This book is my secret journal.
It was written during the most difficult period of my life… a time of extreme anguish, during which I wondered whether I would be able to hold on to my life. Everything came crashing down – my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God… everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness.
What had happened? l had come face to face with my own nothingness. It was as if all that had given my life meaning was pulled away and l could see nothing in front of me but a bottomless abyss.
The strange thing was that this happened shortly after I had found my true home. After many years of life in universities, where I never felt fully at home, I had become a member of L’Arche, a community of men and women with mental disabilities. I had been received with open arms, given all the attention and affection I could ever hope for, and offered a safe and loving pIace to grow spiritually as well as emotionally. Everything seemed ideal. But precisely at that time I fell apart – as if I needed a safe place to hit bottom!
Just when all those around me were assuring me they loved me, cared for me, appreciated me, yes, even admired me, I experienced myself as a useless, unloved, and despicable person. Just when people were putting their arms around me, I saw the endless depth of my human misery and felt that there was nothing worth living for. Just when I had found a home, I felt absolutely homeless. Just when I was being praised for my spiritual insights, I felt devoid of faith. Just when people were thanking me for bringing them closer to God, I felt that God had abandoned me. It was as if the house I had finally found had no floors. The anguish completely paralysed me. I could no longer sleep. I cried uncontrollably for hours. I could not be reached by consoling words or arguments. I no longer had any interest in other people’s problems. I lost all appetite for food and could not appreciate the beauty of music, art, or even nature. All had become darkness. Within me there was one long scream coming from a place I didn’t know existed, a place full of demons.
All of this was triggered by the sudden interruption of a friendship. Going to L’Arche and living with very vulnerable people, I had gradually let go of many of my inner guards and opened my heart more fully to others. Among my many friends, one had been able to touch me in a way I had never been touched before. Our friendship encouraged me to allow myself to be loved and cared for with greater trust and confidence. It was a totally new experience for me, and it brought immense joy and peace. It seemed as if a door of my interior life had been opened, a door that had remained locked during my youth and most of my adult life.
But this deeply satisfying friendship became the road to my anguish, because soon I discovered that the enormous space that had been opened for me could not be filled by the one who had opened it. I became possessive, needy, and dependent, and when the friendship finally had to be interrupted, I fell apart. I felt abandoned, rejected, and betrayed. Indeed, the extremes touched each other.
Intellectually I knew that no human friendship could fulfil the deepest longing of my heart. I knew that only God could give me what I desired. I knew that I had been set on a road where nobody could walk with me but Jesus. But all this knowledge didn’t help me in my pain.
I realised quite soon that it would be impossible to survive this mentally and spiritually debilitating anguish without leaving my community and surrendering myself to people who would be able to lead me to a new freedom. Through a unique grace, I found the place and the people to give me the psychological and spiritual attention I needed. During the six months that followed, I lived through an agony that seemed never to end. But the two guides who were given to me did not leave me alone and kept gently moving me from one day to the next, holding on to me as parents hold a wounded child.
To my surprise, I never lost the ability to write. In fact, writing became part of my struggle for survival.
(From Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)