On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent. We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.
Jesus stressed the hidden life. Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire. Only God can give us what we want. So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.
I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human. He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.
How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us. How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives. How quickly I stray from the one thing I want. The psalmist calls it an undivided heart. John calls it remaining in God. Nouwen calls it communion with God.
It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others. It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.
Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.
This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency. It requires intention and space.
But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!
I caught a big work project this week and haven’t had the time I planned to get out the last post in our series on Nouwen’s Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. It’s coming soon, I promise!
In the meantime, my husband has graciously provided below — for your reading pleasure — his unique perspective on what it looks like to live out the Compassionate Way in our daily lives. Enjoy!
Laura has been talking about compassion this week. I’m going to show compassion…by doing her compassion blog for her today.
I work retail. Retail is interesting. By the nature of this job, I run across people of all different flavors. A lot of people are cool – actually most are – but there are also those people who are sarcastic-awesome (in other words, they’re a bit difficult).
I am the type of employee who makes sure every customer who enters my store is welcomed and receives great service. Honestly, I treat my store like my home and I love it when my employees catch onto this and emulate the example I set in their own way.
Anywho, there was an instance at one point in time where I saw a guy looking at men’s casual pants on the wall.
I approached him and said, “Good morning! Are you looking for a certain type of pant or is there anything else I can help you find today?”
He replied angrily, “I don’t need your help, I can read the tags!”
Despite his reply, I still let him know I’d be around if anything came up that I could help with.
There’s a MeWithoutYou song where the lead singer, Aaron Weiss, sings “If your old man did you wrong, maybe his old man did him wrong…” In other words, every reaction is birthed by an action. Chances are that grumpy customer was grumpy because of something that happened before he was in our store and it had nothing to do with me.
And so I preach compassion and understanding.
Maybe that dude was just having a crappy day. Maybe he’d been diagnosed with cancer (as one customer in the last year told me about when they were angry). Maybe he’d just gotten into a car accident. Maybe his cell phone fell into the toilet. Who knows.
But there is one thing I do know: as a Christian, my reaction is called to be grace, understanding, and compassion, demonstrating the love Christ showed to us on the cross… and to let that love do the work.
Whatcha think? Does this resound with you?