09 August 2012

to know people by name

I've had this quote on my computer desktop for a couple months now. It's really challenging to me because of the two competing desires Nouwen identifies, the second is so much stronger in me. The ministry of presence makes me uncomfortable. When you're just chilling with someone from a totally different background, you don't know what to expect. You don't know what is normal to them, you're clumsy at loving them, and it takes so much energy. It's scary and it's hard. I wouldn't do it if I hadn't been first loved.

I am praying that God will fill me with love for my neighbors, and will give me the ability and courage to communicate that love to them in ways that are truly meaningful to them.

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.

My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.

Henri Nouwen

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