Takeaway: We are created to need solitude, community and to do service.
I don’t remember when I first became acquainted with Henri Nouwen. Probably some time in college. I had read a handful of his books.
This is the one I have read most and I think is most helpful. His book Out of Solitude covers some similar material from a different perspective, so it is a good supplement to this one. Because they are both so short, someone should get rights to both and print them together.
This book is a simple explanation about the movement from solitude with God, to community with others to service for God and back to solitude again is apart of God’s created order.
The book opens with the importance of solitude. “In the spiritual life, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in our life from being filled up.”
That time with God will naturally move us to want to be in community with others because we have been affected by God’s love for us when we were in solitude with him.
“Community is not easy. Parker Palmer once observed that community is the “place where the person you least want to live with always lives.”1 In Jesus’ community of twelve disciples, the last name was that of someone who was going to betray him (Luke 6:13-16).That person is always in our community somewhere. In the eyes of others, we might be that person.”
Being with others and being aware of God’s love for us, draw us to serve others. It is this chapter (while I agree with the bulk of it) that I most have difficulty with. This quote is a good example.
In this world’s eyes, there is an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they are never separated. Our ministry is to help people gradually let go of their resentment and discover that right in the middle of suffering there is a blessing. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing.Where there is poverty, there is the Kingdom of God. Jesus says to us, “Cry over your pains, and you will discover that I’m right there in your tears, and you will be grateful for my presence in your weakness.” Ministry means to help people become grateful for life even with pain. Gratitude can lead us into the world precisely to the places where people are in pain. Sometimes that pain is hidden in a person who from the outside seems to be without pain or looks successful. The minister, the disciple of Jesus, goes where there is pain not because he is a masochist or she is a sadist, but because God is hidden in the pain.
In the end I agree that if we serve others we will often be with others while they are in pain. And that service to them can be a joy and that God’s Kingdom is in the center of where there is pain. But I am uncomfortable with asserting that there is no difference between good times and bad. I do not think we need to minimize our good in order to help other people’s bad.
While there may be joy in the midst of tears, we know the difference between joy and tears. In the end, even if I disagree with how he gets there. He has some very important things to say about service.
What counts in your life and mine is not successes but fruits.The fruits of our life are born often in our pain and in our vulnerability and in our losses. The fruits of our life come only after the plow has carved through our land. God wants us to be fruitful.
I think this book is probably second only the Bonhoeffer’s Life Together in simple, classic advice for discipleship and community.
Most people could read this in about an hour. I hope that most people will give it at least two.
I do wish this book had a little more biography and context to it. Because it is so short, a little supplementary material would help it feel more rounded out.
A digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for review.