Dear domestic Church,
“I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.” —Henri Nouwen, “Life of the Beloved”
In our last letter, we asked you to remember your identity in Christ Jesus. You’ve been taken, or claimed, by the Lord as one of his beloved children. We know it hasn’t always been easy these past ten months to feel like that reality is working in our lives. In his book, “Life of the Beloved,” Henri Nouwen writes how he is “increasingly aware of how much we fearful, anxious, insecure human beings are in need of a blessing … We all need each other’s blessing.” As we journey together to grow as beloved sons and daughters of God, we invite you now to reflect on how you have been blessed and how you might go on to bless others.
Let’s start first by clarifying what we mean by the word “blessed.” Sometimes we hear people talk about how blessed they are to have some level of physical or financial comfort or to be healthy and happy. While those are certainly blessings from God and we should rightly give thanks for them, to be blessed is to be affirmed in our identity as a beloved child of God. Being blessed isn’t just a feeling we get when we’re grateful for what we have; much like being taken, being blessed is a truth that can shape the way we live our daily lives. Henri Nouwen says that “a blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his or her Belovedness.”
We know that now, more than ever, remembering your identity as beloved and receiving words of affirmation from the Lord may be difficult for you. The stress of everyday life can often leave us feeling more like we’ve been cursed rather than blessed. If a blessing speaks the truth of how much God loves us, a curse speaks lies. It’s much easier to hear the lies of the world or the inner voice calling us inadequate, bad, useless or telling us other lies. So how do we cling to our blessings despite the lies we see and hear? How do we hear and claim the blessing God has bestowed upon us in a way that both comforts us and empowers us to speak God’s blessings to others?
The first thing we can do is place ourselves in a posture that is open to hearing the truth of God’s love for us. We do this in prayer. Take a moment or two (or more, if your schedule allows) of silent prayer. Here, when we step away from the noise of the world, we are able to hear the Lord speak his blessing to us.This is a challenge for many of us—especially if you’re working from home, have kids learning virtually or you’re just so busy your Christmas tree is still up—but give it a try. Sit in silence asking God to speak to you. Time is a precious commodity and even 60 seconds can feel impossible to set aside. Try. Start small. You may want to recite a phrase or Bible verse a few times, such as “Come, Lord Jesus.” In the beginning, it might feel like you’re just “sitting there and getting distracted” as Nouwen calls it. But slowly over time you may see, hear or come to a deeper understanding of the blessing the Lord was speaking to you, whether it’s in that time of silence or the blessings you begin to notice as you go about your day.
The more we take time in prayer to listen for God’s blessing, the more present we become to truly receive them. The challenge in receiving a blessing is much like the challenge that comes with receiving a compliment. We often say things like, “oh, it was nothing” and feel like we’re just being humble. But to truly receive a blessing from anyone, we must be willing to hear it and accept it. God is speaking to you in these small moments. When someone expresses gratitude for even the smallest task or when your children remember to say, “This is yummy; thanks!” as you serve dinner, take the time to look at them, receive their blessing and recognize God’s presence in the moment. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us that every act and word of love flows from God himself.
“In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first,” love can also blossom as a response within us.” (Deus caritas est, 17)
Once we receive our blessing it blossoms into an outward movement and we are invited to bless others. We don’t have to make a grand gesture to bless others. We can bless the people around us with small acts of love or by simply being present. We need to bless others through intentional words and actions to our children, spouse or whomever we are blessing. This can be as simple as tracing the sign of the cross on their forehead or saying, “God bless you today.” Remember the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, “Do small things with great love.”
When we make ourselves present to receive blessing from others, we open ourselves to receive God’s love poured anew. When we read about the Baptism of the Lord in the Gospel of Mark, “a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased…’.” (Mark 1:11) This was a blessing and it was this blessing that sustained Jesus through all the praise and blame, admiration and condemnation that followed. From this blessing, Jesus poured forth his love to us. What blessing do you hear God giving you today? Keep that in your heart and let it sustain you for the work before you today as a parent, spouse or any of the other hats you wear. Rooting ourselves in that blessing will strengthen us for the times of brokenness as well as the times of celebration.
This series aims to communicate to parents that they are not alone, that God is working in their lives, and that He speaks to wherever they are at right now. Looking at the themes outlined in Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, there will be 5 articles that stress that everything we go through draws us closer to Christ and that he is always seeking us. The themes that will be explored are: Taken (being claimed by Christ), Blessed (seeing God’s blessings even in difficult circumstances), Broken (God meets us in our brokenness), Given (giving of ourselves), and Mass (where we are taken, blessed, broken, and given).