Advent Contemplations: Being Light, Despite All

A Spiritual AsideI’m an avid reader of anything and everything written by Henri Nouwen. My first Henri Nouwen book was “Out of Solitude” in the late-70’s. It so resonated and provided such comforting and helpful insights that I couldn’t get enough of his writings. And thus began a life-long hunger for anything and everything written by Henri Nouwen.

Over the years, Nouwen’s books have companioned me through thick and thin, across seemingly never-ending arid deserts and over glorious mountaintops, through the perilous depths of despair and on into moments of triumph and resurrection. I’m at a loss for enough superlatives to describe just how profoundly Nouwen’s writings have enriched my life throughout these past 40 years. I think it’s fair to say that it would be impossible to separate all that I believe from all that I’ve read…Nouwen’s writings and wisdoms are intricately and intimately interwoven into the very fabric of my being. His nurturing gentleness has been a constant companion-along-my-way.

So it stuns me when I read how even Henri Nouwen experienced patches of dark despair and wrestled with the question of his purposefulness. Here was a much-beloved priest, renowned and treasured all around the world for his extraordinary gift of writing about the spiritual life in a way that has touched, changed, transformed, healed and mentored more people than anyone other than God Himself could ever fathom. Me included. The man’s writings brought light into my dark night of the soul, brought hope into my profound despair, brought pathways into my lostness and brought me face to face with the living God who loves me (despite all!)

It’s unfathomable to me how such a man could have ever questioned his reason for being…when it is so blindingly clear to everyone else whose life his presence and writings have ever touched. But I know firsthand that depression and despair often have absolutely nothing to do with reality…that despair and depression are bafflingly mysterious in their complexity…such a myriad of factors conspire to blind the sufferer from all else except the darkness and despair of unknowing, until the person in despair is rendered incapable of seeing beyond the dark fog that takes over one’s entire thinking processes. I’ve been there, done that, and barely escaped from that deadly quicksand.

So I understand better than most how we can be blinded to all the good that surrounds us and all the good INSIDE of us as well. What has often completely surprised me is to have learned that even in my own darkest hours and during the time when I most felt lost and broken, somehow enough light got through all of that to touch and even change other people’s lives. It was stunning to me to hear people speak about the time they were touched when I sang this song at this retreat, or found hope in some little sharing at this particular prayer meeting…how did that happen?? I remember those days, and what I remember is feeling like I was drowning in despair. How did any light manage to escape that gloomy darkness – and how could it possibly have been enough to actually change someone else’s heart? I don’t know, and yet, from what people have told me, it did, and it was, despite all.

I don’t even presume to put my little songs and sharings on the same level as Henri Nouwen’s writings…[though I believe that there is never any reason or call to compare ourselves to anyone else – each and every one of us is exactly where we’re meant to be right now, in part because the people who surround us in that given time and place need whatever it is that we alone are able to provide in that moment]…I share the stories because I think that there are far too many of us – from every walk of life – who ask the same questions…why am I here? What difference (if any) does my life make?


In every encounter, every moment of sharing every word and story with anyone else, we make a difference. That difference can ripple out as either light or darkness, depending on whether we choose to speak from a place of love or a place of hatred in those moments…but I’m going to dare here to say that sometimes, even when we’re not actively trying or choosing to ripple light, God somehow manages to step in and uses us despite our darkness, despite our doubts, despite our despair, despite all. Despite all that we might be suffering at any given moment, He seems to be able to shine Light through us anyway. Even when we don’t know that our actions and words are having any effect at all – as would appear to have been the case for Henri Nouwen during those dark times in his own life – God still uses us to bring light, hope, pathways and new life to those in need.

What wondrous news that is!! Really, when you see what a life-changing difference someone like Henri Nouwen has made in countless lives, despite his own dark patches of doubt and questioning, then we too can trust that God is working in and through us, even when we least expect or believe that it could be possible. What it comes down to is that we can allow ourselves to go about our lives, praying in gratitude for God’s faithful love and blessings, and praying for guidance and wisdom – then just keep being and doing what we’re best at being and doing, however grand or simple that “being” or “doing” might be. We can trust that just as we have been graced and enriched by God’s light shining through others (even as they themselves despair of ever being or doing “enough”), so too God is managing to find ways to shine His light through us in our daily encounters and in our sharing of our lives and stories with others.

We cannot wait until we’re feeling perfect, or whole, or perfectly in tune with God to believe that we matter and can make a difference…it’s all happening now, already, today, despite our perceived failings, despite our fragility, despite our anxieties and despite our questioning of any of it at all – it’s already happening all the time, despite all. Everywhere around us, even though we can’t always see or know it, or understand how it could be possible, we make a profound difference.

So go ahead! Let your light shine! And believe that you are a light that is making a difference in the world around you. Advent is a wonderful time to contemplate light…to be open to receiving Light and then being light to those whose lives we touch throughout the day. Despite anything we think might be standing in God’s way, He is able to move all of those shadows aside and shine whenever and wherever He wants to (which is always and everywhere, right?)

The most wonderful thing about Light is that even the feeblest candle still makes a difference – even the teeniest twinkle of light makes a dent in the darkness…and when enough of these feeble individual candles join together, they make darkness completely disappear.  We all matter. Each one of us matters. The world needs each and every one of us to shine in whatever little corner of that world we find ourselves in. We each have a unique light to shine into the lives around us, a light born out of the unique blending of history, experience, wounds and wisdoms that we have accumulated thus far…there is a reason why we are who we are and a reason why we are where we are right now. We don’t have to know the why or what of that reason, we just have to live and breathe and be all that we are right where we are – and our light – God’s light – WILL shine and DOES make a difference to all those who are touched and changed by that light.

My hope is that the description of God’s love in my life will give you the freedom and the courage to discover God’s love in yours. (Henri Nouwen, from Here and Now)

Here are some more Nouwen quotes if you’re interested. Or just Google “Henri Nouwen” to find a wealth of wisdom waiting for you!

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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2012. All rights reserved.

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About Sharon

I love to write. I love to write myself into being right here right now. Writing releases something in me that needs wings, writing opens doors and windows that I often don't even realize are possible, writing helps me breathe out the dusty old, and to breathe in the new and possible. My hope is that maybe writing here in this blog will bring new light into these dusty old hallways and help me to clear out the thinking processes and mindsets that just don't work for me anymore. I seek to breathe new light and life into the nooks and crannies of a soul that has been feeling somewhat lost and frayed because of the last few patches of road I've had to travel.
This entry was posted in Advent, coping, empowerment, faith, gratitude, hope, inspiration, meaning, mental health, positive, purpose, wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Advent Contemplations: Being Light, Despite All

  1. Pingback: Venus On Mission In Brazil

  2. Pingback: Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming « Rev. Normal

  3. Pingback: “The Still, Small Voice of Love” ~ Henri Nouwen « Real Rest is the Best

  4. Pingback: nouwen, a spirituality of homecoming | Rev. Normal

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