Thursday, September 15, 2011

The importance of sharing

I'm still reading Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen, and the essay I read yesterday ended with these words:"I can still hear his gurgling, Dutch-colored English as he says to me, 'Don't worry about what to do with the rest of your life.  Just be yourself, and let God love you.' "  That seems to be pretty much the message of all his work, I think.  And a message I really need to hear. (Don't we all?)

But then I read this in the essay that followed:

"From the outset Henri wrote and spoke eloquently of the dangers of seeking success and approval, yet he could never quite manage to stop worrying about the reception of his books and he remained overly sensitive to the approval of others.  There is a very revealing passage in Out of Solitude:
'Once in a while someone will confess in an intimate moment, "everyone thinks I am very quiet and composed, but if only they knew how I really feel..."  This nagging self-doubt is at the basis of so much depression in the lives of many people who are struggling in our competitive society.  Moreover, this corroding fear for the discovery of our weaknesses prevents community and creative sharing.  When we have sold our identity to the judges of this world, we are bound to become restless, because of a growing need for affirmation and praise.  Indeed we are tempted to become low-hearted because of our constant self-rejection.  And we are in serious danger of becoming isolated, since friendship and love are impossible without a mutual vulnerability.'
How true!  But is it not rather obvious that Henri himself was the 'someone' making the confession?  

Henri's life was full of tensions, contradictions, and inconsistencies.  The most tragic yet most creative contradiction was implied in his inability to live out what he wrote.  This was a source of great sadness for him and a reason for some to question the validity of his ideas and his credibility as a spiritual guide.  The paradox is that he would never have become an inspirational spiritual writer if he had lived what he wrote.  Therefore his personal tragedy was also his gift to others.  

Why was it so difficult for Henri to live by his own spiritual directives?" the writer, a close childhood friend of Nouwen's, goes on to ask.  "I am not sure, but clearly his intense need for affirmation was a key factor.  Why was this need never satisfied, despite the overwhelming approval, affection, and love bestowed upon him?...[Clearly there was] a deep-seated insecurity, a sense that he was not securely connected to the people around him... Henri struggled with this insecurity all his life."

Wow.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, to learn again that those who have the most to teach us can teach precisely because of their own personal struggles.  But what a gift.

You could certainly make a case for the fact that, though my blog stresses the importance of being present and aware and compassionate, those are qualities I really struggle to realize in my own life.  Perhaps the gift of the struggle is just that -- it makes it possible to wrestle with the problem from many different angles, in a public way, that somehow can help others to wrestle with their OWN challenges.

I think that's the gift Henri Nouwen gave the people whose lives he touched.  But that's also the gift each of us can give to those whose lives WE touch: we can share the struggle.  Such sharing can help give other people heart for the journey.  And difficult as it may be NOT to realize the goals we set for ourselves, it can certainly be a gift to others if we are willing to share our failures and our efforts.  In any arena.


Louise Gallagher said...

Very insightful Diane.

Like you -- I am learning what I write is my learning to live what I write. :)

AB said...

If Henri Nouwen hadn't gone through these battles, insecurities and fears.. he wouldn't have had the need share them and wouldnt have helped many of us to see that we are not alone in our strugles. After all, we have the same strugles, I guess. We are human - vulnerable and imperfect, but our failures may become our victories, our weakness is our strenght, and our wounds can help others to heal. Isn't that so with Christ? His wounds heal us, the cross have became the sign of his victory over death. Let's "be ourselves and let God love us" :)
Aline B.

AB said...

pd: Today I found a quote from a Brazilian anthropologist, politician and writer, Darcy Ribeiro: "I failed in everything I tried in my life. I tried to provide literacy to children, couldn't do it. I tried to save the indians [natives], couldn't do it. I tried to build a serious university, and failed. I tried to make Brazil to grow antonomously and failed. But my failures are my victories. I would hate to be in the place of those who won*." (*in their shoes)