Learn to live through our Suffering not avoid it by Henri Nouwen

Learn to live through our Suffering not avoid it by Henri Nouwen

The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” published in 2001:

Learn to live through our suffering not “get over” it

     This afternoon my good friend Jonas called, his voice trembling, shock muting his voice. His daughter, he told me, had died four hours after birth. “Margaret and I and our three-year-old son, Sam, had so been looking forward to the new baby,” he said. ”She had been born early in an emergency C-section, but still, it looked as if she would come through.” The vital signs soon told them that Rebecca could not live long.

     In the intensive care unit, Jonas and Margaret held the tiny life in their arms. Then it was all over. Jonas said a prayer for the baby, he told me, and made the sign of the cross.

     I was struck by what Jonas said next. “Driving away from the hospital, I kept telling God, ‘You have given us Rebecca and now I return her to you. But I know a beautiful future is being cut off. It hurts so much to lose her. I feel such emptiness.’”

     I search for the right words. What could I say? I did not want to interfere with Jonas grieving. But I also knew that Jonas would not have to face this grief without consolation. “Rebecca,” I said, “is your daughter—yours and Margaret’s. She always will be. Sam will always have a sister. Your prayers are not in vain. She lives now in God’s eternal embrace.”

     It was a long conversation. I know my words gave only modest comfort. More than anything Jonas and I wanted to hug one another and cry. How important did our friendship seem at such a time!

     And I wondered again, as perhaps we all wonder when grief hits hard and hurts us deeply: Why did such a thing happen? To reveal God’s glory? To remind us of the fragility of life? Or perhaps to deepen the faith of those who carry on? It is hard to answer Yes when everything seems so dark.

     When I think of Margaret and Jonas, holding tiny Rebecca in their arms, I think also of Jesus’ own mother. So often paintings and statues depict her holding her Son’s limp, lifeless body on her lap. She was not bereft, not left without hope, but what pain she endured to watch her Son die on the cross! And as I think of my friends Margaret and Jonas, I feel moved to pray.

     The hardships we all endure require more than words, of course, even spiritual words. Eloquent phrases cannot soothe our deep pain. Butwe do find something to lead and guide us through. We hear an invitation to allow our mourning to become a place of healing, and our sadness a way through pain to dancing. Who is it Jesus said would be blessed? “Those who mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) We learn to look fully into our losses, not evade them. By greeting life’s pain with something other than denial we may find something unexpected. By inviting God into our difficulties we ground life—even its sad moments—in joy and hope. When we stop grasping our lives we can finally be given more than we could ever grab for ourselves. And we learn the way to a deeper love for others.

     How can we learn to live this way? Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain. We want to flee it at all costs. But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently. We become willing to let it teach us. We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfilment. Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of One who can heal.

     This is not easy, of course. This dance will not usually involve steps that require no effort. We may need to practice. With that in mind, this little book shows five movements of a life grounded in God. These will not make the pain disappear. They will not mean we can expect to avoid shadowed valleys and long nights. But these steps in the dance of God’s healing choreography let us move gracefully amid what would harm us, and find healing as we endure what could make us despair. We can ultimately find a healing that lets our wounded spirits dance again, that lets them dance unafraid of suffering and even death because we learn to live with lasting hope. (xiii-xvi)

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