What can I write about valentine’s day? I’m single, I’m not bitter about it, though I would like to be married and would like to have children. But I’m also afraid of tying my life to someone else’s, of losing my much valued autonomy, space, the right to make decisions myself without having to run them by anyone. Well, I can talk about my issues in a less public forum. But in thinking about all of this I was reminded of Ranier Maria Rilke, and his amazing book, Letters to a Young Poet, in which he writes,
Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious.
Almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. Another serious and difficult thing in my life lately has been community. I mentioned in an earlier post the wonderful book that my friend Mark introduced me to, The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was going through the most difficult time in his life when he wrote this, and it wasn’t intended for anyone else to read. It was his private journal, the life-lines of truth that he was desperately holding onto, and the hard-won wisdom that his suffering was producing in him.
Nouwen was a part of a community in Toronto, L’Arche, “a community of men and women with mental disabilities,” as he describes it. So some of what he is writing about is his relationship with this community, his feeling like he has a home there but learning how he needs to set proper boundaries in order to love and be loved in healthy ways. It is remarkable how similar his situation seems to mine. Here are a couple of passages that particularly speak to me:
“The great task is to claim yourself for yourself, so that you can contain your needs within the boundaries of your self and hold them in the presence of those you love. True mutuality in love requires people who possess themselves and who can give to each other while holding on to their own identities. So, in order both to give more effectively and to be more self-contained with your needs, you must learn to set boundaries to your love.”
“Your unique presence in your community is the way God wants you to be present to others. Different people have different ways of being present. You have to know and claim your way. That is why discernment is so important. Once you have an inner knowledge of your true vocation, you have a point of orientation. That will help you decide what to do and what to let go of, what to say and what to remain silent about, when to go out and when to stay home, who to be with and who to avoid.
“When you get exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed or run down, your body is saying that you are doing things that are none of your business. God does not require of you what is beyond your ability, what leads you away from God, or what makes you depressed or sad. God wants you to live for others and to live that presence well. Doing so might include suffering, fatigue, and even moments of great physical or emotional pain, but none of this must ever pull you away from your deepest self and God.
“You have not yet fully found your place in your community. Your way of being present to your community may require times fo absence, prayer, writing or solitude. These too are times for your community. They allow you to be deeply present to your people and speak words that come from God in you. When it is part of your vocation to offer your people a vision that will nurture them and allow them to keep moving forward, it is crucial that you give yourself the time and space to let that vision mature in you and become an integral part of your being.
“Your community needs you, but maybe not as a constant presence. Your community might need you as a presence that offers courage and spiritual food for the journey, a presence that creates the safe ground in which others can grow and develop, a presence that belongs to the matrix of the community. But your community also needs your creative absence.
“You might need certain things that the community cannot provide. For these you may have to go elsewhere from time to time. This does not mean that you are selfish, abnormal, or unfit for community life. It means that your way of being present to your people necessitates personal nurturing of a special kind. Do not be afraid to ask for these things. Doing so allows you to be faithful to your vocation and to feel safe. It is a service to those for whom you want to be a source of hope and a life-giving presence.”
After copying those words I feel no need to write my own thoughts in my own journal. Nouwen has expressed my thoughts and feelings better than I ever could. Right now I am in a place where I need space, I need personal nurturing of a special kind. I want to be a source of hope and a life giving presence to Greenhaus, and I have been and will be again. But now I am exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed and run down. I have been doing things that are none of my business. God wants me to live for others and to live that presence well. He does not require of me what is beyond my ability, what leads me away from God, or what makes me depressed or sad.
Back to valentine’s day. One of my favorite romantic songs is My Funny Valentine. I would love to have it sung to me 🙂 I would love to have someone to sing it to. But also I think of it as God’s song to me, affirming that he knows I’m not perfect, he sees my faults but he loves me anyway and loves the true me that he has created me to be and that I will be and am, in a sense, already. Here are the lyrics.
“My funny Valentine; sweet, comic Valentine.
You make me smile with my heart.
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable,
Yet you’re my favorite work of art.
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little week?
When you open it to speak, are you smart?
But don’t change a hair for me.
Not if you care for me.
Stay, little Valentine, stay.
Each day is Valentine’s Day.”
Happy Valentine’s Day, all! I hope you all feel loved today and always.