Ronald and Cynthia were two friends of Henri Nouwen who were facing an extreme marital crisis. Ronald was seeing another woman. Cynthia is devastated and writes to Henri for some insight, encouragement, help. Henri writes a long letter in reply. I think he gives an especially important insight when he says…
We are all imperfect, broken, sinful people, but we are able to love one another because we are able to will to be faithful and constantly forgive each other’s unfaithfulness. … Your will to love each other is based on a very beautiful foundation which, I think, is strong enough to survive the painful crisis you are going through. … In times of deep emotional pain it is so important to hold to the truth we know even though we do not feel it. I am deeply convinced that new feelings of peace and joy will again be given to you when you hold on to what you know to be true in the midst of your darkness.Love, Henri. p. 95
Henri also wrote to Ronald. They were both his dear friends. He was about to enter a 30-day retreat and he assured them both he would carry them with him into this time of prayer and quietness.
Nouwen’s advice might not be the same they would receive today. We should view what he wrote from the perspective that he knew these two people very well and they had a love for one another. In this discussion about trying to help a marriage survive a disastrous unfaithfulness, Henri wrote something I think is true for everyone walking through the darkest of situations. “It is so important to hold to the truth we know even though we do not feel it.”
How often have we felt like giving up on faith when we face the most painful circumstances of life? When the prayers are met with silence and the tears continue to fall, do we still believe that God is near? Our emotions can be all over the place, but God’s truth is so steady and so real. We cannot let our faith rest on emotion, on our feelings. Faith rests on what we know to be true. How we feel about it on any given day is not where our strength lies.
For Henri’s friends, it was trying to find a truth to prop up the rest of life that was falling around them. What truth do you need to trust when the darkest days come? Is it hard to believe that new feelings of peace and joy can come? I think so. We just have to trust the truth we know even though we do not feel it. The prophet Habakkuk said it this way:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,[f
able to tread upon the heights.