The Gift of Not

When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. ~Henri Nouwen

On the last day of my summer internship at the Mental Health Clinic, Gret, my mentor and my friend at MHC, gave me a good-bye gift. It was Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. For three months we’d worked side by side, facilitating out-patient therapy groups. I struggled with not knowing how to lead, how to help, how to heal the shattered souls we spent our days with.

Gret knew we weren’t the healers. She knew when to gently encourage and when to be silent.

As the years passed, I forgot many of the lessons I learned that summer. I got caught up in the culture of the church and my own natural inclination to try to fix things. I learned to deflect a portion of the pain with a quick prayer or a verse or a pot roast.

It was in my own moments of brokenness that I was reminded of what Gret had modeled and the gift she had given so many years earlier. I know now that when healing comes, it’s God, not me, who is the Healer.

I’m trying to practice giving the gift of not: not curing, not leaving, not quoting, not fixing, not solving.

Not knowing.

I used to pray for answers. Now I pray that my presence will be a comfort, my hands warm and tender and my lips, still.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

32 thoughts on “The Gift of Not”

  1. Dear Debbie

    I want to write

    Stillness…

    and let it be.

    Really hits home. Care taking is or can be my drug. Am I helping? I love your prayer. Presence. I did Buddhist Vipassana meditation for a long time and when I was it was so much easier to BE and not DO. I had many people working for me at the time and they noticed. I had more visits to my office to ‘chat’ when I was meditating than ever before. People came in with divorce and rape and fear and anxiety. My crew was tighter and healthier for me Letting Go and listening than when I was busy ‘creating outreach’. Being there. Being quiet and present was the best ‘outreach program’ ever!

    Thank you for reminding of this experience. I will imagine the Abbey in Iowa. The sun coming in.

    Stillness and God.

    Bless you! Jen

    1. Dear Jen – So interesting that you would mention the Abbey. πŸ˜€
      The Abbey is where I met Merton and got better acquainted with Nouwen. In total, I spent somewhere between 25 and 30 weeks. The Sisters taught me so much about Stillness – internal and external. I hope you can go there someday. We just got a letter from them last week. There’s no place quite like it.
      Love,
      Debbie

      Reply

  2. Yes! This is so excellent, sister Debbie. We really mean well, wanting to “fix”–and I love your inclusion of pot roast! You can guess food is my default “comfort–fix”. I’ve no doubt your mere presence is a soothing balm for folks–I know it works for me when I come here, or am visited by you. Learning to relax and just be a conduit for God’s grace comes with maturity–sometimes I’m “good at it”, sometimes I’m too busy fretting to be any help whatsoever. I do so love my sisters here–wishing you all a good night–God bless you Big!

    1. Dear Caddo – Well, it looks like we have the TV and the library in order! πŸ˜€
      I think our natural well meaning desire/need to ‘fix’ is the biggest stumbling block to our being of any help at all. Who knew it would take SO long to grow up?
      Sweet dreams,
      Debbie

      1. Hi Sis Debbie–I’ve actually stopped by to respond to the comment you left over at CV, re my “enigma”. I don’t want you to think I’m being “mysterious” just to be mysterious–as a manipulation, game or “hook” to get readers. We’re probably all an enigma, to some extent–maybe I’m a bit more so, I don’t know. I certainly don’t want you to feel any concern because my posts run the gamut of despairing to victorious. I would say I’m victorious and joyful pretty much 99.5 percent of the time. I’ve not figured out a perfect way of noting which poems are old, or new–“real and true”, or based on something else. Sometimes I’ve marked them, “from the cold storage file–decades old”– If it’s based on a specific individual I’ve personally known, who I’m memorializing in some fashion, I generally note their name or relationship. I guess the only thing I can say which “might” help, is–if it reads “enigmatic”, just enjoy it for that, but don’t feel it’s worthy of any concern at all. I’ll gladly take prayer anytime, but I’m pretty up front about asking, if I need it for something specific–so if I’m not here, or at Deb’s blog, asking for prayer, you can assume I’m doing A-OK!

        I love you dearly–so appreciate knowing you–love your blog and that you visit mine!! May God richly bless you, continually and abundantly! See you soon!

  3. Thank you gracious one, for giving us permission to not feel guilty when we can’t fix and heal and cure. I forget. My Aubrey Angel feels everything so much. Tiny things are big. I can’t make it all go away. But she teaches me this gift of not, and mostly just needs me to look, to hug, to listen, to care. God bless you as you give comfort today, just by being who He made you to be. love and prayers!

    1. Oh Deb – Your sweet Aubrey is the rare combination of much an not. You’ve clearly been her student. It shows in everything you say. Blessings on you both.
      Love,
      Debbie

  4. I am new here, followed you here from caddoveil. I just wanted to say that Nouwen is a newly acquired friend of me; my wife has read him more than I and has found his wisdom invaluable. Thank you for posting this. It is so important to know how to shut up. I wonder if it is a charismatic gift that was inadvertently left out of the lists.

    1. Carroll – I see you share dear Caddo’s sense of humor! πŸ˜€
      Indeed, I think ‘shutting up’ was missed by the translators somewhere after Job!
      Thank you for sharing you time and thoughts here. It’s a gift to us.
      ~ Debbie

    1. Hello Karyn – How did your comment slip in here without me seeing it? You are so wise to pray for strength rather than ‘being the cure’. I keep thinking I’ve learned that lesson, and then, I pull out the tonic and try to heal the wound.
      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
      ~ Debbie

    1. Jeanne – thank you for such a lovely nomination. I love Kate’s rules. Just accept it and pass it on! You’re a light in the Window each night (I read at night)!
      ~ Debbie

  5. OK: writing down your references for books, Another Earth Angel. Totally “on” my friend. You know, i am blessed by having you as my friend (as well as our posse of regulars … WE know who we are). I consider you guys all Earth Angels. Maybe it’s because i think i’m too smart πŸ˜‰ for recommendations or advice. Maybe it’s because we (and our God) are the ones who have to TRULY ask our heart what the fuck is up …. and are we going to seek peace or try to direct traffic! I’m putting down the signs … i will accept love, and even QUOTES and BOOK recommendations from my earth angels.! BTW, who was the defrocked monk you thought i’d enjoy reading?

    How about Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life? The sweet man who gently followed George around and finally relayed his message of love to our beleaguered hero? I’m on a J. Stewart binge. OH NO! Only to be consumed πŸ˜‰ love melis

    1. melis – πŸ˜€ – Brennan Manning. Start with Ragamuffin Gospel. I think you’ll really like it.Consumed by love – may it be true of all of us!
      love,
      Debbie

    1. Dear SueBE – Her situation is so sad, and one we all face – most of us many times in a lifetime, I suppose. How do we, as believers, comfort and respond to a loved one who is dying.
      You’re a wise friend.
      ~ Debbie

  6. Lovely post. I, too, have learned it is “o.k.” not to know, not to fix, and not being able to cure myself, not to cure. My co-workers in the substance abuse field called me “Mother Mary”. I wanted to “save” them all and couldn’t.

    1. Linda – same trouble here. It certainly made me a mismatch in Corrections and not the prime candidate for Crisis Counseling. I’ve been a slow learner. πŸ˜‰
      ~ Debbie

  7. These words softened my soul and it was needed. I feel like the folks that think the sermon was meant for them. All thinking it was a personal message. And God used your words for that today. He often does. Thank you.

    1. Dear Debby – We’re continuing to have internet troubles so I just now read yesterday’s post. You have such an open, yearning heart. I love that about you!
      ~ Debbie

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