Out of Solitude Excerpt

Henri Nouwen

Tamilla P. sent this, saying, "Recently, a consideration from "Out of Solitude" by Henri Nouwen really underscored a precious lesson I am learning. I would like to share it with you in hopes that you are experiencing freedom from this kind of life."

"It is not so difficult to see that, in our particular world, we all have a strong desire to accomplish something. Some of us think in terms of great dramatic changes in the structure of our society. Others want at least to build a house, write a book, invent a machine, or win a trophy. And some of us seem to be content when we just do something worthwhile for someone else. But practically all of us think about ourselves in terms of our contribution to life.

"But although the desire to be useful can be a sign of mental and spiritual health in our goal-oriented society, it can become the source of a paralyzing lack of self-esteem. More often than not, we not only desire to do meaningful things, but we often make the result of our work the criteria of our self-esteem.

"When we start being too impressed by the result of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth. And before we become aware of it, we have sold our souls to the many grade-givers. That means we are not only in the world, but of the world. Then we become what the world makes us.

"We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade. We are helpful because someone says, "Thanks". We are likeable because someone likes us. And we are important because someone considers us indispensable. In short, we are worthwhile because we have success. And the more we allow accomplishments -- the results of our actions --to become the criteria of our self-esteem, the more we are going to walk on our mental and spiritual toes, never sure if we will be able to live up to the expectations which we created by our last successes.

"But to live a Christian life means to live in the world without being of it. It is in solitude that this inner freedom can grow. Jesus went to a lonely place to pray, that is, to grow in the awareness that all the power he had was given to him; that all the words he spoke came from his Father; and that all the works he did were not really his but the works of the One who had sent him.

"In solitude we can slowly discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. In solitude we can listen to the voice of Him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the results of our efforts.

"In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It's there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received."

Joy to us all--all of our challenges this year will be met by His grace and greater love. Imagine all of the care that He is showing right now to those in the Tsunami-ridden areas. Grace be to them and to us who are all in the hand of such an Outstanding Greater One.

Yours in Him,


Comments from Readers.

August 21, 2007, Dave Sable:  While this devotional was certainly an encouraging antidote to our fast-pace mindset that is constantly on the go, I can’t help wondering if it really is as either/or as Nouwen seems to imply. Is it really a choice between being driven to accomplish something (bad) or just “being” in solitude (good)? Jesus went to a solitary place and there prayed. But then he went down the mountain and accomplished great works. If we don’t take time for solitude, we are in danger of leaving God out of the picture and making everything self-purpose-driven. But then the monastic life failed to recognize that we are called to rub shoulders with the world to be salt and light. If the Apostles sat in the upper room simply "being", there would be no church outside of Jerusalem.

I think this devotional provides a good balance to our natural over-balance towards busywork and identity-driven accomplishments. But, it is still just half the truth. The truth is not either/or but both/and. Solitude is necessary. But so is fulfilling God’s call of vocation. Being is important. But it doesn’t follow that doing is unimportant.

August 26, 2007, Mark Campbell: I don't think that Mr. Nouwen is offering an "either--or" scenario regarding "being vs. doing" in this article. Dave's comments concerning balance between "being and doing" are very important for former members of the Assembly, but the article is not suggesting that we choose one vs. the other. In my opinion, what the author is trying to establish is the "why" behind what we do as believers.

If my "doing" is an attempt to find acceptance, self satisfaction, etc. we will end up running like a hamster on that little wheel of continual seeking to build self esteem via my own efforts. In other words, my inner sense of contentment is constantly dependent on how well I can perform vs. what God has accomplished by his grace.

In order to be centered on God's love for us--- that gives us all our inner strength---- we don't have to become monastic/escapist in our living day to day. Grace removes us from the need to "earn" by our doing, as the value of our life has been dramatically raised via the placing of our life in Christ.

The trouble I have is keeping the above in mind when confronted by the day to day. I think this probably is especially difficult for former members of the Assembly because we were continually taught that our "full salvation" was dependent on how well we could actualize our faith.

Dave's words of caution re. the discussion of "being and doing" are a needed consideration, as there are certain dangers associated with the misuse of these words. One danger would be to seek "a state of mind" where I attempt to achieve an inner feeling of contentment via a meditative activity (as in chanting, prayer reading, etc.).

It would seem that God provides enough bumps in life with the intention of keeping us from withdrawing into an escapist "state of mind." Just because we "feel" troubled, or are jarred by our failures to "live-up" to our own expectations, it doesn't mean our life with God is on the wrong path.

However, on the other side of the issue, there are those former members who are still longing to join up with a group of "on-fire" believers who are "seriously" seeking "God's best," as they are disillusioned with what they see as very tepid faith in the churches they visit. These former members are still striving to be high achievers in their faith vs. recognizing that we are "His workmanship" and to "the praise of the glory of His grace."

It is interesting what Paul says re. this issue of placing value on fellow believers: "---those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable---" God places value on an individual based on what God can do vs. what the capabilities of the "weak" one are.

This weak one may be very inept at accomplishing things that we might admire as demonstrating heroic Christian behavior. However, what "seems" to appear via the performance of an individual does not always tell what God is doing in that life.

I think we need to take the same attitude toward our own lives (which is the point of the Nouwen article) toward ourselves in regard to "being and doing."

God Bless, Mark C.

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