It's New Year's Day and I am getting personal. 2004 has been a year of losses. One year ago on New Year's Eve my wife lost her spiritual mother to a rare lung disease. Fast forward to last night: I get the news that a friend of mine was swept away in a flooding river the day before. His body is not yet recovered but there is virtually no hope. In between those two events has been a couple of other major life losses: adult step-children losing their father; a nineteen-year-old son losing his way in life.
This does, as I write it, sound pretty morbid. And it is. I don't want to, in any way, minimize the pain of life's losses. It is immense and sometimes seems to be unbearable.
However, as I write today, I am well aware of the gifts that have come to me as a result of losses. Not just these recent losses. Sometimes the gifts that come take quite some time. But as I reflect back over these and past losses, I am aware that losses I have gone through have given immeasurable gifts to me.
This does not mean that I smile in the face of life's pain; that I put on a happy face knowing that God is working something good, therefore I don't need to be sad, angry, depressed, or whatever else I truly feel as I walk through my losses. Sometimes Christians try to be ridiculously non-human in facing the tragedies of life. Losses and pain suck. Period. Plain and simple.
But what I'm reflecting on today is not the need to process all of those "sucky" feelings. Rather, I do want to process what has come to me as a result of losses.
I am stronger, as a person, because of the losses I have experienced. I feel less threatened by what might happen in the future because I am aware that I have weathered and walked through some stormy seas. I have less fears about what life might throw at me. I have tremendous confidence that I will be sustained in the midst of just about anything.
I know it's cliche, but I have more faith. I have seen situations and people reduced to ashes, and then I have seen beauty come out of those ashes. I have developed a "bigger-picture" theology. A theology that allows me to not fully understand how it can possibly all work out; an understanding that it's okay to not fully understand; an understanding that there is One at work in all things who sees things that I don't. Period. I believe that.
I have more love for people and less patience for non-essential b.s. I don't get nearly so worked up over projects, deadlines, events, programs, financial reversals, whatever, whatever, whatever. I find that I have more time (and patience) to just hang out with someone who needs to be hung out with. I used to have an ending time in my mind everytime I got together with someone so that I could plan in what I would get done with the block of time that followed. Now, if possible, I don't. I'm willing to hang out and just be with people--in fact it brings me great pleasure to just hang out--because people matter more to me than they used to.
I suppose the list goes on and on: I'm more empathetic, more caring, less controlling, less pushy... In fact, it's probably safe to say that losses are the great teachers of life. They teach lessons that we remember. They give us principles that we somehow internalize forever. They put something inside of us that we will never get from a workshop, book, lecture, or church gathering/service.
I'm still not saying that I like losses. I'm just appreciating what they do.
Please pray for my friend's wife, Lisa. She has a long, long road ahead of her before she will be able to begin appreciating any gifts that God may have for her through this loss. In the meantime... it's hard!
Finally, as I look toward the coming year, I want to express how important ALL of my relationships are: my friends, cyber-friends, family, close friends, long-distance friends, casual-reader-friends that are connected to my life. I have experienced losses, yes, and I will experience more... but as I face forward to 2005 I am very, very much aware that I am not alone... And that makes ALL the difference. Thank you!