“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“The real spiritual guide is the one who, instead of advising us what to do or to whom to go, offers us a chance to stay alone and take the risk of entering into our own experience. He makes us see that pouring little bits of water on our dry land does not help, but that we will find a living well if we reach deep enough under the surface of our complaints.”
As a pastor people come to me for advice quite often. They want my opinion as a man of God (and hopefully a godly Man) and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s a wise person who seeks the counsel of others on important matters and I pray I’m up to the task and give godly advice when that opportunity arrives.
I find myself in different situations with regards to this issue. Most often it is in casual conversation that I am asked advice in different matters but quite often I find myself in the situation of counseling a person with a serious problem going on in life. What’s difficult with these serious problems is that they tend to overwhelm us and make it hard to think straight. Our thinking becomes cloudy, we learn to distrust our own inner thoughts and inner peace becomes something far from our grasp.
As I think about the most difficult times in our lives, I realize that there are often two different kinds of reactions. Let’s look at it from the perspective of a soldier. I’ve never been a soldier (although I have great respect for our soldiers) so I hope I’ll be able to use this example with truth and respect but consider being in the line of fire. There seems to be two different reactions when the bombs are going off, the bullets are whizzing around your head and your squad-mates are being wounded and killed all around you. In this situation you either curl up in fear or you stand in the face of adversity and perform your duties. Now I know a lot of training goes into how our soldiers respond so that, when that time comes, they will be able to stand strong. At the same time, I wouldn’t be a human-being if I didn’t have the intense desire to tuck my tail and run far far away from the battlefield. So what is it that keeps a soldier in the fight despite what they are feeling deep inside when the bullets begin to fly? Through training they learn to control their reaction to the fear inside and reach down deeper to make the decisions they need to make in order to survive and win the battle. Some people are more natural at this than others but, trust me, everyone has that fear inside when the flood is overwhelming them.
Most often, as a counselor, my job is to help others to find that “living well deep under the surface” – that place of inner solitude where they can find the peace they need to make the decisions that will send their life in a better direction. Any counselor will tell you that decisions or advice that come from the outside will only have a lasting effect if that advice is internalized and harmonized with a counselees innermost thoughts and decisions. In other words, an addict will never defeat addiction unless they choose to do so deep inside themselves first. It’s when they decide to take control of their life and live differently that they will reach out for the strength and power to defeat what is in charge of their life. Pouring out a glass of water in the desert isn’t going to transform that desert. We need to find a much deeper source of water to do that.
What we really need, in times of stress, is help to focus on our inner self as the flood threatens to overwhelm us. What Henri Nouwen is talking about, in the quote above, is under-going the training that helps us to reach even deeper into our inner selves to stand strong during times of calm and during times of raging storm. When we seek that inner self deep in the trenches of solitude we will find that living well flowing from Jesus.