The Inner Voice of Love
Daily reflections on Nouwen's book

The Inner Voice of Love was Henri Nouwen's 'secret journal' which he wrote as he moved through a deep personal crisis. He writes, "What once seemed such a curse has become a blessing. All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like the fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love."

His words provide fertile thought for this series of reflections, originally published on my blog in the summer of 2011. There are 24 daily reflections based upon bite-sized excerpts from his book. Read them slowly and reflect for yourself over the impact of the truths and struggles so poignantly shared by Henri Nouwen in The Inner Voice of Love.

The Solid Place (Day 1)

In The Inner Voice of Love Henri Nouwen writes, "You have to trust the place that is solid, the place where you can say yes to God's love even when you do not feel it. Right now you feel nothing except emptiness and the lack of strength to choose. But keep saying, 'God loves me, and God's love is enough'. You have to choose the solid place over and over again and return to it after every failure."

For Nouwen the commitment to choose to the solid place came from the necessity of inner anguish. Anguish which resulted from crying to others to meet his needs for affection, attention and consolation. The Inner Voice of Love is his 'secret journal', his daily 'thoughts to self' as he journeyed toward recovery just 8 years before he died. God worked through Nouwen's brokenness to shape a profound ministry which continues 15 years after his death.

I'm incredibly grateful for Nouwen's willingness to share authentically about his journey. I need to trust the solid place daily. And I see a great need for this same movement of trust in my circle of influence.

'God loves me, and God's love is enough.' What do we do when we know that in our head but it hasn't sunk into our heart?

Choose it. Over and over again affirm that God loves you. Eventually you will begin to experience it. Don't be disheartened by your failures to live it out. Instead keep returning to your choice to believe that what God says is true.

As you do this, God will faithfully show you his love. He will also strengthen you so that, over time, it will become more natural to experience what you choose to believe. 'God loves me and God's love is enough.'

Your unique calling (Day 2)

"You have to start trusting your unique vocation and allow it to grow deeper and stronger in you so it can blossom in your community. Look at Rembrandt and van Gogh. They trusted their vocations and did not allow anyone to lead them astray. With true Dutch stubborness, they followed their vocations from the moment they recognised them. They didn't bend over backwards to please their friends or enemies. Both ended their lives in poverty, but both left humanity with gifts that could heal the minds and hearts of many generations of people. Think of these two men and trust that you too have a unique vocation that is worth claiming and living out faithfully."

Henri Nouwen's reflection spurs me on to press into my unique calling with the confidence that God has uniquely gifted me and called me to a purpose which is beyond myself.

How are you doing at recognising, claiming and following your unique vocation? Are there negative voices with which you need to reckon in order to be free to follow God's calling? Do you have wise and encouraging voices speaking into your life and spurring you on to faithfully forge the path which is uniquely yours?

Presence (Day 3)

"Do not despair, thinking that you cannot change yourself after so many years. Simply enter into the presence of Jesus as you are and ask him to give you a fearless heart where he can be with you. You cannot make yourself different. Jesus came to give you a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind, and a new body. Let him transform you by his love and so enable you to receive his affection in your whole being."

I'm gleaning much from Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love these days. Outside of Jesus' presence there is often fear and frustration and the knowledge that we cannot change ourselves. The gift of his presence changes all that, for the presence of Love casts out all fear.

How does the promise of Jesus' presence speak encouragement into your life today?

Needs (Day 4)

"Do not be discouraged. Be sure that God will truly fulfil all your needs. Keep remembering that. It will help you not to expect that fulfilment from people who you already know are incapable of giving it." Henri Nouwen

To remember is a choice and a discipline.

Have you experienced God as the fulfilment of your needs? Then keep remembering that when you're tempted to look elsewhere.

Have you not yet experienced God in this way? Then keep remembering the promise that God is sufficient even while you keep longing to know this truth experientially.

Conquered by love (Day 5)

"You have to dare to live through the pain and struggle. Acknowledge your anguish but do not let it pull you out of yourself. Hold on to your chosen direction, your discipline, your prayer, your work, your guides, and trust that one day love will have conquered enough of you that even the most fearful part will allow love to cast out all fear." Henri Nouwen (The Inner Voice of Love)

It's a bold step to persevere through pain, allowing love to conquer you. What gives you the courage to do so? What stimulates your faith to surrender to love?

Deeper love (Day 6)

"True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self. It is a love in God. The pain you experience from the death or absence of the person you love, then, always calls you to a deeper knowledge of God's love. God's love is all the love you need, and it reveals to you the love of God in the other. So the God in you can speak to the God in the other. This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you." Henri Nouwen (The Inner Voice of Love)

Sounds compelling, doesn't it? Deep speaking to deep ... more in touch with my deepest self ... called to a deeper knowledge of God's love. Lord, help me to love more deeply, even when it hurts.

Giving and receiving (Day 7)

"Giving without wanting anything in return is trusting that all your needs will be provided for by the One who loves you unconditionally. Faith is precisely trusting that you who give gratuitously will receive gratuitously, but not necessarily from the person to whom you gave. The danger is in pouring yourself out to others in the hope that they will fully receive you [that is, love you unconditionally]. You will soon feel as if others are walking away with parts of you. You cannot give yourself to others if you do not own yourself, and you can only truly own yourself when you have been fully received in unconditional love." Henri Nouwen

Do you identify with the trap of expecting to receive from others what only God can give? How could recognising yourself as unconditionally loved by God allow you to give more freely?

Free to love (Day 8)

"A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support. When you know yourself as fully loved, you will be able to give according to the other's capacity to receive, and you will be able to receive according to the other's capacity to give. You will be grateful for what is given to you without clinging to it. You will be a free person, free to love." Henri Nouwen

Others-centred loving flows out of a strong soul which is secure in the knowledge of being loved. Nouwen describes being free to love as giving and receiving according to the other's capacity. Is this a new thought to you? How could you step into greater freedom in loving well?

Anchor for the soul (Day 9)

"Your true identity is as a child of God. This is the identity you have to accept. Once you have claimed it and settled in it, you can live in a world that gives you much joy as well as pain. You can receive the praise as well as the blame that comes to you as an opportunity for strengthening your basic identity, because the identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. You belong to God, and it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world." Henri Nouwen

Reflect for a moment on how receiving praise can serve to strengthen your identity. Then consider the same for blame. Breathe a prayer of thanks or for help in establishing this anchor for your soul.

Connected (Day 10)

"It might take a great deal of time and discipline to reconnect fully your deep, hidden self and your public self, which is known, loved, and accepted but also criticised by the world. Gradually, though, you will begin feeling more connected and become more fully who you truly are-- a child of God. There lies your real freedom." Henri Nouwen

To accomplish this important spiritual work, Nouwen needed spiritual guidance. "You need people who can keep you anchored in your true identity. The temptation to disconnect from that deep place in you where God dwells and to let yourself be drowned in the praise or blame of the world always remains."

Who in your life helps you to stay anchored? Who could you approach to fill this need?

Friends (Day 11)

"When you really believe that you are loved by God, you can allow your friends the freedom to respond to your love in their way. They have their own histories, their own characters, their own ways of receiving love. They may be slower, more hesitant, or more cautious than you. They may want to be with you in ways that are real and authentic for them but unusual for you. Trust that those who love you want to show you their love in a real way, even when their choices of time, place, and form are different from yours.

"Allow your friends the freedom to respond as they want and are able to. Let their receiving be as free as your giving. Then you will become capable of feeling true gratitude." Henri Nouwen

Are you smarting as a result of projecting an expectation upon a friendship? (A good test could be your level of gratitude regarding your friend.) How could you express grace to your friend this week?

Lion and lamb (Day 12)

"There is within you a lamb and a lion. Your lion is your adult, aggressive self. It is your initiative-taking and decision-making self. But there is also your fearful, vulnerable lamb, the part of you that needs affection, support, affirmation, and nurturing.

"When you heed only your lion, you will find yourself over-extended and exhausted. When you take notice only of your lamb, you will easily become a victim of your need for other people's attention. Spiritual maturity is the ability to let lamb and lion lie down together." Henri Nouwen

Have you found a way to claim both the lion and lamb within you? Which do you need to to listen to more, to accept, to give more room?

Drawbridge (Day 13)

"You must decide for yourself to whom and when you give access to your interior life. Think of a medieval castle surrounded by a moat. The drawbridge is the only access to the interior of the castle. The lord of the castle must have the power to decide when to draw the bridge and when to let it down. Without such power, he can become the victim of enemies, strangers, and wanderers. He will never feel at peace in his own castle.

"It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave, but you will soon find yourself losing your soul." Henri Nouwen

Are you in the habit of drawing up the bridge to your soul regularly? If you are feeling a lack of joy, peace or love for God or others, how long has it been since you've had a time to recharge?

Victory (Day 14)

"You know that the dark forces will have no final power over you. They seem overwhelming, but the victory is already won. It is the victory of Jesus, who has called you. He overcame for you the power of death so that you could live in freedom. You have to claim that victory and not live as if death still controlled you. Your soul knows about the victory, but your mind and emotions have not fully accepted it. They go on struggling. In this respect you remain a person of little faith.

"Trust the victory and let your mind and emotions gradually be converted to the truth. You will experience new joy and new peace as you let that truth reach every part of your being. Don't forget: victory has been won, the powers of darkness no longer rule, love is stronger than death." Henri Nouwen

Nouwen speaks to the contradiction between what you know to be true and what you actually live out as truth. How does his advice to himself, "Trust the victory and let your mind and emotions gradually be converted to the truth" connect with your experience?

Roots and fruit (Day 15)

"The more you are called to speak for God's love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. Only when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant." Henri Nouwen

Does the depth of your inward journey match that of your outward journey? What practice or habit which would fit this time and place in your life might stimulate your roots to grow deeper?

Courage (Day 16)

"As you see your vocation more clearly and become more determined to live it out, the attacks of the enemy will increase. You will start hearing voices saying, 'You are worthless, you have nothing to offer, you are unattractive, undesirable, unlovable'. The more you sense God's call, the more you will discover in your own soul the cosmic battle between God and Satan.

"Do not be afraid. Keep deepening your conviction that God's love for you is enough, that you are in safe hands, and that you are being guided every step of the way. Don't be surprised by the demonic attacks. They will increase but, as you face them without fear, you will discover that they are powerless." Henri Nouwen

What self-defeating accusations do you recognise in your own life? Would recognising these accusations as a spiritual battle give you the courage to face them without fear? Re-affirm that God is for you and that he loves you, for it is here that you will find the resources to defeat the enemy.

Waves (Day 17)

"You wonder what to do when you feel attacked on all sides by seemingly irresistible forces, waves that cover you and want to sweep you off your feet. What are you to do? Make the conscious choice to move the attention of your anxious heart away from these waves and direct it to the One who walks on them and says, 'It's me. Don't be afraid' (Mt 14:27; Mk 6:50; Jn 6:20). Keep turning your eyes to him and go on trusting that he will bring peace to your heart.

"Look at him and say, 'Lord, have mercy'. Say it again and again, not anxiously but with confidence that he is very close to you and will put your soul to rest." Henri Nouwen

Take a moment, close your eyes, and name the waves which tend to sweep you off your feet. Picture yourself like Peter walking on the surface of the water, the waves swirling around you. Turn your gaze from the waves to Jesus, and reach out to grasp his hand. Then picture yourself securely and restfully in the boat, the waves calmed at Jesus' command. Close by jotting down a word (or a few) which capture what this visualisation was like for you.

Compassion (Day 18)

"Every time you shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a 'light burden' and an 'easy yoke' (Mt 11:30). Once you discover that you are called to live in solidarity with the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners, the refugees, the sick, and the dying, your very personal pain begins to be converted into the pain and you find new strength to live it. Herein lies the hope of all Christianity." Henri Nouwen

Nouwen explains that when we focus on our personal pain, we easily become angry, resentful, even vindictive. But healing comes from realising that our pain is a share in humanity's pain, and this realisation opens the door to a compassionate life.

Would you agree with Nouwen that experiencing pain has shaped you to be a more compassionate person? How does your life attest to this?

Work (Day 19)

"You are very concerned with making the right choices about your work. You have so many options that you are constantly overwhelmed by the question 'What should I do and what should I not do?' Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, 'Your will do done, not mine.' Give every part of your heart and your time to God and let God tell you what to do, where to go, when and how to respond.

"God does not want you to destroy yourself. Exhaustion, burnout and depression are not signs that you are doing God's will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God's love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God's name." Henri Nouwen

Our online journey through The Inner Voice of Love is almost complete. How are you doing at grounding yourself in God's love, which is the great theme of Nouwen's story? What aspect of your heart needs to be surrendered to God's love today? What would surrendering your time (and any anxieties you feel regarding your time) look like for you?

Head to heart (Day 20)

"The more you open yourself up to being healed, the more you will discover how deep your wounds are. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your hurts to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyse them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source.

"Going to your heart with your wounds is not easy; it demands letting go of many questions. You want to know 'Why was I wounded? When? How? By whom?' You believe that the answers to these questions will bring relief. But at best they only offer you a little distance from your pain. You have to let go of the need to stay in control of your pain and trust in the healing power of your heart. There your hurts can find a safe place to be received, and once they have been received, they lose their power to inflict damage and become fruitful soil for new life." Henri Nouwen

Do you identify with Nouwen's tendency to analyse his wounds? With his experience of the insufficiency of this approach? How does your experience confirm 'the healing power of your heart' as your heart provides a safe place for your wounds to be 'received'? (Return tomorrow for Part 2 of this topic.)

Embrace (Day 21)

"You have been wounded in many ways. The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. Understanding your wounds can only be healing when that understanding is put at the service of your heart.

"Think of each wound as you would of a child who has been hurt by a friend. As long as that child is ranting and raving, trying to get back at the friend, one wound leads to another. But when the child can experience the consoling embrace of a parent, she or he can live through the pain, return to the friend, forgive, and build up a new relationship. Be gentle with yourself, and let your heart be your loving parent as you live your wounds through." Henri Nouwen

Is Nouwen's word picture of a consoling parent helpful and/or freeing to you, as it is to me? Sometimes our wounds are like a child, simply needing the safety of an embrace. As Nouwen suggests, the heart can offer a warm and accepting presence, a safe place to cry, to feel deeply, to let the wounds simply 'be', where the urge to react, to fix or resolve is stilled.

Choices (Day 22)

"You are constantly facing choices. The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, 'It isn't going to work. I'm still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fall back into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven't really changed.' And on and on. It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God's voice.

"God says to you, 'I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.' This is the voice to listen to.

"That listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do. You can think yourself into a depression, you can talk yourself into low self-esteem, you can act in a self-rejecting way. But you always have a choice to think, speak, and act in the name of God and so move towards the Light, the Truth, and the Life." Henri Nouwen

Reflection: Close your eyes for a moment, breathe deeply, and become aware of God's presence with you. Are you aware of any self-defeating voice(s) and the choice to trust what God is saying to you? Read the words of God to Henri in the 2nd paragraph above. Affirm these for yourself and listen for God's specific words for you. Close with giving thanks and a commitment to choose to listen well.

Treasure (Day 23)

"You have found a treasure: the treasure of God's love. You know now where it is, but you are not yet ready to own it fully. So many attachments keep pulling you away. If you would fully own your treasure, you must hide it in the field where you found it, go off happily to sell everything you own, and then come back and buy the field. Only when you have let go of everything else can the treasure be completely yours.

"This is often a painful enterprise, because your sense of who you are is so intimately connected to all the things you own: success, friends, prestige, money, degrees, and so on. But you know that nothing but the treasure itself can truly satisfy you." Henri Nouwen

How much is your sense of who you are connected to the things you own? Or the things you accomplish? Or your relational connections? Can you say honestly, along with Henri, that nothing but the treasure of God's love can truly satisfy? What action could you undertake to ready yourself to own the treasure fully?

Treasure 2 (Day 24)

"Having found the treasure puts you on a new quest for it. The spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found. You can only seek God when you have already found God. The desire for God's unconditional love is the fruit of having been touched by that love.

"Finding the treasure without being ready yet to fully own it will make you restless. This is the restlessness of the search for God. It is the way to holiness. It is the road to the kingdom. It is the journey to the place where you can rest." Henri Nouwen

What is your inner response to these paradoxes as Nouwen presents them? Read his words again, slowly. Which of the paradoxes reaches out to you? What does it feel like not to 'have' to solve it? Try to live within its tension today, asking God to reveal something of his mystery to you through it.

A Review

We've come to the end of this series of daily reflections on Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love. I've written a review on the book to conclude the series. I hope you've enjoyed the journey!

a similar series:
Fruit Prompts
Faith formation page

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"Somebody was telling me this week that nobody can make a violin speak the last depths of human longing until that soul has been made tender by some great anguish. I do not say it is the only way to the heart of God..."

Frank Laubach
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