The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Our Brokenness January 25, 2010

Filed under: healing,Henri Nouwen,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,peace — Karen Shafer @ 9:20 pm

Monday, January 25, 2010

I’ve often observed that, if one has a sandwich or a blanket to share with our friends living on the street, there is a grateful response, but a hug, eye contact and a smile are the things that are most appreciated.  We all need to know that we matter.  KS

Our Brokenness

“The moment has come to talk about our brokenness.  You are a broken man.  I am a broken man, and all the people we know or know about are broken.  Our brokenness is so visible and tangible, so concrete and specific….  There are many things I would like to say to you about our brokenness.  But where to begin?

Perhaps the simplest beginning would be to say that our brokenness reveals something about who we are.  Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives;  rather, they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality….  Our brokenness is truly ours.  Nobody else’s.  Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness….

Although many people suffer from pysical or mental disabilities, and although there is a great amount of economic poverty, homelessness, and lack of basic human needs, the suffering of which I am most aware on a day-to-day basis is the suffering of the broken heart…  In the Western world, the suffering that seems to be the most painful is that of feeling rejected, ignored, despised and left alone.  In my own community, [L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada], with many severely handicapped men and women, the greatest source of suffering is not the handicap itself, but the accompanying feelings of being useless, worthless, unappreciated, and unloved.  It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person.  We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life.  Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.

How can we respond to this brokenness?  The first response… is to face it squarely and befriend it.  This may seem quite unnatural.  Our first, most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, to keep it at arm’s length;  to ignore, circumvent, or deny it.  Suffering… is almost always experienced as an unwelcome intrusion into our lives, something that should not be there.

I am convinced that healing is often so difficult because we don’t want to know the pain…  The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it.  The great secret of the spiritual life… is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity…  real care means the willingness to help each other in making our brokenness into the gateway to joy.”

~~Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved


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