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    A Child of God

     How can we believe that God loves us? One of our greatest temptations is to doubt that God loves us. Often, we hear noisy voices of despair, which keep telling us, “You are stressed, you are pressurised, you are fearful, you are unworthy, undesirable, and unlovable. You suffered a lot, you have many problems and you don’t seem to be able to find right solutions. You sin, you repent and you vow to change; yet you have not improved much. People abuse you, oppressed you, you have full of worries and your life is miserable.”

     But, occasionally, we hear the quiet voice of love that tells us, “I am your God—-the God of mercy and love, the God of pardon and compassion, the God of care and tenderness. I love you. I created you out of love. I love what I have made in My own image. I love you with a love that has no limit and a love that has no condition. You are beautiful and you are lovable. You are My child, My beloved child. I do not promise you no suffering but I will give you the strength to bear all suffering. I do not take away your problems but I will always support you, when you turn to Me.”

     We are challenged to choose the busy voice of despair or the still voice of love. Where do we actually give our full attention daily? The choice is ours. Jesus says, “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” And He has come to open our ears to hear the soft voice of love. Even when we are aware of our sinfulness, weaknesses and miseries, we must be open to a growing awareness of God’s love and care for us. As a child of God we are called to act with faith and to really trust in God and to really believe that God loves us.

 

The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “The Inner Voice of Love,” published in 1996. The book was his secret journal, written between December 1987 and June 1988, during the most difficult period of his life. Everything came crashing down---his self-esteem, his energy to live and work, his sense of being loved, his hope for healing, his trust in God . . . everything. He was helped by two guides, who did not leave him alone and kept gently moving him from one day to the next, holding on to him as parents held a wounded child. Nearly every day, usually immediately after meeting with his guides, he wrote a “spiritual imperative”---a command to himself that had emerged from their session. The imperatives were directed to his own heart. They were not meant for anyone but himself. But 8 years later he was persuaded to release them for publication.

 

1. Accept Your Identity as a Child of God

     Your true identity is a child of God. This is the identity you have to accept. Once you have claimed it and settled in it, you can live in a world that gives you much joy as well as pain. You can receive the praise as well as the blame that comes to you as an opportunity for strengthening your basic identity, because the identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. You belong to God, and it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world.

     You need spiritual guidance; you need people who can keep you anchored in your true identity. The temptation to disconnect from that deep place in you where God dwells and to let yourself be drowned in the praise or blame of the world always remains.

     Since that deep place in you where your identity as a child of God is rooted has been unknown to you for a long time, those who were able to touch you there had a sudden and often overwhelming power over you. They became part of your identity. You could no longer live without them. But they could not fulfil that divine role, so they left you, and you felt abandoned. But it is precisely that experience of abandonment that called you back to your true identity as a child of God.

     Only God can fully dwell in that deepest place in you and give you a sense of safety. But the danger remains that you will let other people run away with your sacred center, thus throwing you into anguish.

     It might take a great deal of time and discipline to fully reconnect your deep, hidden self and your public self, which is known, loved, and accepted but also criticised by the world. Gradually, though, you will begin feeling more connected and become more fully who you truly are---a child of God. There lies your real freedom. (pg 70)

 

2. Protect Your Innocence

     Being a child of God does not make you free from temptations. You might have moments when you feel so blessed, so in God, so loved that you forget you are still in a world of powers and principalities. But your innocence as a child of God needs to be protected. Otherwise, you will easily be pulled out of your true self and experience the devastating force of the darkness surrounding you.

     This being pulled out may come as a great surprise. Before you are even fully aware of it or have had a chance to consent to it, you may find yourself overwhelmed by lust, anger, resentment, or greed. A picture, a person, or a gesture may trigger these strong, destructive emotions and seduce your innocent self.

     As a child of God you need to be prudent. You cannot simply walk around in this world as if nothing and no one can harm you. You remain extremely vulnerable. The same passions that make you love God may be used by the powers of evil.

     The children of God need to support, protect, and hold one another close to God’s heart. You belong to a minority in a large, hostile world. As you become more aware of your true identity as a child of God, you will also see more clearly the many forces that try to convince you that all things spiritual are false substitutes for the real things of life.

     When you are temporarily pulled out of your true self, you can have the sudden feeling that God is just a word, prayer is fantasy, sanctity is a dream, and the eternal life is an escape from true living. Jesus was tempted in this way, and so are we.

     Do not trust your thoughts and feelings when you are pulled out of yourself. Return quickly to you true place, and pay no attention to what tricked you. Gradually you will come to be more prepared for these temptations, and they will have less and less power over you. Protect your innocence by holding on to the truth: you are a child of God and deeply loved. (pg 76)

 

3. Know Yourself as Truly Loved

     Some people have lived such oppressed lives that their true selves have become completely unreachable to them. They need help to break through their oppression. Their power to free themselves has to be at least as strong as the power that keeps them down. Sometimes they need permission to explode: to let out their deepest emotion and to shake off the alien forces. Screaming, yelling, crying, and even physical fighting might be expression of liberation.

     You, however, do not seem to need such explosion. For you, the problem is not to get something out of your system but to take something in that deepens and strengthens your sense of your goodness and allows your anguish to be embraced by love.

     You will discover that the more love you can take in and hold on to, the less fearful you will become. You will speak more simply, more directly, and more freely about what is important to you, without fear of other people’s reactions. You will also use fewer words, trusting that you communicate your true self even when you do not speak much.

     The disciples of Jesus had a real sense of His loving presence as they went out to preach. They had seen Him, eaten with Him, and spoken with Him after His resurrection. They had come to live a deep connectedness with Him and drew from that connectedness the strength to speak out with simplicity and directness, unafraid of being misunderstood or rejected.

     The more you come to know yourself---spirit, mind, and body---as truly loved, the freer you will be to proclaim the good news. That is the freedom of the children of God. (pg 74)

 

4. Let Jesus Transform You

     You are looking for ways to meet Jesus. You are trying to meet Him not only in your mind but also in your body. You seek His affection, and you know that this affection involves His body as well as yours. He became flesh for you so that you could encounter Him in the flesh and receive His love in the flesh.

     But something remains in you that prevents this meeting. There is still a lot of shame and guilt stuck away in your body, blocking the presence of Jesus. You do not fully feel at home in your body; you look down on it as if it were not a good enough, beautiful enough, or pure enough place to meet Jesus.

     When you look attentively at your life, you will see how filled it has been with fear, especially fears of people in authority: your parents, your teachers, your bishops, your spiritual guides, even your friends. You never felt equal to them and kept putting yourself down in front of them. For most of your life, you have felt as if you needed their permission to be yourself.

     Think about Jesus. He was totally free before the authorities of His time. He told people not to be guided by the behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus came among us as an equal, a brother. He broke down the pyramidal structures of relationship between God and people as well as those among people and offered a new model: the circle, where God lives in full solidarity with the people and the people with one another.

     You will not be able to meet Jesus in your body while your body remains full of doubts and fears. Jesus came to free you from these bonds and to create in you a space where you can be with Him. He wants you to live the freedom of the children of God.

     Do not despair, thinking that you cannot change yourself after so many years. Simply enter into the presence of Jesus as you are and ask Him to give you a fearless heart where He can be with you. You cannot make yourself different. Jesus came to give you a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind, and a new body. Let Him transform you by His love and enables you to receive His affection in your whole being. (pg 40)

 

5.Let Your Lion lie down with Your Lamb

     There is within you a lamb and a lion. Spiritual maturity is the ability to let lamb and lion lie down together. Your lion is your adult, aggressive self. It is your initiative-taking and decision-making self. But there is also your fearful, vulnerable lamb, the part of you that needs affection, support, affirmation, and nurturing.

     When you heed only your lion, you will find yourself overextended and exhausted. When you take notice only of your lamb, you will easily become a victim of your need for other people’s attention. The art of spiritual living is to fully claim both your lion and your lamb. Then you can act assertively without denying your own needs. And you can ask for affection and care without betraying your talent to offer leadership.

     Developing your identity as a child of God in no way means giving up your responsibilities. Likewise, claiming your adult self in no way means that you cannot become increasingly a child of God. In fact, the opposite is true. The more you can feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim your mission in the world as a responsible human being. And the more you claim that you have a unique task to fulfil for God, the more open you will be to letting your deepest need be met.

     The Kingdom of peace that Jesus came to establish begins when your lion and lamb can freely and fearlessly lie down together. (pg 78)

 

6. Give Gratuitously

     Your love, in so far as it is from God, is permanent. You can claim the permanence of your love as a gift from God. And you can give that permanent love to others. When others stop loving you, you do not have to stop loving them. On a human level, changes might be necessary, but on the level of the divine, you can remain faithful to your love.

     One day you will be free to give gratuitous love, a love that does not ask for anything in return. One day also you will be free to receive gratuitous love. Often love is offered to you, but you do not recognise it. You discard it because you are fixed on receiving it from the same person to whom you gave it.

     The great paradox of love is that precisely when you have claimed yourself as God’s beloved child, have set boundaries to your love, and thus contained your needs, you begin to grow into the freedom to give gratuitously. (pg 11)

 

 

The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Bread for the Journey,” published in 1997:

 

1. Baptism, becoming Children of the Light

     When Jesus appears for the last time to the disciples, He sends them out into the world saying, “Go. . . make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

     Jesus offers us baptism as the way to enter into communion with God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and to live our lives as God’s beloved children. Through baptism we say no to the world. We declare that we no longer want to remain children of the darkness but want to become children of the light, God’s children. We do not want to escape the world, but want to live in it without belonging to it. That is what baptism enables us to do. (Sept 25)

 

2. Baptism, the Way to Freedom

     When parents have their children baptised they indicate their desire to have their children grow up and live as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus, and be guided by the Holy Spirit.

     Through birth a child is given to parents; through baptism a child is given to God. At baptism the parents acknowledge that their parenthood is a participation in God’s parenthood that all fatherhood and motherhood comes from God. Thus, baptism frees the parents from a sense of owning their children. Children belong to God and are given to the parents to love and care for in God’s name. It is the parents’ vocation to welcome their children as honoured guests in their home and bring them to the physical, emotional, and spiritual freedom that enables them to leave the home and become parents themselves. Baptism reminds parents of this vocation and sets children on the path of freedom. (Sept 27)

 

3. Becoming Fathers and Mothers

     What are we going to do when we get home? When the two sons of the parable of the prodigal son both have returned to their father, what then? The answer is simple: They have to become fathers themselves. Sons have to become fathers, daughters have to become mothers. Being children of God involves growing up and becoming like God. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to say this: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,. .  be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.” (Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36) How? By welcoming home our lost brothers and sisters the way our Father welcomes us home. (July 2)

 

4. Welcoming Home

     How do we welcome home our lost brothers and sisters? By running out to them, embracing them, and kissing them. By clothing them with the best clothes we have and making them our honoured guests. By offering them the best food and inviting friends and family for a party. And most important of all, by not asking for excuses or explanations, only showing our immense joy that they are with us again. (see Luke 15:20-24)

     That is being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. It is forgiving from the heart without a trace of self-righteousness, recrimination, or even curiosity. The past is wiped out. What counts is the here and now, where all that fills our hearts is gratitude for the homecoming of our brothers and sisters. (July 3)

 

5. Claiming the Identity of Jesus

     When we think about Jesus as that exceptional, unusual person who lived long ago and whose life and words continue to inspire us, we might avoid the realisation that Jesus wants us to be like Him. Jesus Himself keeps saying in many ways that He, the Beloved Child of God, came to reveal to us that we too are God’s beloved children, loved with the same unconditional love.

     John writes to his people, “You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children---which is what we are” (1 John 3:1) This is the great challenge of the spiritual life; to claim the identity of Jesus for ourselves and to say, “We are the living Christ today!” (June 3)

 

6. Jesus Living within Us

     When we gather around the Eucharistic table and eat from the same bread and drink from the same cup, saying, “This is the Body and Blood of Christ,” we become the living Christ, here and now.

     Our faith in Jesus is not belief that Jesus, the Son of God, lived long ago, performed great miracles, presented wise teachings, died for us on the cross, and rose from the grave. Our faith first of all means that we fully accept the truth that Jesus lives within us and fulfils His divine ministry in and through us. This spiritual knowledge of the Christ living in us is what allows us to affirm fully the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection as historic events. It is Christ in us who reveals to us the Christ in history. (Oct 6)

 

7. Empowered to Be

     Who are we? Are we what we do? Are we what others say about us? Are we the power we have? It often seems that way in our society. But the Spirit of Jesus given to us reveals our true spiritual identities. The Spirit reveals that we belong not to a world of success, fame, or power but to God. The world enslaves us with fear; the Spirit frees us from that slavery and restores us to the true relationship. That is what Paul means when he says, “All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons (daughters) of God, for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back to fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Romans 8:15)

     Who are we? We are God’s beloved sons and daughters! (June 10)

 

8. We are the Glory of God

     Living a spiritual life is living a life in which our spirits and the Spirit of God bear a joint witness that we belong to God as God’s beloved children. “The Spirit himself joints with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God.”(Romans 8:16) This witness involves every aspect of our lives. Paul says, “Whatever you eat, then, or drink, and whatever else you do, do it all for the glory of God.”(Romans 10:31) And we are the glory of God when we give full visibility to the freedom of the children of God.

     When we live in communion with God’s Spirit, we can only be witnesses, because wherever we go and whomever we meet, God’s Spirit will manifest itself through us. (June 18)

 

9. Being Given

     Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus’ life and death are a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.

     As God’s beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God’s chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruits from generation to generation. That is the story of saints---they died, but they continue to be alive in the hearts of those who live after them---and this can be our story too.(July 16)

 

10. What we Feel is not who we are

     Our emotional lives move up and down constantly. Sometimes we experience great mood swings: from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos. A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings. Mostly we have little control over these changes. It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.

     Thus, it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our mood, God’s beloved children. (July 23)

 

11. Bridging the Gap between People

     To become neighbours is to bridge the gap between people. As long as there is distance between us and we cannot look into one another’s eyes, all sorts of false ideas and images arise. We give them names, make jokes about them, cover them with our prejudices, and avoid direct contact. We think of them as enemies. We forget that they love as we love, care for their children as we care for ours, become sick and die as we do. We forget that they are our brothers and sisters and treat them as objects that can be destroyed at will.

     Only when we have the courage to cross the road and look in one another’s eyes can we see there that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family. (July 22)

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