Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of my unofficial patron saint, Henri Nouwen. Outside of Richard Rohr, whom I could never have understood without doing the work Nouwen gave me to do first, no single author has impacted me more as a therapist and person. It would be impossible to overstate his influence (if it’s any indication how much this is really true, consider that my son’s name is Lev Nouwen Immanuel Neace). Everyone who is close to me knows all of this, but I find that I actually don’t write directly about his influence as much precisely because it is so complete, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I’m sharing with you four of my favorite quotes in honor of today. Source works are provided and linked.
On the connection between interpersonal pain and calling:
“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 clearly 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.” — The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish To Freedom
On the search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow:
“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.” —Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
On the single-most indispensable personal characteristic to therapists:
“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.” –The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence
“It is my growing conviction that in Jesus the mystical and the revolutionary ways are not opposites, but two sides of the same human mode of experiential transcendence. I am increasingly convinced that conversion is the individual equivalent of revolution. Therefore every real revolutionary is challenged to be a mystic at heart, and he who walks the mystical way is called to unmask the illusory quality of human society. Mysticism and revolution are two aspects of the same attempt to bring about radical change. No mystic can prevent himself from becoming a social critic, since in self-reflection he will discover the roots of a sick society. Similarly, no revolutionary can avoid facing his own human condition, since in the midst of his struggle for a new world he will find that he is also fighting his own reactionary fears and false ambitions.” —The Wounded Healer
Header picture of Henri Nouwen and Fred Rogers courtesy of The Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection at the University of St. Michael’s College (and the University of Toronto Libraries) used under Creative Commons License.
Nouwen icon picture courtesy courtesy of Fr. Robert Lentz, used under Creative Commons License.