Daily Riches: What Drives Us (Henri Nouwen)

“When you keep going anxiously to the mailbox in the hope that someone [outside the monastery] …has thought about you; when you keep wondering if and what your friends are thinking of you; when you keep having hidden desires to be a somewhat exceptional person in this community; when you keep having fantasies about guests mentioning your name; when you keep looking for special attention from the abbot or any one of the monks …then you know that you haven’t even started to create a little place for God in your heart. When nobody writes anymore; when hardly anyone even thinks of you or wonders how you are doing; when you are just one of the brothers doing the same things as they are doing, not better or worse; when you have been forgotten by people – maybe then your heart and mind have become empty enough to give God a real chance to let his presence be known to you.” Henri Nouwen

Psalm 46 emphasizes God’s presence with us in chaos and crisis. We can relax in their midst (as Jesus did in his day) – receiving rather than grasping, and relinquishing control to God as a modus operandi. Our response in chaos and crisis, rather than being overwhelmed, can be to remember our limits and trust. The difference between striving, which here is condemned, and working hard, which elsewhere is commended, depends on what is in the head and heart in each case. Once might resemble the other, but the kind of peace found resting in God’s presence, striving cannot give. In its posture, pace, and motives, striving falls short. The mention of Jacob’s God is ironic since Jacob’s ‘preconversion’ name means ‘to grasp’ (cf. Gen. 25:26). It also encourages, since God condescends to use and bless Jacob – and by extension, us. This passage is my permission to ‘relax’ when it comes to work, finances, parenting, marriage – even spiritual formation. I can talk, walk and drive slowly. I can cease striving for control, healing, satisfaction, meaning, companionship, success and happiness – in other words, in all things.” William Britton

“Cease striving and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.

Yahweh of hosts is with us;

The God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

Psalm 46:10,11

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Life in a monastery doesn’t eliminates the desire to be exceptional, noticed and admired. Do such desires lead to striving in your life?
  • Can you differentiate between working hard and striving?
  • Are you learning to “relax” as Jesus did in the midst of chaos and crisis?

Abba, the “God of Jacob” is perfect for me.

For More: The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen

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If you liked this, please share it! – Bill

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