Henri Nouwen – who, along with Thomas Merton, helped to develop what some have called a theology of the heart – reminds us that it’s not only life’s most obvious traps that can lead us astray. Certainly, any unbridled, unbalanced pursuit of money, power, or fame can all too easily trigger soul-crushing and even devastating physical consequences.
But, at the root of it all, there is another powerful source of conflict – a dark side, if you will – residing within many of us that can paralyze and perhaps even destroy us.
Here’s Henri Nouwen:
Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.
Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection.
When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions.
The real trap, however, is self-rejection.
As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody” . . .
[My dark side says,] I am no good . . . I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.
Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.”
Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.
Now, some of those accusations, some of those criticisms, may perhaps have a basis in reality and so cannot always be easily dismissed out of hand.
But they should never provide us with an excuse to give in, to give up, or to become hopeless.
Rather, we should try to re-center our being and then allow those conflicts to help guide us towards a re-doubling of our efforts to grow, to learn, and to connect.
At the very least, we should never stop trying.
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