My dear friend Joey (Lee to a few of you) gave me a book by Henri Nouwen last week for my birthday. When he gave it to me he pointed out a section that he said made him think of me. Only a week or so before Joey and I had a conversation about my own endeavor to 'love despite the possibility of pain.' Despite how cliché the phrase may seem, I have honestly endeavored to do just that. (and please, let me be the first to readily admit that it is something that is much harder done than said.)
Something I have come to realize about myself as I have journeyed to love and to live out Agape (and something I was beginning to see when I made the aforementioned statement some time ago) is that when I realize my heart has been moved to a certain kind of love that my initial reaction is to retreat from the person at whom my love is directed. That way (at least theoretically), I am less vulnerable to the pain that could possibly result from my attachment to that person/people. That is to say, my own life experience had taught me to retreat from loving others more deeply and intimately because of my own fear of the pain and heartache that could result. (The kind of heart pain I think I first experienced at the age of eight when my parents divorced, in eighth grade with the death of six family members and others not related, and from a few personal relationships I have had since high school.) So those things in my repertoire of experiences, my battle has been thus: consciously choosing to love more when I recognize the grave risk I may be taking in deciding to do so. (As one of my favorite quotes from Dostoevsky puts it, to “love not only occasionally, for a moment, but for ever.”)
Now back to Joey and the book…
In light of my own journey (one I am sure some of you are probably on as well) I wanted to share with you the beautiful words Joey pointed out to me. Here Nouwen writes about pain and loving deeply. He says:
Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love evermore fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks that ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant. Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.
The more you have loved and allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of your self and thus gradually build a community within you.
Those you have deeply loved become part of you. The longer you live, there will always be more people to be loved by you and to become part of your inner community. The wider your inner community becomes, the more easily you will recognize your own brothers and sisters in the strangers around you. Those who are alive within you will recognize those who are alive around you. The wider the community of your heart, the wider the community around you. Thus the pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear. -Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love.
I think the words Nouwen shared not only give us a wonderful perspective to contemplate but give the pain we risk when we love with the whole of our hearts so much more meaning. As Fr. Vasileos said tonight when I was speaking with him, though it was done once and for all, if asked again, would Christ in His love for us willingly come and experience the pain of rejection (physical and otherwise?) Yes, the answer is of course He would. Christ’s love, so rooted in the Father, would enable Him to come time and time again on our behalf. As Fr. Vasili said, as Christ would be willing to stick Himself out for us time and time over, so we must look beyond the possibility of our own pain and, being so rooted in the Father, must be willing to stick our hearts out in love. Christ has commanded us to love (and not only commanded us to love, but exemplified the very love I believe we are called to live) and, as Nouwen has pointed out, even the pain we can (and do) experience in loving as we are called can have much greater meaning than we are generally able to see at the time of our hurts.
In the end, I know these words aren’t profound by any means but as the culmination of lots of things I have been thinking about and experiencing, I felt compelled to share them. .. which doesn’t happen too often. : ) I hope the words of Fr. Vaileos and Fr. Nouwen were as meaningful to you as they were to me. Blessings!