I believe we don’t have just one soulmate in life. I think we have that kind of special connection with several people, several types of people. The most special we marry, and we spend the rest of our lives with them. Others are unique friends who understand us instinctively in a way no one else can.
Some we never get to meet in person but, if truly blessed, are allowed to discover in some way.
Some years ago I discovered Father Henri Nouwen.
Considering his continued popularity almost two decades after his death, there’s a good chance you heard of him or read one of his many books. If you go to www.henrinouwen.org, the website of the Henri Nouwen Society, here is how he is described:
The internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor, Henri Nouwen wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. He corresponded regularly in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish with hundreds of friends and reached out to thousands through his Eucharistic celebrations, lectures and retreats. Since his death in 1996 (at the age of 64), ever-increasing numbers of readers, writers, teachers and seekers have been guided by his literary legacy. Nouwen’s books have sold over 2 million copies and been published in over 22 languages.
I have read several of those works. My favorite is considered his masterpiece, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which was developed out of his meditating on Rembrandt’s painting of the same name. I also loved reading Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. The Wounded Healer is also considered a classic, one used often in training ministers, both lay and religious.
Last year, I enjoyed reading his biography by Michael Ford, Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henry J. M. Nouwen, and found much in his personality and life that resonates with me in a personal way.
I’m not saying that I am like every word Nouwen wrote. He was a priest with considerably more theological training than I could even imagine and celebrated Mass every day of his priesthood. He was also a trained psychologist, while my psychological experience is limited to regular therapy sessions. Father Nouwen taught at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, whereas I graduated from college after three years — the extent of my “higher education.”
He wrote dozens of books — selling over 2 million — gave countless speeches the world over, and had a huge following of admirers.
Nouwen struggled with loneliness. Even as he was a part of vibrant college campuses, making friends wherever he went, speaking and writing in ways that caused people to reach out to him in admiration, and yet he felt lonely. He felt he never had a real “home” until late in life.
He wasn’t afraid to write about it. When writing Nouwen treated what was personal as the most universal. So he wrote primarily about things that happened to him or the way he viewed the world and spiritual life. He once wrote, “By giving words to these intimate experiences, I can make my life available to others.”
I usually write about personal things as well. In my St. Louis Review column and on this website, I share intimate thoughts and experiences. I do so to help people see themselves between the lines, so to speak, learning something about themselves through my reflection. If nothing else, it lets people know that they aren’t the only ones dealing with difficulties, such as loneliness.
I can relate to Nouwen’s confession of loneliness. I have many friends, work around people every day, have a wife who loves me and is my best friend, have children we adore, spend time with two rambunctious grandsons, as well as parents and sisters and their families and dozens of cousins. I have many people in my life, have closely connections with many of them, calling them friends, and I have a close relationship with my God.
I feel a coldness many days. A loneliness that can stretch into despair, a feeling that I have to conquer every day on my own somehow. I know in my head that I am loved. My heart doesn’t always catch that wave.
Over time I have come to realize that it has nothing to do with other people. It isn’t their job to solve that dilemma for me. As I have learned somewhat from therapy, from time in prayer and reflection, and from reading Father Nouwen, the responsibility is mine.
I have to accept love from others, feel like I am worthy of it. And I have to love myself.
That is the most challenging calling in my life. It will take work. But I know I am not alone in the challenge. One day recently I heard the Police song “Message In A Bottle” on the radio. Sting sang about a man feeling,
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair
So he sent an SOS in a message in a bottle. He hoped that someone would get the message. Imagine his surprise when he walked out onto the beach one morning and saw “a hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore.”
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
I don’t think I am either. I don’t think I’m the only one going through much of what I experience in life. So I share from my heart, from my life, from my joys and sorrows. I will pray that my family, my friends and all readers all can know you aren’t alone, that such knowledge somehow will provide strength.
“My hope is that the description of God’s love in my life,” Henri Nouwen once wrote, “will give you the freedom and courage to discover God’s love in yours.”
As it turns out, we actually might all be soulmates.