As this second semester of seminary has begun, the words and insights of Henri Nouwen have continued to speak truth into my heart, especially as I’ve journeyed to invest in what it means for the Lord to access all of who I am – without disguises and without facades.
One of my dear friends here at Gordon-Conwell, Shannon, is also a Henri enthusiast. In one of my first conversations with her in September, she mentioned that she was moved and blessed by Henri’s notion that we allow our “scaffolding” to be removed when we are in the Lord’s presence. He sees us for who we really are, even when we are unaware of what lies beneath the layers of protection we have tried to establish to impress Him and others (and even ourselves).
I encountered this quote about scaffolding once again at a discipleship retreat I attended this past weekend, and again, this concept struck me deeply.
Here’s what Henri writes:
In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me – naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken – nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. (from The Way of the Heart).
Truly, my time at seminary has been filled with more opportunities for solitude than I have ever before experienced. While I’m sitting in my bedroom, all alone with the Lord, my mind wanders to so many things: a realization of my loneliness, all the homework and studying I need to get done for the semester, the possible ways I could rearrange my room, all the laundry I need to get done, the places I need to vacuum, all the ways I’m discontent – the possible list could go on and on.
While I’ve been proud for many years of my introversion and even my enjoyment of solitude, the truth is that sometimes I’m scared-to-death of being in solitude. I’m nervous that if I really allow the Lord to see all of me, that He will not continue cherishing me as His child. I’m frightened that when I’m really alone with myself, I will be overwhelmed at the baseness of my humanity and the ways that I have offended God in my daily life.
These fears make me feel like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when his greed has caused him to turn into a fierce but lonely dragon. He cries because he doesn’t know how to become a boy again. One day, Aslan comes up to dragon Eustace, telling him that he must undress to get rid of his dragon skin. So Eustace scratches and scratches at his scales, but as he painlessly peels off each layer, his scales grow back. Aslan gently instructs him that only he can be the one to help Eustace become a boy once again. So, with his strong paws and sharp claws, Aslan permanently removes the scales from Eustace, turning him back into a boy again; however, this process is extremely painful to Eustace. Yet even in the midst of the pain, Eustace knows that healing is occurring – a permanent healing that will transform him.
I long for the Lord to remove the scaffolding of my heart and the scales on my skin. However, I know that only when I’m laid bare before Him – only when I allow His Father hands to gently aid in the removal process – will the removal process be effective. Yes, this work may be painful, but it will be lasting.