The Certainty that You are Waiting for Me

The prayer for this morning in Shane Claiborne et al’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals included a prayer from Henri Nouwen, someone of whom I am a great fan. The prayer is a perfect one for those times when we feel overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives.

Nouwen prayed:

Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace in your house. There is no certainty that my life will be any easier in the years ahead, or that my heart will be any calmer. But there is the certainty that you are waiting for me and will welcome me home when I have persevered in my long journey to your house.

It is a good prayer. And a good reminder that God’s promise is not that we won’t face tough times, times that try our patience and strength. Rather it is the promise that whatever we face, we do not face it alone. And the promise that at the end of our days, we will live in perfect union with our God. And that promise makes it a lot easier to get through the difficult times.


Discipline and Discipleship

Discipline is in the category of words that don’t necessarily sound great to (at least some of) us. It is one of those words like obedience or renunciation that, at first blush, make us worry we’re about to face some unpleasantness.

Although I can’t remember where I first came across this quote from Henri Nouwen, it is, I think one of the best things I’ve ever read that both defines discipline in a helpful way and helps explain why discipline is so important to the spiritual life. Nouwen writes:

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.

I read this quote and I think, if that’s discipline, I’ll take more of it. Actually, I suspect most of us can use more discipline.

Patiently Staying with our Struggles

 My friend Gerry is writing a book on the influences of Thomas Merton on Henri Nouwen and, knowing of my love of the writings of both men, periodically sends me little tidbits he knows I will enjoy either reading for the first time or being reminded of.  He most recently sent me this quote from Nouwen’s, The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life:

“When we do not run away in fear, but patiently stay with our struggles, the outer space of solitude gradually becomes an inner space, a space in our heart where we can come to know the presence of the Spirit who has already been given to us.  In the solitude of our heart we can listen to our questions and—as the German poet Rilke says beautifully—gradually grow, without even noticing it, into the answer.”

What simple, wonderful advice….yet not always easy.  I know from my own experience that the temptation to run away in fear from our struggles can be very strong.  When we hit a point of deep pain, of real difficulty, the instinct is often to try to put it out of our mind, to get away from it and move on to something more pleasant.   Yet it is only by staying in that uncomfortable place long enough to allow God to meet us there that healing can occur.  

And the truth is that we can only push things to the back of the closet (or, to use my more usual metaphor, deep in our pockets) for so long.  At some point those deep pains and struggles will push their way to the surface.  The comforting thing is God will be waiting to sit with us in the silence of our hearts when we are ready to patiently stay and look at them.