Henri Nouwen: Time, grief, love, and pain

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For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

“Real grief is not healed by time. It is false to think that the passing of time will slowly make us forget her and take away our pain. I really want to console you in this letter, but not by suggesting that time will take away your pain, and that in one, two, three, or more years you will not miss her so much anymore.

I would not only be telling a lie, I would be diminishing the importance of mother’s life, underestimating the depth of your grief, and mistakenly relativizing the power of the love that has bound mother and you together for forty-seven years. If time does anything, it deepens our grief. The longer we live, the more fully we become aware of who she was for us, and the more intimately we experience what her love meant for us.

Real, deep love is, as you know, very unobtrusive, seemingly easy and obvious, and so present that we take it for granted. Therefore, it is often only in retrospect—or better, in memory—that we fully realize its power and depth. Yes, indeed, love often makes itself visible in pain.”

Henri Nouwen in A Letter of Consolation (New York: HarperOne, 2009) 16.

Henri wrote this letter to his father about six months after the death of his mother. He went on to publish it to help others who grieved to find consolation in Christ.

I located the PDF for sharing. Let me know if you want it. It seems like everyone I know is enduring grief and pain. Often, people say that time heals. Henri offers an alternative perspective.

While healing can take place over time, giving attention to pain is the pathway for finding love. So, avoiding or denying grief or pain is not the answer. But we need to make intentional effort here.

Henri admits early on in this book that he was busy when his mom died. We all are. Only when he took time to reflect and embrace the pain of his loss did he find the love he needed.

If you or someone you know has experienced loss. Encourage them to move toward the pain. There they will find love. In so doing, you will give them a gift that is precisely what they need most.

Today I honor my wife Jenni. It’s her birthday. As the Soulcare Anchoress, she helps move toward their pain and brokenness and discover the love of God in unfathomable ways. Happy Birthday Jenni!