We began this journey through Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, asking, “What does it mean to be the Beloved of Jehovah?” and, “What is it that keeps us trapped in sin when we already know the truth of our Belovedness?”
We learned how being the Beloved means that, in a world demanding I prove my worthiness to be loved, I can rest in the knowledge that I already am. I don’t have to prove myself or protect myself from the lies of self-rejection.
And if I do fall prey to the voice of the world, the truth of my Belovedness remains unshaken.
Being the Beloved is to be Chosen, Blessed, Broken, and Given as the Bread of the World, living with purpose in a world of suffering, pain, joy, and love. Being the Beloved is to be part of the Divine restorative work. We are chosen to be a blessing, broken that our blessing might be multiplied, and finally, given away freely in life and in death.
But being given is not about giving up. As the Beloved “we are called to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace,” Henri writes. Not to the exclusion of our dreams and ambitions, but in the midst of them. Rather than rejecting life, we accept it graciously, with all the beauty of nature and culture, as a sign of our Belovedness.
Someone once told me that a Warrior waits. He knows what he is waiting for, and while he waits, he feasts his eyes on the world about him. As the Beloved, we are such Warriors, resting in the truth of who we are and waiting to become our final gift.
The truth of our Belovedness allows us to receive the gifts of society and celebrate life. It also sets us free from the lies of self-rejection that jeopardize the life the of the Spirit within us. As the Beloved, we are at peace in a world we no longer belong to.
“As long as you live in the world, yielding to its enormous pressures to prove to yourself and to others that you are somebody and knowing from the beginning that you will lose in the end, your life can be scarcely more than a struggle for survival. If, however, you really want to live in the world, you cannot look to the world itself as the source of that life. The world and its strategies may help you survive for a long time, but they cannot help you live because the world is not the source even of its own life let alone yours.”
When we finally rest in the knowledge that the source of our life is not found in this world demanding we prove ourselves worthy, we are free to truly live. The irony is that once we are free we soon discover that truly being alive looks like service to others. When I no longer need to prove my worth, all that personal value becomes mine to give away. I’m no longer hoarding it in competition with the world around me because I’m not afraid of losing it, even in the face of death.
The best example of this I know is Jesus, not on the cross, but in the upper room when he washed the disciples’ feet. We can read about it in John 13:3-5:
“And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
Secure in the knowledge of who he is, where he came from, and where he’s going, Jesus is free to strip away the clothing of his status as Lord and Teacher and to humble himself before his disciples like a servant. This is not weakness, this is power. What can you withhold from a man who needs nothing from you? How can you challenge a woman whose self-worth is not dependent on your valuation of her? Jesus even washed Judas’ feet.
Jesus knew that the source of his life was the Father, the one who called him Beloved, so there was nothing to cling to or prove. He was free to give himself away, and that is the life of the Beloved.
“What I most want to say,” Henri writes to his friend, “is that when the totality of our daily lives is lived ‘from above,’ that is, as the Beloved sent into the world, then everyone we meet and everything that happens to us becomes a unique opportunity to choose for the life that cannot be conquered by death. Thus, both joy and suffering become part of the way to our spiritual fulfillment.”
When we say “Yes” to the voice that calls us Beloved, we can accept both joy and sorrow as two sides of the mystery of God’s love. Both living and dying become opportunities for us to affirm our true spiritual nature, leaving us with nothing to fear.
I can hear the Apostle Paul saying,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
And suddenly I’m peeling the veneer off of Henri’s letter to his secular friend, and I realize, almost with embarrassment at its simplicity, that the Life of the Beloved is what Paul means by “living according to the Spirit” in Romans 8.
Living according to the flesh is to live as though this world is our source of life, but living according to the Spirit is to say “Yes” to the one who calls us Beloved. The mind of the flesh is self-rejection, and the deeds of the flesh are our best efforts to prove ourselves to the world. The Life of the Beloved is freedom from this sick cycle of sin and death.
And here is the end of our Spin Cycle Theology:
Putting to death the deeds of the flesh is not about successfully obeying the law now that we are forgiven, or overcoming our sinful nature through the power of the Spirit within us. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
Putting to death the deeds of the flesh is resisting self-rejection and its abuses in light of our Belovedness in Christ.
Now I can hear Henri’s message in Paul’s words, and it gives me hope:
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh (with the world as our source of life), to live according to the flesh (believing the lies of self-rejection). For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit (claiming our Belovedness) you put to death the deeds of the body (our efforts to prove ourselves worthy), you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Beloved). For you did not receive the spirit of slavery (law) to fall back into fear (condemnation), but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (life), by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Chosen), and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Blessed), provided we suffer with him (Broken) in order that we may also be glorified with him (Given).” (Romans 8:12-17)
Here lies the path before us, the journey ahead of us, to walk the line where suffering and glory meet. Where joy and sorrow are the two arms of a Divine hug. Where defeat and victory are one.
So what is the brass tacks, boots on the ground experience of this life of the Beloved? What does this look like in practice? At the risk of over-simplifying the whole thing, I’ll say, “Love one another.” Knowing that we came from Spirit, that we are Beloved of Spirit, and that we will return to Spirit, we are free to love without fear. To love ourselves in our Chosenness and Blessing, to love Spirit in our Brokenness, and to love our neighbor in being Given.
Henri gives us a beautiful description of this spiritual life:
“The spiritual life counteracts the countless divisions that pervade our daily life and cause destruction and violence…The Spirit of God, the Spirit that calls us Beloved, is the Spirit that unites and makes whole. There is no clearer way to discern the presence of God’s Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Where ever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself.”
What does this look like in practice for you? In what specific ways can you love without fear in your own life? How is Spirit seeking to bring unity into your life?
I would love to hear your ideas! As well as your thoughts on this journey through Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. You can sign up for our newsletter, leave a comment, or message me below. You can also join us on Facebook at On Journey Together and be part of the conversation there.
There is one final part to Henri’s book that I’d like to share with you. It’s the Epilogue in which he describes how his words were received by his secular friend. I found it to be quite insightful. Until then…
Buen Camino, my friends.
To the end, to the truth.