Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Which relationships in your life cause you the most pain? And in whose life might you be such a source of pain? Who in your life causes your muscles to tense up and your mind to shift quickly to defensiveness or outright anger when their names are mentioned? And who has been impacted in that way by the mention of your name?

Do you sense your internal walls going up even now as you think about these relationships?

Beyond the MirrorHenri Nouwen wrote Beyond the Mirror as an account of how nearly dying as a result of an auto-pedestrian accident impacted his thoughts and his faith. In the book, he talks about the accident itself, then how the processes of surgery and recovery led him to consider his own death and, ultimately, his life. When asking his prognosis, he told the doctor, "I really want to prepare for my death. I am not afraid to die, but I worry about leaving life unaware." His condition at that point was not fully known, but Nouwen sensed it was precarious. "And so I let myself enter into a place I had never been before: the portal of death. I wanted to know that place, to 'walk around' it, and make myself ready for a life beyond life."

Nouwen wrote of his relationship with God and of the incredible peace he had in that uncertain time. Still, while he did not fear death, he found himself unsettled, resistant. His explanation is telling: "What most prevented me from dying was the sense of unfinished business, unresolved conflicts with people with whom I live or had lived.... They might never think of me, but every time I thought of them I lost some of my inner peace and joy.... I also knew that there were still people angry with me, people who could not think about me or speak about me without experiencing great hostility.... In the face of death, I realized that it was not love that kept me clinging to life but unresolved anger" (emphasis mine).

This morning I read in Genesis 45 about Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers. It's not one of those hopeful and exciting stories about finally finding each other after somehow becoming separated in the hospital at birth or something like that. Instead, Joseph was separated from them when the other eleven threw him into a well, sold him to become a slave in a foreign land, and told his father he'd been killed by wild animals. Their original plan was to kill him, but they figured, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?" So they sold him instead, saying "After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." (This story really starts in Genesis 37, and continues through Genesis 50.) Great family dynamics, eh?

Think back to the original questions. Which of your relationships are broken? Joseph would have understood what it's like. And that is why I am so amazed by his response. He told them who he was, drew them close, reassured them, and moved the whole extended family to live near him so they would have provision in a time of severe famine. We could imagine him being perfectly justified to just let them starve, but he chose to forgive and seek reconciliation: "'Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives...' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them" (Genesis 50:19-21).

Where have barriers been allowed to develop between you and others? Has bitterness gotten a foothold on your soul? What step can you take today toward forgiveness?

Like Nouwen, I want to experience the freedom of right relationships. "The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world -- free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless; free also to receive love from people and to be grateful for all the signs of God's presence in the world" (Nouwen).

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