I recently returned to reading Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now, a book I was half-way through before. And I was surprised that within the space of about 15 pages, Nouwen wrote about 3 different themes that I have wrestled with in my own reflections and blogged about over the past 6 weeks or so. Maybe you’ll experience the dÃ©ja vu too.
From Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now:
I. Forgiveness & Gratitude
There is a lot to forgive, not just because our family was not as caring as other families, but because all the love we received was imperfect and very limited. Our parents are also children of parents who didn’t love them in a perfect way, and even our grandparents had parents who were not ideal!
There is much to forgive. But if we are willing to see our own parents, grandparents, and great-grand parents as people like ourselves with a desire to love but also with many unfulfilled needs, we might be able to step over our anger, our resentments, or even our hatred, and discover that their limited love is still real love, a love for which to be grateful.
Once we are able to forgive, we can be grateful for what we have received. And we have received so much. We can walk, talk, smile, move, laugh, cry, eat, drink, dance, play, work, sing, give life, give joy, give hope, give love. We are alive! Our fathers and mothers gave us life, and our brothers and sisters helped us to live it. Once we are no longer blinded by their so-obvious weaknesses, we can see clearly how much there is to be grateful for.
II. To Be Forgiven
Many of us not only have parents but also are parents. This simple truth is quite sobering because it is not unlikely that our own children will spend quite a lot of time talking to their friends, counselors, psychiatrists, and priests about us! And we tried so hard not to make the same mistakes our parents made! (…)
The tragedy of our lives is that, while we suffer from the wounds afflicted on us by those who love us, we cannot avoid wounding those we want to love. We so much want to love well, to care well, to understand well, but before we grow old someone will say to us “You weren’t there for me when I needed you; you didn’t care about what I was doing or thinking; you didn’t understand or try to understand me.” As we hear these remarks or feel the criticisms of those we love, we come to the painful realization that – as we had to leave our father and mother, brothers and sisters – they too have to leave us to find their own freedom. It is very painful to see those for whom we have given our life leave us, often in directions that fill us with fear.
It is here that we are called to believe deeply in the truth that all fatherhood and all motherhood come from God. Only God is the father and mother who can love us as we need and want to be loved. This belief, when strongly held, can free us, not only to forgive our parents, but also to let our children forgive us.
III. Children Are Gifts
Being a parent is like being a good host to a stranger! While we may think that our children are like us, we are continually surprised at how different they are. We can be gladdened by their intelligence, their artistic gifts, or their athletic prowess, or saddened by their slowness in learning, their lack of coordination, or their “odd” interests. In many ways we don’t know our children.
We didn’t create our own children, nor do we own them. This is good news. We don’t have to blame ourselves for all their problems, nor should we claim for ourselves their successes.
Children are gifts from God. They are given to us so that we can offer them a safe, loving place to grow to inner and outer freedom. They are like strangers who ask for hospitality, become good friends, and then leave again to continue their journey. They bring immense joy and immense sorrow precisely because they are gifts. And a good gift, as a proverb says, is “twice given.” The gift we receive, we have to give again. When our child leaves us to study, to look for work, to marry, to join a community, or simply to become independent, sorrow and joy touch each other. Because it is then that we feel deeply that “our” child isn’t really “ours” but given to us to become a true gift for others.
It is so hard to give our children their freedom – especially in this violent and exploitative world. We so much want to protect them from all possible dangers. But we cannot. They do not belong to us. They belong to God, and one of the greatest acts of trust in God is letting our children make their own choices and find their own way.
(This is the lesson of my life. I’m still learning to be a good host to all the wonderful ‘gifts’ that have entered my life. Learning to love them with true compassion, and learning to love with open arms that embrace them when they come to me, but which also wave cheerfully when they leave to go on their way.)