But when I really think about it, it isn't so strange after all. I'm guessing that the reason he could grasp God's presence and power so acutely was because of his suffering and inadequacy. And I am starting to learn in my own life that victory isn't necessarily getting rid of or overcoming my weaknesses, but opening a space in my brokenness for the grace of God to enter in and abide.
I'm not the first to realize this by any means. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about a "thorn in his flesh" that tormented him. He pleaded for God to remove it but God replied, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul decided to boast in his weakness even more so that "Christ's power may rest on me." Or how about in Romans 5 where the end product of suffering turns out to be...hope. "We glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
Suffering and weakness are direct routes to knowing the hope and love of God. We've all got weaknesses. Think about those patterns that come up over and over that we can't seem to beat, solve, or think or talk our way through. And we have suffering in various degrees. Sometimes the suffering is even a result of our own weakness and sin. Instead of praying for my weaknesses to go away, I've started asking how I can allow God to walk with me in my weakness. I recognize that not only am I a mess, but I am likely to stay that way to some degree no matter what I do to "work on it." Maybe the bigger question is do I really want God to remove my weakness? Because it's through my weaknesses that I see my limitations and my need for something much much bigger than myself. Where I am the most broken, I see God's love for me most clearly. Where I feel the most powerless, I see God's power working in and through me most.
Nouwen did this. He was aware of his deep need for approval and acceptance. He knew this pattern caused tremendous disappointment and pain in his life. He also knew that the only thing that mattered was his identity as God's beloved. But being aware of all these things didn't magically make his weakness disappear. It was still there and he acknowledged it and felt its pull all the time. Because he acknowledged it, he could see God walking with him in the midst of his brokenness. And I know that he had that hope, the hope produced through perseverance in suffering, that one day he would be fully redeemed and at peace.