I’ve spent many of my days trying to look pretty, act polite, hide my darkness. Often these efforts are unconscious, as they seem so deeply ingrained and tend to be widely encouraged by the mainstream of society. And in several situations this way of life works quite well—who can find a justifiable reason to reject a nice and presentable young woman who shows no weakness?
This pervasive persona worked for me until it simply didn’t work anymore. Not only is it exhausting, but keeping up a facade and hiding faults prevents true connection with anyone—both God and man. I speak from experience: shells have no hearts to intimately connect with others on emotional or spiritual levels. Even when people are buzzing all around, interactions still feel unsatisfying and hollow.
And so that empty ache of inner isolation sparked a spiritual search for my authentic self. I longed to let both my sunny and shadow sides be embraced. While belief in God had always been core to my life, honest daily relationship with God (and with myself, for that matter) dropped into unexplored depths.
The priest and writer Henri Nouwen has been an instrumental guide along this journey, and today I share words from the introduction to his book The Dance of Life: Weaving Sorrows and Blessings into One Joyful Step. Editor Michael Andrew Ford writes,
Explaining the discipline of the heart, Nouwen points out that praying is not only listening to but listening with. This discipline makes us stand in the presence of God with all we have and all we are: our fears and anxieties, our guilt and shame, our greed and anger, our resentments and jealousies, our questions and doubts, our aspirations and hopes, our dreams and distractions, our perfectionism and impatience. In short, all that makes us who we are. Nouwen says we have to listen to God’s voice and allow God to speak to us in every fiber of our being. This can be difficult because, in our fearfulness or sense of inadequacy, we may be anxious or want to hide.
The discipline of the heart means that, wherever we are alone with God, whether in our homes, on a country walk, in the garden, or in a community of faith, we have to own up to our darker motivations, our shadow sides, and bring the parts of ourselves we feel less comforable with into the presence of the divine. This is true spiritual living. We don’t need to grasp the divine. We need the divine to grasp us—just as we are.
Just as we are. Bright and dim, strong and weak, courageous and also as frightened as can be. Whole, and wholly loved.
Are you listening with?