Loving Truth | Embracing Reality

I have commented before that a life-changing book for me was Henri J.M. Nouwen's Can You Drink the Cup? The second most important book I have read is Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love, which was his personal journal, the contents of which were directed at himself. I read Can You Drink the Cup? during a particularly dark and humiliating time of my life, five years ago, and it helped me become an honest human being who eventually decided to also become very transparent to all. I re-read this book directly after finishing the first read, because I wanted to soak it in, and think deeper about its truths.

Comparing proverbially drinking our particular cups of life to drinking a good wine, Nouwen writes, "One thing I learned from it all: drinking wine is more than just drinking. You have to know what you are drinking, and you have to be able to talk about it." This induces fear in many. He continues:
Similarly, just living life is not enough. We must know what we are living. A life that is not reflected upon isn't worth living. It belongs to the essence of being human that we contemplate our life, think about it, discuss it [too few discuss the issues of their inner life], evaluate it, and form opinions about it. Half of living is reflecting on what is being lived. Is it worth it? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it old? Is it new? What is it all about? The greatest joy as well as the greatest pain of living come not only from what we live but even more from how we think and feel about what we are living.1 (emphases added)
I had to think deeply about the ramifications of a life reflected upon -- a life that is lived intentionally, with direction, in the light of honesty, truth, and reality. If I were going to adopt this mind-set, live out this kind of reflected-upon living, I would have to not only embrace the reality I have been given but also be bold enough to share that life with those with whom I interact daily. This, though, would require me to be bold enough to confess that, if anyone could not embrace my reality, such a one would be restricted from the privilege of granting me advice, supposed friendship, and supposed love.

In his The Inner Voice of Love, Nouwen writes, "Do not tell everyone your story. You will only end up feeling more rejected. People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people's response to your experience . . . the more you will feel exposed to ridicule."2 There is great wisdom here. Not everyone can handle our particular darkness, history, or issues. Neither, however, need we be fearful of our darkness, history, or issues. Everyone has their own personal issues.

So, in rejecting fearing our own reality, Nouwen also taught me that each one of us has
to live our life, not someone else's. We have to hold our own cup [of life]. We have to dare to say: "This is my life, the life that is given to me, and it is this life that I have to live, as well as I can. My life is unique. Nobody else will ever live it. I have my own history, my own family, my own body, my own character, my own friends, my own way of thinking, speaking, and acting -- yes, I have my own life to live. No one else has the same challenge. I am alone because I am unique. Many people can help me to live my life, but after all is said and done, I have to make my own choices about how to live."3
I remember reading that paragraph for the first time and sensing a personal freedom within my spirit unlike any I had experienced. Suddenly I was free -- free to be me -- free to be the man I was born to be. I was free to love God, myself, and others; and, even though the extent of that freedom did not find a fuller expression until recently, I sensed the power of the truth Nouwen was communicating. I did not have to fear being me -- all of me -- the best me that I can be, in Christ, and in this world.



You may be unaware of this, but there are scores of people in this world who are fearful of being who they really are on the inside (their quirks, identity, personality, essence, character, likes, dislikes, talents, passions, distinctions), and this fear was instilled within them by others. Will we ever come to the profound realization that we are all in need of being embraced, of being affirmed, of needing unconditional love? If not one among us has attained absolute inner perfection, and we all are truly flawed to some degree or another, then can we not just embrace the reality that each one among us needs one another -- humble, redemptive, non-judgmental one another? Or is that too much to ask?

The conservative religious leaders of Jesus' day were interrogating Him after He delivered one of His parables. Just prior to Jesus pronouncing one damning woe upon another at them, He is asked by one of these hypocrites which commandment in the law of Moses is the greatest, to which He responds: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:37-40) These two commandments summarize the entirety of not only the Christian faith but also all of physical and meta-physical reality: love -- a heart-soul-mind love for God, for others, and for ourselves.

If I am motivated by a pure heart-soul-mind love for God, for others, and for myself then I am in possession of a heart-soul-mind graciously granted to me by the mercies of God in Christ by grace through faith and will conduct my life accordingly: I will think and behave as love dictates. I will be patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude; I will not insist on my own way, nor be irritable or resentful; I will not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in the truth; I will bear all things, believe all things [that I should believe according to truth and reality], hope for and endure all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7) When I fail to love, as I ought, I will truly be sorry and seek, once again, a pure heart-soul-mind love for God, for others, and for myself. But there is a caveat here that cannot be ignored.

Because I am called to love truth, and since truth is our ultimate reality, then I cannot deny my own reality -- all of that reality. Nor can I worry myself about what everyone thinks about my own reality. If I love God, if I am devoted to loving others and to also loving myself and the truth about myself, then I must embrace my own particular truth, my own particular reality, and find its redemption in the work of Christ on my behalf. You, too, must embrace your own reality. Denying it, or ignoring it, will only cause you further problems in the future and, thus, render owning your reality even more difficult when life backs you into a corner and forces you to reconcile with your own truth.

These words are intentionally written ambiguously in order to accommodate a broader context for the most amount of people. The time is way past due for you, for me, for all of us to surrender to truth -- surrender to your own particular reality -- and to embrace this truth and allow the Lord of all creation to wrestle with the issues that accompany this reality. Give up the struggle. Embrace truth. Own your reality. Stop fearing hurting others by embracing your own self. The time is now. You know who you are.

__________

1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? Tenth Anniversary Edition (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2008), 29-30.

2 ________, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image Books, 1998), 4.

3 Can You Drink the Cup?, 31-32.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.