Nouwen: known, owned, named, claimed...

You belong to God, an it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world...

It's a cold morning, despite the vast amount of sunshine. Could enough that even my lukewarm cup of coffee was emitting steam as I stood on the back deck having my first cigarette of the day. It's peaceful. Calm.

Reading Henri Nouwen's Inner Voice of Love, two topics come up in this morning's entries—not in the sense that he writes his entries as if they were part of some Upper Room devotional, but as in these are the one's I've decided to read this morning. These topics are accepting identity and  owning pain.

The more I read from Nouwen, the more I feel as if he know that, sooner or later, I would come along. He wrestles with many of the same questions I do. His pain often seems to coincide with my own.

In the first entry, Accept Your Identity as a Child of God, like he often does, Nouwen writes about a place deep within us that can only be filled by the Divine, a room meant only for meetings between us and God.

Since that deep place in you where your identity as a child of God is rooted has been unknown to you for a long time, those who were able to touch you there had a sudden and often overwhelming power over you. They became part of your identity. You could no longer live without them. But they could not fulfill that divine role, so they left you and you felt abandoned. But it is precisely that experience of abandonment that called you back to your true identity as a child of God

Growing up between the Baptist, Pentecostal, and Nondenominational worlds, I heard countless times of a "God-shaped whole." Unsurprisingly, this was the first phrase that came to mind. Frequently, people used this phrase in the context of a call to salvation—the good old-fashioned altar call. Here, though, I think Nouwen is making a broader claim. Even though these entries were part of a personal journal written during a time when the man suffered crippling bouts of depression, there is still a lesson here for all of us.

People touch us. People know us, often quite well and incredibly intimately. Part of the human experience is wanting to know and be known. To know where we come from and where we are going. While other people are most certainly part of the attempt to find answers to these core questions, they cannot answer our questions completely—only glimpses. Furthermore, if this place within us truly exists, then they cannot be expected to make their home there. It is a place for us. It is a place for God.

Only God can fully dwell in that deepest place in you and give you a sense of safety. But the danger remains that you will let other people run away with your sacred center, thus throwing you into anguish

Nanny, my grandmother, was someone who touched me in this place, more often than any other person, and certainly more intimately. When she died nearly two years ago, I plunged into the very anguish Nouwen names. I felt myself unravelling. Crashing. I felt that, by losing her, I lost God. She was gone, and so was the One who gave her to me. Yet surprisingly I did not lose God. But I did have to go through a time period and God and I redefined our own relationship—a period I'm still in. I have other friends who have spoken of similar experience. We all can attest to how grueling it is to accept what it truly means to be a child of God, to understand both who we are and whose we are.

As long as you do not own your pain—that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world—the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself

I wish I could say I've never done this. But I have. Too many times to count. In many of my friendships, I've experienced what those in the mental health profession might call codependence—reliance on the other for one's worth, direction, etc. My first two years of college were riddled with these types of relationships, and as Nouwen expressed in the first entry, rarely did those relationships last long. They weren't sustainable. The pain of trying to reconcile my faith and my sexuality overwhelmed me. This pain led me to reach out to others to ease this pain. They couldn't, and I felt abandoned, neglected, rejected.

The nuance, however, comes with the necessity for healthy relationships where one can turn to have some of their needs met. We need to find a balance between solitude and relationship. We are both alone and together.

You will always need people who do not need you but who can received you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help you own your pain and claim your struggle

Wholeness can only come when we both accept our identity as children of God and own the pain that resides deep within us. When we fail to do so, we lose perspective, and as a result, our relationships suffer.

The search for identity, for selfhood, is one we all experience. Pain is something we all have in common. In this sense, despite differences of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or creed, we are all one while also being separate. Pain and identity are two of the threads that bind us together. I believe we would all be better off to recognize and claim this shared experience instead of focusing on the differences between us and using those differences to inflict and not heal the pain we all face. This is how we love each other. This is how we become people who know ourselves, who know each other, and who are able to love more deeply because of this beautiful, wonderful knowledge.