Day 30 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 30

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen

It is not easy to do this. For a long time we might not feel capable of accepting our own life; we might keep fighting for a better or at least a different life. Often a deep protest against our “fate” rises in us. We didn’t choose our country, our parents, the color of our skin, our sexual orientation. We didn’t even choose our character, intelligence, physical appearance, or mannerisms. Sometimes we want to do every possible thing to change the circumstances of our life. We wish we were in another body, lived in another time, or had another mind! A cry can come out of our depths: “Why do I have to be this person? I didn’t ask for it, and I don’t want it.”

But as we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly, carefully, but fully.

Often when we wish to comfort people, we say: “Well, it is sad this has happened to you, but try to make the best of it.” But “making the best of it” is not what drinking the cup is about. Drinking our cup is not simply adapting ourselves to a bad situation and trying to use it as well as we can. Drinking our cup is a hopeful, courageous, and self-confident way of living. It is standing in the world with head erect, solidly rooted in the knowledge of who we are, facing the reality that surrounds us and responding to it from our hearts.

The great figures in history looked deeply into their cups and drank from them without fear. Whether they were famous or not, they knew that the life which was given to them was given to live to its fullness in the presence of God and God’s people, and thus bear much fruit. They needed to make it bear fruit. Jesus, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth”Can anything good come from Nazareth?” people asked(John 1:46)-drank his cup to the bitter end. All his disciples did too, different as they may have been.

Spiritual greatness has nothing to do with being greater than others. It has everything to do with being as great as each of us can be. True sanctity is precisely drinking our own cup and trusting that by thus fully claiming our own, irreplaceable journey, we can become a source of hope for many. Vincent van Gogh, miserable and brokenhearted as he was, believed without question in his vocation to paint, and he went as far as he could with what little he had. This is true for Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day of New York, and Oscar Romero of San Salvador. Small people, but great in drinking their cups to the full.

How then can we, in the midst of our ordinary daily lives, drink our cup, the cup of sorrow and the cup of joy? How can we fully appropriate what is given to us? Somehow we know that when we do not drink our cup and thus avoid the sorrow as well as the joy of living, our lives become inauthentic, insincere, superficial, and boring. We become puppets moved up and down, left and right by the puppeteers of this world. We become objects, yes, victims of other people’s interests and desires. But we don’t have to be victims. We can choose to drink the cup of our life with the deep conviction that by drinking it we will find our true freedom. Thus, we will discover that the cup of sorrow and joy we are drinking is the cup of salvation.

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