Can Poverty help us forgive? In Henri Nouwen‘s devotional, “Show Me the Way” he talks about how the key to hospitality is a sense of poverty. When you have nothing, you can give everything. It sounds paradoxical and foolish. But let me explain and then expand it into the realm of forgiveness as well. Nouwen says this…
Once we have become poor, we can be a good host. It is indeed the paradox of hospitality that poverty makes a good host. Poverty in the inner disposition that allows us to take away our defenses and convert our enemies into friends. We can perceive the stranger as an enemy only as long as we have something to defend. But when we say, “Please enter — my house is your house, my joy is your joy, my sadness is your sadness, and my life is your life,” we have nothing to defend, since we have nothing to lose but all to give.
Turning the other cheek means showing our enemies that they can be our enemies only while supposing that we are anxiously clinging to our private property, whatever it is: our knowledge, our good name, our land, our money, or the many objects we have collected around us. But who will be our robbers when everything they want to steal from us becomes our gift to them? Who can lie to us when only the truth will serve them well? Who wants to sneak into our back door when our front door is wide open? Show Me the Way
Poverty Helps Us Forgive
If I have nothing to defend or protect, nothing to lock up or hide away, nothing I fear you will take, then all I have is yours. I’m free to be fully present with you. This is true about hospitality. But let me take it farther. Isn’t this true in forgiveness too? I think that’s where Nouwen is going when he talks about “turning the other cheek”. He believer a sense of poverty enables us to forgive.
If you have offended me I can only cling to unforgiveness as long as I cling to my reputation, my name, my image. You took something from me…that’s why I’m so mad. But if I don’t have an image or a reputation to defend…then I can forgive you without a problem.
(I’m not talking about having no self-esteem. I’m talking about being in a place where you are so convinced of your worth – it is God-given – that you don’t have to cling to it. You have no fear of losing it or letting someone strip it from you because you know you can’t lose it.)
Our problem is that we so often have the need to feel good about ourselves. We work so hard at building a case for it. We barely pull together enough proof of our worth and then we are offended again, our house of cards falls and we are indignant at the person who robbed us of our dignity.
But what if you didn’t play that game? What if you stepped out of that system all together and played by a different set of rules? What if you didn’t feel the need to prove to the world or yourself your worth? What if you believed that you have intrinsic value simply by the fact that you were created by an infinite all-loving God?
I think that’s what Nouwen is getting at. When you get to that state of poverty (read humility) then no one can take anything away from you. You are free. Free to give. Free to forgive.
Question: What keeps you from stepping out of the “system” and needing to prove to others your worth? Leave your comment below.
Learn more about finding your worth in Healing the Hurts of Your Past.