What is the loudest and most dominant voice in your life? What is a message about yourself that you are most internalizing these days? For most of us, if we’re honest, that voice and that message is anything but hearing from God that we are his “beloved.”
Ever since a sermon I heard a few weeks ago on “Jesus is Love,” I’ve been mulling over and being ministered to by a little but powerful book that the speaker recommended by Henri Nouwen called Life of the Beloved. In this book, the author writes to his secular Jewish friend who wants to understand Christian spirituality in an accessible way. Nouwen’s thesis for his secular friend is this:
“All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved.’”
. . . which the author states is “the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular faith tradition or not.”
For those of us who have grown up around Christian culture, we are very familiar with the concept that “Jesus loves you”, so much so that it has become trite. But my attitude and perspective on this simple truth has been changing since reading this book. I will be quoting a lot of it because my rewording can hardly do it justice.
What has helped me connect this to my life is how Nouwen describes what prevents us from hearing and internalizing that we are “the Beloved”, and that is the temptation to “Self-rejection.”
He describes what giving into this temptationthis looks like in everyday life:
“As soon as someone accuses 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.’”
Having experienced a lot of relational let-downs and disappointments in life, I can certainly identify with this temptation to self-rejection and negative self-talk. It can be easy to internalize ridicule, unrequited love, lack of acceptance or lack of being listened to as telling that I’m not fully worthy of love and belonging, or that my experience isn’t valid and I’m just emotionally “weak”. And this is not just for those who seem to struggle more with insecurity and lack of self-assurance. It’s a struggle that plagues us all. Nouwen goes on:
"I hope you can somehow identify in yourself the temptation to self-rejection, whether it manifests itself in arrogance or in low self-esteem. Not seldom, self-rejection is simply seen as the neurotic expression of an insecure person. But neurosis is often the psychic manifestation of a much deeper human darkness: the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the 'Beloved.' Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
Dang. That’s too real. This is really about how our identity drives everything.
For me, I’m tempted to find my identity in relationships, perfectionism, productivity, competence, and basically having it all together. These writings from Henri Nouwen have compelled me to take the time on the bookends of my day and also throughout to be still and listen for the voice of God, having faith that deep down He doesn’t want me to feel condemned or rejected, but that He wants me to know, just as he said to Jesus before he accomplished any of his ministry:
“You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you” (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22).
And the beauty of this is that the more you are convinced of your Belovedness, the more you will want to help others see their Belovedness. For the sake of brevity, I would implore you to just go buy and read Life of the Beloved, and in the midst of your busyness, stress, anxieties, and disappointments, please slow down and listen for God who wants to speak to you through all the noise and chaos that “you are the Beloved.”