While enjoying a wonderful break with my family in Seaside, Oregon, I was able to carve out enough time to read Henri Nouwen's perceptive book entitled, Discernment. In the book, he makes several statements regarding how he spent much of his life craving affirmation, attention and acceptance of others.
He had attempted to possess others in the hope of acquiring satisfaction for his souls neediness.
In many ways, this has been my journey. I know it is a soft spot for me because when I don't get what I think "I deserve" I enter into a horrible soul level tumult.
Along the same lines, I have encountered real struggle when I have attached my soul to a community. I, with complete certainty, believe that every person, including me, desperately needs a community to be fully healthy. Nevertheless, if the community occupies too large of a space in one's life, there is a fragility or inordinate exposure. It must not occupy the space only Christ should hold. Nouwen wrote:
"I also learned afresh that friendship requires a constant willingness to forgive each other for not being Christ, and a willingness to ask Christ himself to be the true center of the relationship. When Christ does not mediate a friendship, that relationship easily becomes demanding, manipulating, and oppressive and fails to offer the other the space to grow." (Discernment, p. 75)
This became altogether evident in my experience with the church I formerly led, particularly upon the final stages of separation. The moment that demonstrated the nadir was the “reconciliation meetings” with the person who was my successor. Besides being poorly arranged, it also provided a clear reality of an over-reliance on the community. I needed from the community more than was possible or what should have been expected. It manifested in my need for acknowledgment and affirmation and in the apparent injuries to the next pastor and his spouse.
The meeting, from my perspective, was ill-fated from the beginning, mostly because of my injury and immaturity.
The moment of darkness came when the mediator finally realized, though I had led the community for nearly 20 years, I was alone in the room. I literally felt like something broke inside of me, that which in many ways I am still healing from years later...
I was expecting something from a group of people that for a variety of reasons was an impossibility...something that exposed in me an expectation that only Jesus could meet.
They tried, at least that is what I cling too…to navigate the complexity of hurt and separation, but at the end of the day it was not to be sorted. I still carry with me the awful sadness of the experience. I hope I can find (discern) the balance of commitment and connection, without enmeshment that is always the enemy of true community.
The thing on my end is, I held too tightly to something that never belonged to me. Though difficult, I need to employ the Ignatian discipline of “detachment!” It is the need to hold all things loosely. God can take and give, and it should be my posture to hold all things passionately, yet loosely (a tough proposition).
Two things I know: Nouwen, through his writings, continues to be one of my most trusted mentors, and I sadly held my former role too possessively.