Henri Nouwen: Give love without always expecting love in return

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Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

“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.”

Henri Nouwen in The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image, 1998) 116-118.

This long post marks the conclusion of this book. I also serves as the last in a series of posts that I will do from Henri Nouwen’s writings, at least for now.

Suffering produces hope. We must lean into it. We must give love without expecting anything in return. This adds depth to our generosity in unfathomable ways.

I hope you have been as touchd by this Henri Nouwen exploration as much as I have. I am not sure where I will go starting tomorrow but I am deeper and stronger.

Perhaps you have experienced sadness or loss, hardship or crisis? If so, take heart. Find the blessing in it, and listen for the inner voice of love.

It’s the Spirit which gives us hope and transforms us in the process. It God’s generous gift that accompanies hard times, the last place we’d expect to find it.