Summary of Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen’s goal in writing this book:

“[A]ll I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – “You are the Beloved.” (30)

4 Steps to Become the Beloved: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given

1st – Taken

  • Claiming the truth: Each of us has already been noticed, chosen, and taken by God to be “the Beloved” in a totally unique, precious, and non-competitive way. This is the core true of our Baptismal identity.
  • Rejecting the lie: “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” (33) Self-rejection is a lie that makes us believe that we are no good, ugly, worthless, despicable, nobody – unless we can prove the opposite. As a result, we must reject this voice.
  • Reflection Questions: Have you claimed being “the Beloved” as the core truth of your life? Have you experienced how being “the Beloved” has impacted the way you think and behave?

“When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work” (47).

2nd – Blessed

  • Claiming the truth: “It is not enough to be chosen. We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives” (72). As fearful, anxious, insecure human beings, we need to be blessed. In Latin, to bless is benedicere, which literally means to speak (dicere) well (bene) of someone. We do this by speaking words of affirmation. “To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness. And more than that: To give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks… A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his or her Belovedness” (69).
  • Rejecting the lie: Often, instead of feeling blessed, we feel cursed. We feel like victims of a world that we cannot change. But these curses are lies. The best way to reject the curses is by claiming the blessing both for yourself (eg. Repeat slowly, “I am the Beloved”) and for to bless others (“The blessed one always blesses” (82).
  • Reflection Questions: When’s the last time someone gave you a real blessing, that spoke about your Belovedness? If you can remember, how did you feel about that? And when’s the last time you gave someone else a blessing, that revealed their Belovedness? How did you feel about that?

“The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness?” (30)

3rd – Broken

  • Claiming the truth: We are broken people living in a broken world. We must be-friend this truth, claim this fact, and face the pain. Second, we must put it under the blessing to allow our Belovedness to touch our brokenness and thereby allow our brokenness to become a blessing.
  • Rejecting the lie: We must reject the lie that brokenness is a barrier to being chosen and blessed. And remove the brokenness under the curse.
  • Reflection Questions: Do you see your brokenness as a barrier to being chosen and blessed? Have you experienced how brokenness can lead to blessing? If so, explain.

“The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing” (97).

4th – Given

  • Claiming the truth: When we place our brokenness under the blessing, we will discover how much we have to give – much more than we may ever have dreamed (110). “We are chosen, blessed, and broken so as to be given” (105). The expression “breaking bread together” expresses beautifully how the breaking and the giving are so clearly one. “As the Beloved Children of God, we are called to become bread for each other – bread for the world” (121). And in the giving, there will be an abundant multiplication for many years to come, far beyond our death.
  • Rejecting the lie: Reject the lie that competition and greediness is the path to fulfillment. Reject the lie that happiness is based on having.
  • Reflection Questions: Our real gift to be given is not so much in what we can do, but in who we are. In other words, our talents might be few but our gifts are abundant. Our gifts are a part of who we are: friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust, and many others. These are the true gifts we have to offer to each other (114).

“In our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. We often life as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others” (109).

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