Henri Nouwen: Good

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But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7

“Let me start with your own observation, which you have often made since mother’s death, namely, that she lived her life for others. The more you reflected on her life, looked at her portraits, read her letters, and listened to what others said about her, the more you realized how her whole life was lived in the service of other people. I too am increasingly impressed by her attentiveness to the needs of others. This attitude was so much a part of her that it hardly seems remarkable. Only now can we see its full power and beauty. She rarely asked attention for herself. Her interest and attention went out to the needs and concerns of others. She was open to those who came to her. Many found it easy to talk with her about them- selves and remarked how much at ease they had felt in her presence…

What I want to say now, however, is that she who lived for others also died for others. Her death should not be seen as a sudden end to all her care, as a great halt to her receptivity to others. There are people who experience the death of someone they love as a betrayal. They feel rejected, left alone, and even fooled. They seem to say to their husband, wife, or friend, “How could you do this to me? Why did you leave me behind in this way? I never bargained for this!” Sometimes people even feel angry toward those who die, and express this by a paralyzing grief, by a regression to a state of total dependence, by all sorts of illnesses and complaints, and even by dying themselves.

If, however, mother’s life was indeed a life lived for us, we must be willing to accept her death as a death for us, a death that is not meant to paralyze us, make us totally dependent, or provide an excuse for all sorts of complaints, but a death that should make us stronger, freer, and more mature. To say it even more drastically: we must have the courage to believe that her death was good for us and that she died so that we might live. This is quite a radical viewpoint and it might offend the sensitivities of some people. Why? Because, in fact, I am saying, “It is good for us that she left us, and to the extent that we do not accept this we have not yet fully understood the meaning of her life.” This might sound harsh and even offensive, but I believe deeply that it is true. Indeed, I believe even more deeply that we will come to experience this ourselves.”

Henri Nouwen in A Letter of Consolation (New York: HarperOne, 2009) 54-57. Let me know if you want this PDF. It’s a must-read for those who mourn or are struggling with difficult circumstances in life. It’s also a must-share for anyone you sense needing consolation.

I have a friend whose health is declining. Death may be near. Today I felt filled with peace after reading this that if and when he passes, though I dread the day, it will be a good day. Good because he lived for me and because, crazy as it sounds, he died for me.

Think about that for a minute. It’s the ultimate act of generosity.

We have people in our lives that teach us things. Then they give us more responsibility. Soon they delegate authority. And just when we want them to stay around forever, they hand us the proverbial baton. And when they depart in death we discover the gift of their life. Absence teachings us this.

They gave their lives to serve us. Then they died so we might live.

I am not being morbid here but entirely serious. And ponder the place of the dying person. What gift will you give those you serve? Will you become increasingly selfish and store up wealth for yourself like the rich fool or radically generous like the poor widow?

Remember whose giving Jesus called “foolish” and whose giving He celebrated as good.