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The ruins of an ancient cathedral in France.

Called to Be Fruitful

Henri J. M. Nouwen

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The word became flesh so as to wash my tired feet. He touches me precisely where I touch the soil, where earth connects with my body that reaches out to heaven. He kneels and takes my feet in his hands and washes them. Then he looks up at me and, as his eyes and mine meet, he says: “Do you understand what I have done for you? If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash your brothers’ and sisters’ feet” (John 13:13–14). As I walk the long, painful journey toward the cross, I must pause on the way to wash my neighbors’ feet. As I kneel before my brothers and sisters, wash their feet, and look into their eyes, I discover that it is because of my brothers and sisters who walk with me that I can make the journey at all.


There is no such thing as the right place, the right job, the right calling or ministry. I can be happy or unhappy in all situations. 

The question of where to live and what to do is really insignificant compared to the question of how to keep the eyes of my heart focused on God. I can be teaching at Yale, working in the bakery at the Genesee Abbey, or walking around with poor children in Peru, and feel totally useless, miserable, and depressed in all these situations.

There is no such thing as the right place, the right job, the right calling or ministry. I can be happy or unhappy in all situations. I am sure of it, because I have been. I have felt distraught and joyful in situations of abundance as well as poverty, in situations of popularity and anonymity, in situations of success and failure. The difference was never based on the situation itself, but always on my state of mind and heart. When I knew I was walking with God, I always felt happy and at peace. When I was entangled in my own complaints and emotional needs, I always felt restless and divided.

It is a simple truth that comes to me now, in a time when I have to decide about my future. Deciding to do this, that, or the other for the next five, ten, or twenty years is no great decision. Turning fully, unconditionally, and without fear to God is. Yet this awareness sets me free.


We have been called to be fruitful – not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness. 

How can we not lose our souls when everything and everybody pulls us in different directions? How can we “keep it together” when we are constantly being torn apart?

Jesus says, “Not a hair of your head will be lost. Your perseverance will win you your lives” (Luke 21:18–19). We can only survive our world when we trust that God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. We can only keep it together when we believe that God holds us together. We can only win our lives when we remain faithful to the truth that every little part of us, yes, every hair, is completely safe in the divine embrace of our Lord. To say it differently: when we keep living a spiritual life, we have nothing to be afraid of.


We have been called to be fruitful – not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness.

For a long time, I sought safety and security among the wise and clever, hardly aware that the things of the kingdom were revealed to little children; that God has chosen those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise. But when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.


First excerpt from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.
Other excerpts from Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations along the Way.

Henri Nouwen Henri J. M. Nouwen
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