The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

the pilgrimage: Henri Nouwen and my own topsy-turvy little heart

Day 1: Unlearning.

Henri, Work Around Your Abyss:

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

Henri, Cling to the Promise:

Do not tell everyone your story. You will only end up feeling more rejected. People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people’s response to your experience of abandonment, the more you will feel exposed to ridicule.

You have to close yourself to the outside world so you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send to you the people with whom you can share your anguish, who can lead you closer to the true source of love.

God is faithful to God’s promises. Before you die, you will find the acceptance and the love you crave. It will not come in the way you expect. It will not follow your needs and wishes. But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire. There is nothing to hold on to but this promise. Everything else has been taken away from you. Cling to that naked promise in faith. Your faith will heal you.

me:

Henri says not to tell everyone my story – perhaps he’s giving me justification to hold back on the honesty I was committed to yesterday.
Right? Yeah?
Just kidding. ; )

But he strikes hard when he says this: People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people’s response… the more let down you will be when a human being cannot fulfill everything for you.

I am a performer – writer, speaker, singer, actor, teacher, communicator, worship leader, comfortable with the mic, and that one kid who always gets asked to share with the class during a group project. Always have been. That also means I’ve learned over the years the best ways to put my best foot forward, and deliver a performance that encourage people to like me. Sometimes love me, sometimes respect me – but most importantly, like me. I like to be liked. Often that burning need to be liked can run my life… determine my priorities, direct my choices, and shape my identity.
(I’m tired of it.)

Henri again: Before you die, you will find the acceptance and the love you crave. It will not come in the way you expect. It will not follow your needs and wishes. But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire.
Here are my three issues with this train of thought.
1)  Before you die?!?!? I’m just imagining lying on my deathbed with no friends, no husband, no children, no cats, a courtesy vase of drab light pink carnations wilting on the windowsill… and then suddenly, a few seconds before I croak, all my dreams come true. (Mkay, exaggeration yes. But for reals, “before you die” is a very vague promise.)
2) It will not come in the way you expect –  Disclaimer: I am a 23-year-old girl who really hopes for a nice handsome strapping young man to love and snuggle with and take picnics with and go hiking with and raise children with and do life with, for the entirety of life. I’m learning to let that desire/expectation go before it controls me.
3) But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire –  I know it will, this acceptance and love that will be abundant enough, born from God and from within my self-image. The struggle is in being content with that love, not seeking more from this need to be liked by others.

Henri’s abyss is something that I’m only feeling truly, and deeply, for the first time. Just these last few months of life, I have felt this like never before. And I have tried both paths to pseudo-healing – being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

I’ve let myself dive headfirst into the abyss – spend my days in dirty PJs watching Dexter and shutting out the people who love me.
I’ve also let myself wander away from what I know truly gives me life – being so busy that I have no time to even hear my heart beat, working hard at delivering the best performances possible so nobody will see my pain, searching for affection and appreciation in places that are not sustainable, investing myself into delusions of romance that will only be half-fulfilling, and exploiting others for the promise of making myself feel worthwhile.

I’ve moved from the pain of looking into the abyss, into the pain of fleeing from it and taking refuge in somebody else’s cozy cave – but knowing that the abyss hasn’t closed up just because I chose to turn my back on it. I’ve moved from the shame of rejection by those I love and respect (yes, you can ask me about dramatic break-up stories later, ha.) to the shame of isolation as I look for love elsewhere – still absorbed in the pain, only shifting its shape.

Whew. That’s a lot for one day.

I am still unlearning the expectation for other human beings to fulfill all the needs of who I am.
Ask my friends and family and profs and people I preach at on the streets –
I am great at unlearning theology, deconstructing our mythologies of justice, dismantling cultural assumptions and status quo…
I looooove it all.
But the challenge here is unlearning within my own heart. You silly little maze of emotions, you.

Shalom

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2 thoughts on “Day 1: Unlearning.

  1. Kathleenruthbergen on said:

    It’s true, cavities of self esteem can’t be filled by another person. But I believe with my entirety that we were wired FOR relationship. Oh, life, you’re a funny game of balance.

  2. one piece of unsolicited advice. when you find yourself emotionally, psychologically, mentally or otherwise confused or conflicted (perched at the edge of the abyss), my first suggestion would be to drop watching “Dexter” (dirty PJs, on the other hand, have there place in abyss teetering).

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