When we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us…This explains why true joy can be experienced in the midst of great suffering. It is the joy of being disciplined, purified, and pruned.” Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved p.80
John 15:2 “Every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (ESV)
I recently reread Henri Nouwen’s powerful book Life of the Beloved. This post is a continuation of my thoughts in response to that book. Start with the first post about life of the Beloved here.
Identity: Chosen and Loved
In the beginning, God chose you.
When I was very young this was easy for me to believe. Then I grew. I experienced being left out. I experienced being not chosen. I met people who did not love me. I accepted that when someone else was chosen, it meant that I was not chosen. It hurt, but I had to accept that it was the way the world worked.
This is my story but it is probably also your story.
People learn ways to fight and scratch to be chosen. Some have to be the best at what they do. Others hoard money or stuff. Some find ways to gather respect, all because they want to be the one chosen. Some become addicted, finding ways to cower and hide.
But the kingdom of Heaven is different.
God’s love is never diminished by having been spent. There is no less for me because you have everything you need. The kingdom of heaven spreads and grows and encompasses always more.
In the beginning God chose you. That doesn’t leave less for the rest of us. It leaves more.
The beginning of the end of the Bible, Revelation 1 reads like a dedication page. “To him who loves us…”
Loved by Jesus himself.
You can bet your life on it.
If Jesus is good.
(Only a good person would sacrifice himself for people who didn’t love him back, yet. That is the whole reason for Lent and Easter.)
If he is powerful.
(He defeated evil.)
If he is the king of heaven.
(He claims to be that and the ruler of the kings of earth.)
If he chooses us.
If he loves us,
If we are therefore citizens in his kingdom.
(We can choose to be.)
Then, no matter what happens, we will OK. More than OK, we will flourish.
Jesus also said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is a time to mourn deeply. But even those cause-for-heartrending-sobs problems are not ultimate. They cannot separate us from the love of God in Jesus.
When you come to the point that you long for these things to be true, you can be confident that hope is about to dispel fear. Soon you can see that these things must be true. Then you will risk your well-being by courageously acting as if they are true, and everything changes.
When He wrote Revelation, the apostle John was in exile in a penal colony. There he encountered Jesus. This vision of Jesus was different from the way Jesus looked when John followed him around in dusty sandals. This time John didn’t see Jesus as he appeared to be. He saw a vision of Jesus’s true character. John described much of what he saw. One feature was the right hand. Jesus was holding seven stars in his right hand. It was a visual representation of him being the one who held past history and determined future destiny. (I recommend Darrell Johnson’s book Discipleship on the Edge for more about this.) John was overwhelmed and passed out. Jesus stretched out his right hand, the same one that holds all worlds and all destinies, touched John and said, “Fear not…” and reminded John that the one who loves him also holds all power, and ultimate victory, even victory over Death and Hades.
Try this When Hope Wavers
When I feel my hope wavering, I exile myself to a quiet place and mentally trade places with the beloved apostle. I encourage you to try it.
Look around at the desolate place where you sit. Fully acknowledge your difficult circumstances. Then using your imagination, see Jesus appear in that barren place with you.
At first you only hear a startling sound, like a trumpet blast in your ear. You turn to look, and you see Jesus towering right behind you. He is terrifying to look at.
He reaches down. Gently but firmly he lays that powerful hand on your shoulder, looks you in the eye with a gaze so intense that it burns, and says, “Fear not!”
Stay there resting under his touch, listening as he reminds you who he is. Listen as he tells you that he holds your present, past, and future in his hands. Loosen your grasp on the pain of the past, the uncertainty of the future, and the difficulty of the present. Hand it to him.
Wait there with him until he tells you to get up.
If Jesus loves us, you and me, if he is here in the midst of this broken life, we are not isolated.
If he holds this world in his hands and is bringing the whole thing to an end in the kingdom of light, then we can find the strength to stop being afraid, angry, and self-protective. After fear departs, it clears room to live – to fearlessly play our part in building the kingdom of heaven, beautiful and permanent.