The Spiritual Practice of Reaching Out
Today’s post is by Jeff Nelson
It began with a quick moment of inspiration. I’d just finished reading a book chapter written by a friend and colleague, and was so struck by their words that I logged onto Facebook and left a note of appreciation on their wall.
This might not sound like a big deal. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t. But as my little post received likes from the recipient and others who could see it, I felt a stirring to do this with every subsequent chapter of this volume, which happened to feature a lot of people with whom I was friends. Every affirmation came with an appreciation for what I’d written. Maybe it felt good to me, but it certainly seemed to be welcome words of affirmation for its recipient.
Such times of reaching out even as minor as a few sentences on social media are not often the easiest for me. I have a self-sufficient streak that I can trace back to my earliest years. For a variety of reasons, asking for help or expressing affection are not among my default actions. But the way you develop a new habit is to start small, and I found that with each successive note, the entire exercise felt more natural. By the time I reached the last chapter, I felt an inward push to express gratitude in this way, as if refraining would be neglectful for both of us somehow.
In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen reflects on our need to convert from hostility to hospitality toward others. Moving from keeping others at arm’s length to an embrace of who they are creates space in both for experiences of mutuality and growth. “It is there that our changing relationship to ourself can be brought to fruition in an ever-changing relationship to our fellow human beings” (p. 43). How we view and interact with others affects how we view and interact with ourselves, and vice versa.
Over the years, I like to think that I’ve come far in my own journey of intentionally reaching out to others, though I have much further to travel yet. But every text to share a source of struggle, every Facebook post of encouragement, every honest in-person conversation about the ups and downs of my day contributes to my own conversion from hostility to hospitality, from isolation to community, from self-centeredness to interdependence, from suspicion to ever-enriching love of neighbor and self.
As long as I remember that I can’t make that journey alone, I’ll be able to keep going.