By Andy Clapp
At the end of ones life, we all hope that our days have accounted for something. We dream of leaving a lasting impact on the world that we leave behind, not for our glory but for the glory of the Lord. We long to represent the Lord in such a way that once we have gone on to be with the Lord, others will remember the life that we lived and it will inspire them to walk closer with the Lord. So was the life of Henri Nouwen.
I first read one of his books in a Spiritual Formation class in college. Dr. Day, my favorite professor, assigned us to read his book, With Open Hands, and journal about the book. I loved the assignment because the book was short and small. I thought, This is going to be the easiest book Ive read for a project since the sixth grade! Little did I know what the book held for me. As I began to journal, five pages turned into thirty and at the end of the project, my professor could tell that the book had spoken to me. A special door in my life was opened in a simple book by Henri Nouwen.
Henri Nouwen was born in the Netherlands in 1932. He felt called into the ministry at a young age and was ordained in 1957. He studied at the Menninger Foundation Clinic in Kansas and would later teach at Yale, Harvard, and even the University of Notre Dame. He lived with the poor in Peru and lived in worked with the Trappist Monks at various times during the course of his life and with each experience, he learned a little more about the God whom he served. In 1985, Nouwen joined LArche in Trosly, France and would eventually make his home at LArche Daybreak, which is located near Toronto. LArche is a group of communities for the developmentally disabled and Nouwen felt the call to help this special group of people and answered that call.
The most notable aspect of Nouwens life was that he authored 40 books on the spiritual life (click here for a list of Nouwen’s top ten). His books spoke of the true love of God and his understanding of the belovedness of God. He is one of the most read authors by pastors today and his books have sold over 2 million copies. He wrote Adam: Gods Beloved about one of the core members of LArche Daybreak. His book, Inner Voice of Love, was written while he struggled with a bout of depression. Other books Nouwen authored include: With Open Hands, The Way of the Heart, The Wounded Healer, Making All Things New, and Turn My Mourning Into Dancing. His books speak to each person who reads them in a different way, but one common theme is that the reader is always led closer to God.
Henri Nouwen died in 1996 after a sudden heart attack. He was buried in King City, Ontario, and though he has been at home with the Lord for over a decade, his works are still changing lives today. He once wrote, By giving words to these intimate experiences I can make my life available to others. He not only wanted to experience God on this earth in every way possible, but he also wanted to help others find the Savior who had changed his life.
Nouwen used every avenue of his life to glorify God. He glorified God through his actions, by going to the poor in Peru and by his time at LArche Daybreak. He glorified God through his talent for writing and used his words to impact the lives of millions around the world. He glorified God through his teaching and through his ministry, never seeking to escalate himself above everyone else, but rather to promote God and the love that God has for us.
I think that one of the most profound parts of Henri Nouwens life was that he went to live with the poor in Peru. It is so easy to feel sorry for people from a distance and to try to help them from the comfort of our own homes, but how much more of an impact can we have for the Lord than to go where they are. So often, we hold too tight to the creature comforts that we experience daily and cannot see the difficulties that others are facing. Nouwen wanted to understand what they were going through, not simply feel sorry for them. This is a trait that we all should long to have as it is something that the world is looking for from Christians today. They do not simply want us to throw money at a problem, but they want us to come to where they are so that they can feel loved by us.
Another lesson that we can learn is that a life lived in service to God is never a life that is wasted. Nouwen used every tool that God gave him to advance the kingdom, and if we are truthful with ourselves, most of us squander opportunity after opportunity to spread the love and the word of God each day. Can we have the type of impact on this world that Henri Nouwen did? We can if we choose to give up every aspect of our lives to God and allow Him to work through the life that He gave us. A decade after his death, God is still using Henris life to move people. A decade after we have passed away, will anyone outside of our friends and family be moved by the life that we lived?
The verse that pops into my mind when I reflect on the life of Henri Nouwen is James 4:14. It says, You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:14 NASB) Nouwen understood the importance of making the most of each moment in life. It is a realization that we all need to come to quickly because even in the midst of reading this article, part of your life has passed away. Dont be afraid to go where God needs people to go. Nouwen wasnt and the fact that he was so willing to follow God continues to motivate people to change today.
This article is dedicated to Dr. Tyanna Day at Mount Olive College. Thank you for introducing me to Henri Nouwen and pushing me to go where God needs people to go. -AC
Visit the Nouwen Society Website
From our friends at Prodigal Son Magazine – a dynamic men’s portal site for men of integrity. It aims to be a cornerstone for Christian men, a place for men after God’s heart to find informative, relevant, cutting edge information on lifestyle, relationships, career, pop culture and their walk with God.