Life of the Beloved is a book by the Catholic priest, Henri J.M. Nouwen. Nouwen spent time living and serving in a community that helped people with extreme mental and physical handicaps called L’Arche. Before that, however, he taught at Yale Divinity School; it was here that he struck up a friendship with a reporter by the name of Fred. Fred was a secular Jew who asked Nouwen to write a book for people like him and his friends; a book that would speak of the spiritual life in terms they could understand. Life of the Beloved is that piece. While Nouwen writes at the end that he does not think he accomplished what his friend wanted, it was instrumental in reminding me of truths that I needed to hear.
At the beginning of this book (which is written like a letter to his friend Fred), Nouwen writes
“Fred, all I want to say to you is ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being—‘You are the Beloved.’”
While Fred may or may not have recognized this, I know that Nouwen’s writing accomplished that in my heart and spirit. As I wandered through a dark night, I had forgotten this truth. Or rather, I knew that this was true in my mind, but my spirit had forgotten it for a while. I’d felt like God was far away, that I had been cast off. While reading Life of the Beloved, however, my spirit slowly began to rise, my soul grasped the beautiful truth that because of Jesus, God’s beloved, and His sacrifice, I also was infinitely loved by God.
This was a much needed reminder since I have struggled many times with finding my identity in human relationships, and have often take the rejection of others too personally. I easily fell into self-rejection which Nouwen spoke into–
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can, indeed, present a great temptation but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are a part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. I am constantly surprised at how quickly I give in to this temptation. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: ‘Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.’ Instead of taking a critical look at the circumstances or trying to understand my own and others’ limitations, I tend to blame myself—not just for what I did, but for who I am. My dark side says: ‘I am no good…I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.’”
I felt like I was reading my own thoughts when I saw this. There have been countless times, especially lately, where I have felt rejected, abandoned, and alone. I had felt that not only was I abandoned by people but by God, and my dark side was shouting at me that it was because I was no good, that I was unlovable.
But as Nouwen goes on to say, this feeling, this belief, was listening to the great lie and cause of spiritual death; this self-rejections “is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
When you grasp the beautiful truth that because of Christ, God calls us His beloved, it changes you. While I’ve known this and have had great seasons of growing in this, it is a truth that, at times, is hard to believe. In this dark night of the soul, it was hard to see the light. But as I grasped this beautiful truth again, I also gained a new freedom to be who I was created to be; as Nouwen says, “From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are.”
From this belovedness, I, we, are chosen, blessed, broken, and given. Nouwen goes into this in much more detail in his book. He gets this idea from the bread that he breaks a priest in communion; how, as God’s people we are called to be bread for the world so that in a like manner, as the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given for us, so we also become for others.
As I delved more into the facets of being the beloved, I was struck with how we all have been uniquely created and all are uniquely loved. When we are able to fully grasp the depth and breadth of God’s love for us, of how we have been chosen by Him, we are able to stand firm, to not lose hope or joy, when we are rejected by others; in a world filled with broken relationships, this is a truth that has to be held firmly.
“In the midst of this extremely painful reality, we have to dare to reclaim the truth that we are God’s chosen ones, even when our world does not choose us. As long as well allow our parents, siblings, teachers, friends, and lovers to determine whether we are chosen or not, we are caught in the net of a suffocating world that accepts or rejects us according to its own agenda of effectiveness and control. Often this reclaiming is an arduous task, a lifelong work because the world persists in its efforts to pull us into the darkness of self-doubt, low self-esteem, self-rejection, and depression…the great spiritual battle begins—and never ends—with the reclaiming of our choseness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-tie—our brief chronological existence—but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity”
Many times I have made the mistake of allowing others to define me, of letting others approval or disapproval shape how I saw myself instead of looking at my mighty Creator to tell me who I was. The created was looking at other created beings for definition, for approval, rather than to the Creator. While the world may look on us and say, “not good enough,” our eternally merciful and loving Father looks at us, through the blood of His son, and says, “You are chosen, you are beloved, and you are not forgotten.”
The beautiful thing about being beloved is that it frees us to love others unconditionally. It gives friendships room to breathe because they do not define us anymore. When we are no longer defined by others, we can more easily love them. We can more freely give of ourselves because all has been given to us As we see ourselves more clearly, it allows us to see others more clearly as well. “The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness?”
My heart is lighter because of Nouwen’s gentle reminder of God’s faithful love. It rejoices in the work that Christ has done so that I can be called Beloved and I am grateful for how my life can be lived out in that beautiful truth; that no longer am I under the curse of sin but live out in the blessing of Christ; how I am free to love more because of how I am not defined on others’ reciprocation. And that, my friends, is one of the most beautiful things I can know.