Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions. (Airing daily on Hope 103.2 and Inspire Digital at 9am)
If you google the name ‘Henri Nouwen’ sometime you will read about an amazing man. A Dutch Catholic priest, professor, theologian of note, and writer. His books are still being sold and read enthusiastically around the world.
Henri Nouwen had a deep love for God and people—a man of compassion and empathy. A unique man of faith who touched lives in a powerful way. He had a unique Christian insight into living which he freely shared. Henri Nouwen remains a much loved spiritual guide to many for the way in which he so openly wrote about his own struggles, vulnerabilities, frailties and doubts.
In the summer of 1985 he left his role as a professor at Harvard Divinity School and joined the L’Arche community in France. Henri spent nine months living and sharing in life with people with and without learning disabilities. He then joined the L’Arche Daybreak community in Canada to serve as their pastor, where he lived until his death in 1996.
But many people have not heard of Henri’s younger brother Paul Nouwen. He made a big impact in the Netherlands in the political and business world. At Henri’s funeral service, he spoke and said this:
I realise that compared to Henri I have nothing. As I listened to the many tributes, the difference between us was clear. Henri had God. I want to restore my broken relationship with God and better prepare for my own death.
This statement made quite an impact on many people.
Making a Difference in Life
What is it that makes all the difference in life? I like what former president Jimmy Carter said:
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I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have, to try to make a difference.
That’s a profound thought. After all, we only have one chance in life to make a difference. Think about it for a few moments. Who has had the biggest impact for you? Your parents perhaps? It may have been your school teacher or family friend that left an abiding impression. The more meaning we find in life, the more happy we typically feel, and the more happy we feel, the more we often feel encouraged to pursue even greater meaning and purpose.
I think we all want to be connected to others, feel productive, and not being alone or bored—these contribute to both happiness and meaning.
I am sure it’s important that today you pray, God, please help me make a difference to somebody’s life today. It’s not a crazy prayer. It makes sense because there are many people who need your word or your caring attitude. I think we should be ‘difference makers’ because the world depends on it happening. Our world would never survive if people did not help one another. We need each other to survive.
The little acts of kindness you see from time to time move people out of their complacency. Where would this world be without Good Samaritans? In the New Testament is the story of a traveller who was beaten up, left to die. Religious people walked on by—but what would have happened to the robbed, beaten, and half-dead man if the Good Samaritan hadn’t stopped to help? It’s a great Biblical story to make us think.
Where would we be without the Mother Teresas of the world, who help the dying, poor, sick and afflicted children. And without compassionate people, the world would disintegrate into chaos. I’m sure that’s not too much of a dramatic statement.
The Hand that Reaches Out
An editorial in the newspaper told of a schoolteacher who asked her first graders to draw a picture of something they were thankful for. She thought of how little these children from poor neighbourhoods actually had to be thankful for. But she knew that most of them would draw pictures of turkeys on tables of food. It was thanksgiving day in the US. The teacher was taken back with the picture Douglas handed in a simple drawn hand. But whose hand? This class was captivated by the abstract image.
“I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food,” said one child. “A farmer,” said another, “because he grows the turkeys.” Finally when the others were back at work the teacher bent over Douglas’s desk and asked whose hand it was. “It’s your hand, teacher,” he mumbled. The teacher knew Douglas—an untidy, deserted child—but she was deeply moved that her hand was the single most important thing in his life.
Perhaps we can learn that it is not necessarily material possessions that people are in need of. They need a hand that reaches out to them with the love of God. I am sure there is no better exercise for strengthening the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.