The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

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

Day 4: Give and take.

Henri, Set Boundaries to Your Love:

When people show you their boundaries (“I can’t do this for you”), you feel rejected. You cannot accept the fact that others are unable to do for you all that you expect from them. You desire boundless love, boundless care, boundless giving.

Part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love – something you have never done. You give whatever people ask of you, and when they ask for more, you give more, until you find yourself exhausted, used, and manipulated. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect, and even be grateful for the boundaries of others.

In the presence of the people you love, your needs grow and grow, until those people are so overwhelmed by your needs that they are practically forced to leave you for your own survival.

The great task is to claim yourself for yourself, so that you can contain your needs within the boundaries of your self and hold them in the presence of those you love. True mutuality in love requires people who possess themselves and who can give to each other while holding on to their own identities. So, in order both to give more effectively and to be more self-contained with your needs, you must learn to set boundaries to your love.

Henri, Give Gratuitously:

Your love, insofar as it is from God, is permanent. You can claim the permanence of your love as a gift from God. And you can give that permanent love to others. When others stop loving you, you do not have to stop loving them. On a human level, changes might be necessary, but on the level of the divine, you can remain faithful to your love.

One day also you will be free to give gratuitous love, a love that does not ask for anything in return. One day also you will be free to receive gratuitous love. Often love is offered to you, but you do not recognize it. You discard it because you are fixed on receiving it from the same person to whom you gave it.

The great paradox of love is that precisely when you claimed yourself as God’s beloved child, have set boundaries to your love, and thus contained your needs, you begin to grow into the freedom to give gratuitously.


A very few amount of thoughts tonight. Let’s consider it a mid-week Shabbat.
Today I’m hearing loud and clear that Henri is coming from a very personal, contextual place.
Today I hear these “you”s directed at his own heart, speaking to his own journey.

But this below does challenge me, because I am not wired for this kind of grace given authentically…
And at the same time, the attempts to continue loving can lead to hurt as well.

When others stop loving you, you do not have to stop loving them.



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2 thoughts on “Day 4: Give and take.

  1. It is a good thought, one I have had to learn many times. There are also times that I had to step back from someone’s love because of their munipliation. I had to set boundries. That is hard to do when the person is someone in your own family. I too tend to want to give and give until I am burnd out. That has been devestating to both my physical and mental health. Good thoughts.

  2. Jessica, I know a bit of the pain of finding myself. My deepest times of despair and pain came during college and seminary. Part of it was moving out of my secure existence in a small town and adjusting to the world out here but it also was a crisis of faith. All I had been taught I had to own myself. And it took me a while to work through that. I had a wonderful friend/counselor in my religion prof at Nebraska Wesleyan who helped carry me through that. At times I would call him at 4 in the morning and he always welcomed me in. He helped me keep things in perspective when my despair overwhelmed me.

    God didn’t abandon me either, even though there were times when I would have sworn God didn’t even exist. But God and my friend Matt helped me come to grips with who I was and what I was to do. It took five years (only a small part of which was truly painful) and the breakthrough came when I finally owned up to who I truly was and committed myself to try to live out my life as the person I was born to be . . . a squirrelly,irreverent, rebel who had a place in God’s kingdom and a task to do in the church. And you know, the church has been able to tolerate my idiosyncracies and allowed me to serve even as I try to be authentically me.

    So hang in there. The pain will not always be there. And you will find God and yourself. The “dark night of the soul” is the crucible where change and growth happen.


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