Henri Nouwen is a spiritual hero to many. His words are so filled with wisdom and spirit. But we have to be careful to never elevate writers, teachers, mentors, and influencers to a status beyond their humanity. Henri would be the first to tell us this. In a letter to John Eudes Bamberger, abbot of the Abbey of the Genesee, he wrote of his struggles.
I really need your prayers and the prayers of the community. If the spiritual life is a life in which one’s problems and inner anguish are gradually and progressively overcome, my life is a complete failure. Often it seems that growing older means losing many of one’s youthful resistances and leads to an increasing awareness of the dark forces in one’s heart and to an always a more naked confrontation with the demons. There is less and less in me that I can trust, and I depend more and more on the mercy of Jesus. Only by clinging to Him can I remain faithful.Love, Henri. p. 142-143.
It’s not what I want to hear, of course. I want to hear that we just grow stronger and stronger until one day we defeat those demons that have caused us such misery in life. Maybe in some sense that’s true, but Henri seems to think that’s the wrong way to look at it. In fact, it’s an untruthful expression of spiritual growth. It is focused on the self. What we accomplish on our own is not much. What can happen when we lean on and trust the mercy of Jesus is much more amazing.
I think in the presence of Christ our true selves and the corruption within are so evident that we can do nothing but call out for mercy. And we can always be assured of it. The older we get the more we get it. If I cannot fully throw myself upon His mercy, then I have nothing. For the Christian, this realization may take some time … some years. We will finally realize that it’s not I that grows stronger, but Him. Only by clinging to Him can I remain faithful.
Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.2 John 1:3 NLT