This is a collection of short little essays and thoughts that Nouwen wrote mostly as a journal to himself during an, apparently, very difficult time in his life.
The introduction gives a vague description of a friendship that became unhealthy in one way or another, and how he had to remove himself from it to recover, to find himself and his own happiness again.
I’ve read a couple of other books by Nouwen and love them. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, professor, and theologian, along with being a writer. So his books are written in traditionally religious terms, for the most part. But there’s joy and a sense of acceptance, love, and honesty between him and God that is real and beautiful.
Nouwen’s also pretty fucking savvy about relationships, and the dangers/glories that lie therein:
“The great task is to claim yourself for yourself, so that you can contain your needs within the boundaries of your self and hold them in the presence of those you love. True mutuality in love requires people who possess themselves and who can give to each other while holding on to their own identities.”
How can you connect with another self when you are not connected to your own self? An excellent question.
“You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion.”
Giving compassion is something I don’t think I know how to do. One time I took an empathy test and scored 12%. Out of a possible 100%. So.
But most likely it was a test created by Buzzfeed or some equally sketchy source, so who really cares.
The point here, for me, is to recognize that we’re all speaking and looking and interpreting and working out of our own needs and desires and beliefs.
If we have hurtful beliefs about ourselves, then we have continual pain; you can’t get away from yourself, or your beliefs about who you are and what you’re worth. And if you’re in continual pain, you’re going to see and speak from that pain.
But it’s vulnerable to speak from pain honestly, so most of us convert that vulnerability (loneliness or rejection or insecurity or whatever) into a more defensive expression: anger, rage, blame, criticism, self-righteousness, judgment, etc.
I know I am pretty fucking good at that vulnerability-to-defensive conversion. It’s probably a good idea to notice that, and to realize that other people are often doing the same thing.
“There will be no need for comparisons. You will walk your own way, not in isolation but with the awareness that you do not have to worry whether others are pleased or not.”