Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Limited Love

I'd like to pass along a short reading from the inescapable, delightful Henri Nouwen. It belongs to a wonderful book titled Spiritual Direction* and more specifically the chapter "Community Requires Forgiveness." I recommend a couple of slow, meditative readings of the passage:

"As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!"

There is a child-like simplicity to Nouwen's insight, bordering on obvious, that may be easy to gloss-over, but if I'm honest about my relationships with others, I think there are patterns of these misplaced expectations behind almost every sense of rejection and disappointment I experience. While we should strive to reveal God to one another in our words, actions, and silence, we should not be surprised when we offer "only limited expressions of an unlimited love" and in-turn experience the same.

The closer we grow in relationships, the more important it is to remind ourselves of our limited love. And though such a reminder may occasionally prevent us from projecting our needs or wounds on one another, perhaps all we can really hope for is an attitude or posture of forgiveness, welcoming these obstacles as an inevitability and inviting the opportunity for growth and healing.

* In case you're wondering, Spiritual Direction is a posthumous collection of Nouwen's sermons, journals, and other previously unpublished reflections compiled and edited into one cohesive book by Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird.


Paul Corrigan said...

I love this line from Nouwen: "We need to forgive one another for not being God!"

And this phrase of yours: "posture of forgiveness"


Thank you for sharing this passage and these thoughts.

Anna Cotton said...

I’ve read this excerpt before and liked it a lot, but this time I practiced your admonition to read it several times meditatively. What struck was me was how meaningful and practical this is in community where we all “strive to reveal God to one another in our words, actions, and silence” (your words) but wind up offering “only limited expressions of an unlimited love” (Nouwen’s words). The humility you expressed of having “an attitude or posture of forgiveness” encourages and strengthens me. Perfection isn't possible, but growing and healing is possible. I’m deeply grateful to share in this journey together—in community.
P.S. Also, I really like how you expressed silence as one way we can reveal God to one another—Amen!

RC said...

Daniel, this is a very helpful and wise post. Thank you so much sharing it, and for sharing this kind of spiritual life with us. I believe it's "real-deal" Christianity, which is what I want to live out with others. Your sharing helps me in that.

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