Turn to God and let God Transform our Hurt into Greater Good by Henri Nouwen
The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” published in 2001:
Turn to God and let God Transform our Hurt into Greater Good (12-15)
One’s of life’s great questions centers not on what happens to us, but rather, how we will live in and through whatever happens. We cannot change most circumstances in our lives, I am white, middle-class, and I have a good education. I have not always made conscious decisions about these things. Very little of what I have lived, in fact, has to do with what I have decided—whom I have known, where I came into the world, what personality tendencies have taken hold.
Our choice, then, often revolves around not what has happened or will happen to us, but how we will relate to life’s turns and circumstances. Put another way: Will I relate to my life resentfully or gratefully? Think of this example: You and I have crashed into one another on the highway. For me it might create not only serious injury, but also bitter resentfulness. I may drag through life, saying, “The accident changed everything. Now I am broken and life is hard.” You may suffer the same hardship, but say, “Might this moment serve as a call to another way of life? Might it be an opportunity to master something new, a chance to make my brokenness serve as a witness to others?”
The losses may be nonnegotiable. But we have a choice: How do we live these losses? We are called time and again to discover God’s Spirit at work within our lives, within us, amid even the dark moments. We are invited to choose life. A key in understanding suffering has to do with our not rebelling at the inconveniences and pains life presents to me.
Mourning makes us poor; it powerfully reminds us of our smallness. But it is precisely here, in that pain or poverty or awkwardness, that the Dancer invites us to rise up and take the first steps. For in our suffering, not apart from it, Jesus enters our sadness, takes us by the hand, pulls us gently up to stand, and invites us to dance. We find the way to pray, as the psalmist did, “You have turned my mourning into dancing” (Ps 30:11), because at the center of our grief we find the grace of God.
And as we dance, we realise that we don’t have to stay on the little spot of our grief, but can step beyond it. We stop centering our lives on ourselves. We pull others along with us and invite them into the larger dance. We learn to make room for others—and the Gracious Other in our midst. And when we become present to God and God’s people, we find our lives richer. We come to know that all the world is our dance floor. Our step grows lighter because God has called out others to dance as well.
A friend wrote me a letter to recount his discovery. He had decided to spend the week following Christmas with his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. One mourning, when he met his father at the day program in which he takes part, he found him very anxious and agitated. His father was worrying that his own mother, who had died long before my friend was born, needed his help. The worries were clearly an expression of a deep anguish that he could not express directly.
My friend took his father for a drive for more than an hour through the countryside. Very few words were spoken between them, but my friend noticed how his father’s anxiety diminished and he became more relaxed. After not speaking for nearly an hour, the father turned, looked directly at his son, and said, “Well, we haven’t had such a good visit in a long time.” The son laughed and realised that his father was right. Anguish had become peace; loss had become gain. Even the silence between them held healing. So much of our movement through suffering has to do with such unexpected moments. Moments that come as gifts amid our waiting or struggling. Moments that often have much to do with the people God puts in our path.
We do not, then, attempt our movement from our little lives into God’s larger grace by simple resolve or lonely effort. When our needs lead us to grab desperately for a place, when our unhealed wounds determine the atmosphere around us, we become anxious. But then we let our hurt remind us of our need for healing. As we dance and walk forward, grace provides the ground on which our steps fall. Prayer puts us in touch with the God of the Dance. We look beyond our experience of sadness or loss by learning to receive an all-embracing love, a love that meets us in everyday moments.
And so we wait patiently, if the situation requires it, watching for gifts to come where we are. Look at the wonderful exuberant flowers painted by the famous Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. What grief, what sadness, what melancholy he experienced in his difficult life! Yet what beauty, what ecstasy! Looking at his vibrant paintings of sunflowers, who can say where the mourning ends and the dance begins? Our glory is hidden in our pain, if we allow God to bring the gift of Himself in our experience of it. If we turn to God, not rebelling against our hurt, we let God transform it into greater good. We let others join us and discover it with us.