Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and theologian. Shortly after he moved to a l’Arche community, he wrote a book about living in the house of love or in the house of fear. I, too, was living in l’Arche at that time, and his message resonated.
Living in l’Arche was an intense experience. Community members were together almost all the time, and I remember after my first week telling some of the other assistants that I felt like I had known them my whole life.
In that context, I could so easily see when I was living in love or in fear, when I was being generous or stingy; compassionate or judgmental; accepting or corrective.
The image of those two houses—one of love and the other of fear—has stayed with me all these years and often comes to mind. I try to live in the house of love, that place where I am aware of my blessings and living in gratitude. My God is a God of love—of abundance, generosity, compassion and acceptance. God’s house is a house of love. That is the house I want to live in.
Sometimes, though, I move into the house of fear.
The move can be caused by major things—like when Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer—or by minor things—like hearing unfamiliar night noises in my new house.
I am not always sure of why I have moved into the house of fear, but I have come to recognize some signs of the shift. One sign is when I am seeing things through a lens of scarcity, fearing that there is not enough.
I can fear I don’t have enough money or enough compassion. I can be stingy with the stash of chocolates in my desk or with compliments.
I usually become aware that I have been thinking there is not enough when something happens to show me abundance. Yesterday at work, for example, I was taking a few extra cookies at the end of a meeting (as if there were not enough cookies and this would be my last chance to grab some) when a donor came in with notebooks for our students—fifty cases of notebooks! How generous, how abundant.
The stacks of notebooks are a sign to me that there are plenty of notebooks to go around—and a reminder that there are enough cookies, too.