In a recent talk, Philip Yancey said that the main reason people read memoirs was not to discover more about the people who wrote them but to discover more of themselves. It certainly felt that way when I read the following from Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey — The Diary of His Final Year. Writing on his 64th birthday, he said:
I feel happy on this day. Grateful to God and my family and friends for all the graces that have come to me during these sixty-four years. I look forward to the years to come as time to deepen my life with God and my friendship with people. I especially hope that I will have more space and time to write. (Henri J. M. Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey — The Diary of His Final Year. [New York, NY: Crossroad, 1998], 94.)
This is probably my third time reading this book and I realise that each time I read it different things stand out for me. The book remains the same, but the reader is changing. For one thing it hit me this time that I have lived longer than Nouwen. And the above paragraph echoes much that is happening in me now.
As we get older we are less tolerant of clutter in our lives. Maybe it is because our energy levels are not the same. Or we are clearer about what is essential and what will merely be stuff in light of eternity. Consciously or unconsciously we begin to “konmari” our soul. And Nouwen discovered what many have, that life can be summarised into our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our primary vocation.
For the longest time, the person of the Godhead I related to the most was God the Father. This felt right because the primary identity of the Christian is child of God. I know there is only one God, but in recent days I have become more aware and connect more with my friend, brother, and Lord, Jesus Christ. This doesn’t negate my focus on God the Father because Jesus tells us that to see Him is to see the Father (John 14:9). But Jesus calls us friends and that speaks of a different type of intimacy and closeness. So, “fairest Lord Jesus”, You who are the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), walk with me and show me the way to be a good son and the way forward in the years ahead.
I am also convicted to be more intentional in nurturing my friendships. Many of my friends are in Malaysia and some further away. I pray that I will see them again this side of heaven. But I also have many friends here in Singapore. I have made a list and will now make concrete plans to meet up with them. Then there is family of course. Bernice has been much, much better in reaching out to family, including my side of the family. I need to make another list of family that I need to connect with and to encourage.
Finally, there is vocation. Nouwen hoped he had the time to do more writing. But he would die later that year. I too have some books I would like to write. I am in the midst of writing one now. I also wonder what more I can do to promote the cause of spiritual friendship. What should I do? Will I be given the time to do it? Recently a friend discovered that he had an aggressive lymphoma. What will happen to him? Will there be miraculous healing? Will God call him home? God knows.
Truth is, unless Christ returns first, we will all end our time on earth. This doesn’t bother me, though like all, I hope the way home doesn’t go through the valley of a painful illness. If anything, I am experiencing more of God’s peace in my life at this stage of life. But I do want to live more intentionally and with greater clarity. So Jesus koko,* show me the way.
* Koko: big brother in the Hokkien dialect.