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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Story of Loss (and Hope and Faith and Joy)

I recently attended a conference on loss and it was a.maz.ing.  I walked away feeling encouraged, hopeful and joyful even though every single session had me in tears at one point or another.  I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what I learned and I wanted to record some of it here.  So this is what I've been thinking about lately....

Loss is a part of the common human experience after the fall - whether it's something you once had that you no longer have, something you currently have that feels threatened or fragile, or something you longed for that never happened, we all experience loss to one degree or another.  As D.A. Carson has said, "All you have to do is live long enough and you will suffer."  

Although my life has been blessed and privileged in SO many ways, there have still been losses. The loss of the dream of what I thought my life would be as a young bride raising my family.  As my friends get married and start their families, I face the loss of the opportunity to raise my kids with theirs, rejoicing with them as I simultaneously mourn my own functional infertility.  Years and years of longing after another, believing time/familiarity would be my friend, only to be told that everything about me was great but I simply wasn't pretty enough (followed by the shame and embarrassment of ever having admitted my desires in the first place).  The near-annual loss of friendship in Rochester, as if I am standing on a train platform and as each year's train passes, someone I love doing life with gets on and leaves me alone on the platform to start over. Death took two grandmas in 6 months' time and my dear, beloved grandpa 3 years later (I still miss him every. single. Sunday.).  And now, as I prepare for shoulder surgery next week, I look forward to more change and loss in the next quickly-approaching season of life....loss of my independence for a period of time, loss of my position at work and of my job as I know it and loss of a work schedule that has worked for my life for over half a decade.  This season also marks my first real experience of the loss of part of my health and functionality - I am 30 years old and I may never again fully raise my arm above my head, not to mention there is no guarantee that surgery will actually provide complete pain relief (although I am very hopeful that it will!!!).

Loss.  Grief.  Sorrow.  Shattered dreams.  Rejection.  Death.  Chronic pain.  The uncertainty that comes with change.  This has been my experience of our common plight.

And how have I responded??

Despair.  Loneliness.  Anger.  Bitterness.  Hatred.  Self-pity.  Isolation.  Anxiety.  Depression.  Distraction and escape.  Patterns of sin that bring false comfort.

As I have spent time thinking about what it would look like to respond to losses in my life in a more biblical manner, there are a few thoughts that have been constantly bouncing around in my head.  Thoughts such as:

- Figuring out which I love more: the gifts or the Giver.  How do I know that I love God and not just His gifts when the gifts are so closely tied to the Giver?  It seems that the "testing of our faith" in James 1 has at least a little something to do with testing whether we still love God when the gifts are taken away during "trials of various kinds."  As I search my heart, I am finding that I really, really love His gifts....

- Every time Scripture talks about being united to Christ in glory, it mentions first being united to Him in His suffering.  How do I know I will be united to Christ in glory?  By being united to Him in His sufferings (Romans 8:16-17).  My losses unite me with the life of Jesus in a way that allows me to participate in His story instead of just observing it.

-Because I am united to Christ through suffering, my fate is not to merely survive loss or try to get around it as quickly as possible.  Rather, I must remember that I am being caught up into something bigger than meets the eye, bigger than myself - I am being caught up into the very life of Christ.  Therefore, my focus is on being faithful and glorifying God in suffering, not merely getting past it or pretending it's not there.

- It's okay to lament.  Crying out in pain or sorrow is not a failure of faith, as it can often feel like, but rather an act of faith as it demonstrates a belief that someone is listening.  Use the Psalms as a guide.  Let yourself feel weak.  Remember that even the weakest faith connects you to the strongest Savior.  Keep speaking to God.  Always more toward, never away, even when you don't feel like you have anything "nice" to say.

- Listen.  It's okay to speak (see above) but don't forget to listen, too.  Listen to the story of history, to the stories around me and to my own story so far.  Be constantly reminded of God's compassion and faithfulness to His people.  He is not holding out on me.  He truly gave me everything when He gave me Himself.

-Obey.  Obey as an expression of hope; an expression of belief that a future with God is worth having; that the best is not behind me.

- Allow loss to build up within me a desperate yearning for eternity.

- I must constantly assess my graven image of God as the god I think He should be instead of the God He is.

So, that's where I'm at right now...realizing that my story, like everyone's story, is a story of loss because it is a story after the fall when the grave says "Never enough."  But, even more than a story of loss, it is a story of hope and joy because the losses that Satan uses to tempt me to despair are the very thing that bind me firmly to the One who saves me from despair and, ultimately, from the very grave that seeks to destroy me.  Because Christ has suffered and defeated death on my behalf, my story can be retold - from being the story of an isolated person who feels the hand death and loss upon her to someone who tells her story in light of her unification and communion with Christ.  He holds me with a grasp that can never, ever be lost and for that I am so very, very thankful.