LENT: Thursday of the Second Week in Lent, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

From Show Me The Way

I, Yahweh, search the heart,
test the motives,
to give each person what his conduct
and his actions deserve.
Jeremiah 17:10

It is not so difficult to see that, in our particular world, we all have a strong desire to accomplish something.  Some of us think in terms of great dramatic changes in the structure of our society.  Others want at least to build a house, write a book, invent a machine, or win a trophy.  And some of us seem to be content when we just do something worthwhile for someone.  But practically all of us think about ourselves in terms of our contribution to life.  And when we have become old, much of our feelings of happiness or sadness depends on our evaluation of the part we played in giving shape to our world and its history.

When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth.  And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers.  That means we are not only in the world, but also of the world.  Then we become what the world makes us.  We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade.  We are helpful because someone says thanks.  We are likable because someone likes us.  And we are important because someone considers us indispensable.  In short, we are worthwhile because we have successes.


To live a Christian life means to live in the world without being of it.  It is in solitude that this inner freedom can grow.

A life without a lonely place, that is, a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive.  When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than as friends with whom we share the gifts of life.

In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us.  In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone.  It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts.  In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.  It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received.

In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.


Yahweh, you examine me and know me
you know when I sit, when I rise,
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You watch when I walk or lie down,
you know every detail of my conduct.

God, examine me and know my heart,
test me and know my concerns.
Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin,
and guide me on the road of eternity.
Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24

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