believing their definition of you. But God has called you to speak the Word to the world and to speak it fearlessly. While acknowledging your woundedness, do not let go of the truth that lives in you and demands to be spoken.
It will take a great deal of time and patience to distinguish between the voice of your wounded self and the voice of God, but as you grow more and more faithful to your vocation, this will become easier. Do not despair; you are being prepared for a mission that will be hard but fruitful.
Know That You Are Welcome
Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived
Here you are facing the core of the spiritual battle. Are you going to give in to forces of darkness that say you are not welcome in this life, or can you trust the voice of the One who carne not to condemn you but to set you free from fear? You have to choose for life. At every moment you have to decide to trust the voice that says, 'I love you. I knit you together in your mother's womb' (Psalm 139:13).
Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words 'Know that you are welcome'. Jesus offers you his own most intimate life with the Father. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in his Father's house.
Keep reminding yourself that your feelings of being unwelcome do not come from God and do not tell the truth. The Prince of Darkness wants you to believe that your life is a mistake and that there is no home for you. But every time you allow these thoughts to affect you, you set out on the. road to self-destruction. So you have to keep unmasking the lie and think, speak, and act according to the truth that you are very, very welcome.
Permit Your Pain to Become the Pain
"Your pain, deep as it is, is connected with specific circumstances. You do not suffer in the abstract. You suffer because someone hurts you at a specific time and in a specific place. Your feelings of rejection, abandonment, and uselessness are rooted in the most concrete events. In this way all suffering is unique. This is eminently true of the suffering of Jesus. His disciples left him, Pilate condemned him, Roman soldiers tortured and crucified him.
Still, as long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain. You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist. This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you carne in touch with the human condition of suffering. Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.
Paradoxically, therefore, healing means moving from your pain to the pain. When you keep focusing on the specific circumstances of your pain, you easily become angry, resentful, and even vindictive. You are inclined to do something about the externals of your pain in order to relieve it; this explains why you often seek revenge. But real healing comes from realizing that your own particular pain is a share in humanity's pain. That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life. That is the way of Jesus, who prayed on the cross: 'Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing' (Luke 23:34). Jesus' suffering, concrete as it was, was the suffering of all humanity. His pain was the pain.
Every rime you can shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a 'light burden' and an 'easy yoke' (Matthew II:30). Once you discover that you are called to live in solidarity with the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners, the refugees, the sick, and the dying, your very personal pain begins to be converted into the pain and you find new strength to live it. Herein lies the hope of all Christians.
Give Your Agenda to God
You are very concerned with making the right choices about your work. You have so many options that you are constantly overwhelmed by the question 'What should I do and what should I not do?' You are asked to respond to many concrete needs. There are people to visit, people to receive, people to simply be with. There are issues that beg for attention, books it seems important to read, and works of art to be seen. But what of all this truly deserves your time?
Start by not allowing these people and issues to possess you. As long as you think that you need them to be yourself, you are not really free. Much of their urgency comes from your own need to be accepted and affirmed. You have to keep going back to the source: God's love for you.
In many ways, you still want to set your own agenda. You act as if you have to choose among many things, which all seem equally important. But you have not fully surrendered yourself to God's guidance. You keep fighting with God over who is in control.
Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, 'Your will be done, not mine'. Give every part of your heart and your time to God and let God tell you what to do, where to go, when and how to respond. God does not want you to destroy yourself. Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God's will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God's love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God's name.
It is not easy to give your agenda to God. But the more you do so, the more 'clock time' becomes 'God's time', and God's time is always the fullness of time.
Let Others Help You Die
You are so afraid of dying alone. Your deeply hidden memories of a fearful birth make you suspect that your death will be equally fearful. You want to be sure that you won't ding to your present existence but will have the inner freedom to let go and trust that something new will be given to you. You know that only someone who truly loves you can help you link this life with the next.
But maybe the death you fear is not simply the death at the end of your present life. Maybe the death at the end of your life won't be so fearful if you can die well now. Yes, the real death - the passage from time into eternity, from the transient beauty of this world to the lasting beauty of the next, from darkness into light - has to be made now. And you do not have to make it alone.
God has sent people to be very dose to you as you gradually let go of the world that holds you captive. You must trust fully in their love. Then you will never feel completely alone. Even though no one can do it for you, you can make the lonely passage in the knowledge that you are surrounded by a safe love and that those who let you move away from them will be there to welcome you on the other side. The more you trust in the love of those God has sent to you, the more you will be able to lose your life and so gain it.
Success, notoriety, affection, future plans, entertainment, satisfying work, health, intellectual stimulation, emotional support - yes, even spiritual progress - none of these can be clung to as if they are essential for survival. Only as you let go of them can you discover the true freedom your heart most desires. That is dying, moving into the life beyond life. You must make that passage now, not just at the end of your earthly life. You cannot do it alone, but with the love of those who are being sent to you, you can surrender your fear and let yourself be guided into the new land.
Live Your Wounds Through
You have been wounded in many ways. The more you open yourself to being healed, the more you will discover how deep your wounds are. You will be tempted to become discouraged, because under every wound you uncover you will find others. Your search for true healing will be a suffering search. Many tears still need to be shed.
But do not be afraid. The simple fact that you are more aware of your wounds shows that you have sufficient strength to face them.
The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your hurts to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down into your heart. Then you can live them through and discover that they will not destroy you. Your heart is greater than your wounds.
Understanding your wounds can only be healing when that understanding is put at the service of your heart. Going to your heart with your wounds is not easy; it demands letting go of many questions. You want to know 'Why was I wounded? When? How? By whom?' You believe that the answers to these questions will bring relief. But at best they only offer you a lime distance from your pain. You have to let go of the need to stay in control of your pain and trust in the healing power of your heart. There your hurts can find a safe place to be received, and once they have been received, they lose their power to inflict damage and become fruitful soil far new life.
Think of each wound as you would of a child who has been hurt by a mend. As long as that child is ranting and raving, trying to get back at the mend, one wound leads to another. But when the child can experience the consoling embrace of a parent, she or he can live through the pain, return to the mend, forgive, and build up a new relationship. Be gentle with yourself, and let your heart be your loving parent as you live your wounds through.
For Now, Hide Your Treasure
You have found a treasure: the treasure of God's love. You know now where it is, but you are not yet ready to own it fully. So many attachments keep pulling you away. lf you would fully own your treasure, you must hide it in the field where you found it, go off happily to sell everything you own, and then come back and buy the field.
You can be truly happy that you have found the treasure. But you should not be so naive as to think that you already own it. Only when you have let go of everything else can the treasure be completely yours. Having found the treasure puts you on a new quest for it. The spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found. You can only seek God when you have already found God. The desire for God's unconditional love is the fruit of having been touched by that love.
Because finding the treasure is only the beginning of the search, you have to be careful. lf you expose the treasure to others without. fully owning it, you might harm yourself and even lose the treasure. A newfound love needs to be nurtured in a quiet, intimate space. Over-exposure kills it. That is why you must hide the treasure and spend your energy in selling your property so that you can buy the field where you have hidden it.
This is often a painful enterprise, because your sense of who you are is so intimately connected to all the things you own: success, friends, prestige, money, degrees, and so on. But you know that nothing but the treasure itself can truly satisfy you. Finding the treasure without being ready yet to fully own it will make you restless. This is the restlessness of the search for God. It is the way to holiness. It is the road to the kingdom. It is the journey to the place where you can rest.
Keep Choosing God
You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own doubting self. You know what the right choice is, but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting you choose the self-rejecting way.
The root choice is to trust at ali times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, 'It isn't going to work. Iím still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fali back into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven't really changed: And on and on. It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God's voice. God says to you, 'I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God:
This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do. You can think yourself into a depression, you can talk yourself into low self-esteem, you can act in a self rejecting way. But you always have a choice to think, speak, and act in the name of God and so move towards the Light, the Truth, and the Life.
As you conclude this period of spiritual renewal, you are faced once again with a choice. You can choose to remember this rime as a failed attempt to be completely reborn, or you can also choose to remember it as the precious rime when God began new things in you that need to be brought to completion. Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past. Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions wi1l gradually give up their rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.
You are facing a real spiritual battle. But do not be afraid. You are not alone. Those who have guided you during this period are not leaving you. Their prayers and support will be with you wherever you go. Keep them close to your heart so that they can guide you as you make your choices.
Remember, you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours.
Today, the period in which I wrote these spiritual imperatives seems far away and long ago. Reading them now, eight years later, makes me aware of the radical changes I have undergone. I have moved through anguish to freedom, through depression to peace, through despair to hope. It certainly was a time of purification for me. My heart, ever questioning my goodness, value, and worth, has become anchored in a deeper love and thus less dependent on the praise and blame of those around me. It also has grown into a greater ability to give love without always expecting love in return.
None of this happened suddenly. In truth, the weeks and months following my self-imposed exile were so difficult that I wondered at first if anything had changed at all. I tiptoed around my community, always afraid of getting caught again in the old emotional traps. But gradually, hardly perceptibly, I discovered that I was no longer the person who had left the community in despair. I discovered this not so much in myself but in those who, instead of being embarrassed by what I had gone through, gave me their confidence and trust. Most of all, I found new confidence in myself through the gradual renewal of the friendship that had triggered my anguish. Never had I dared to believe that this broken relationship could be healed. But as I kept claiming for myself the truth of my freedom as a child of God, endowed with an abundance of love, my obsessive needs melted away and a true mutuality became possible.
This does not mean that there are no longer tensions or conflicts, or that moments of desolation, fear, anger, jealousy, or resentment are completely absent. There is hardly a day without some dark clouds drifting by. But today I recognize them for what they are without putting my head in them!
I have also learned to catch the darkness early, not to allow sadness to grow into depression or let a sense of being rejected develop into a feeling of abandonment. Even in the renewed and deepened friendship, I feel the freedom to point to the little clouds and ask for help in letting them pass by.
What once seemed such a curse has become a blessing. All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like the fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love.
I am not a young man anymore. Still, I may have quite a few years left to live. Can I live them gracefully and joyfully, continuing to profit from what I learned in my exile? I certainly desire to do so. During my months of anguish, I often wondered if God is real or just a product of my imagination. I now know that while I felt completely abandoned, God didn't leave me alone. Many friends and family members have died during the past eight years, and my own death is not so far away. But I have heard the inner voice of love, deeper and stronger than ever. I want to keep trusting in that voice and be led by it beyond the boundaries of my short life, to where God is all in all.