Dealing with Loss

For the past ten years my husband and I have gathered each New Year’s with two other couples who come from out of town.  Originally we got together so that the three of us who were teaching together could work—and also play.  Each year has been a delight.

This year, for a variety of reasons, most likely was the last.  Everything we did I found myself enjoying at a heightened level, wanting to soak in all the goodness and joy.  The loss feels like it leaves a big hole, and I grieve.

Life is full of losses.  Things come and things go.  Some losses—such as the death of a beloved family member, the loss of a home, the destruction of dreams—are very hard, and sometimes even tragic.  As we age and die, everything our egos have held dear, bit by bit, is lost.  So my poignant loss of the New Year’s gathering is an opportunity to learn and practice the art of letting go.  Maybe then the harder losses can be handled with more equanimity than they otherwise would be.

It seems to me that there are several practices that are a part of letting go.  One is gratitude.  Any loss that we grieve—whether originally a treasure or a trial—had in it something that was precious.   Spending time knowing, feeling, remembering what was good lets us take deeper into our cells that joy.  Adding gratitude is a reminder that these good things are from Something or Someone greater than we are, which adds perspective and a bigger picture.

When anger or deep unhappiness comes with the loss, it may help to look at what is going on with, or what is under, these feelings. Forgiveness may be a key practice for letting go. It lets us release the poison we feed on in our anger while thinking to do harm to the other, and frees us to move forward.

Letting go isn’t easy.  Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt.  They hadn’t journeyed far before the people began to complain and wish they were back in Egypt.  When Jesus told his disciples he was going to die, they did not like that idea, and when it happened, they were at first at a loss.  But as Jesus’ death opened new possibilities, so our losses can be a door into something new.  May we learn to let go so we can watch for and see the gift that can come in the loss.

Queries:

What is your experience with loss and letting go?

How does faith fit into your practice of letting go?

Prayer:

Loving God, thank you for the blessings that we have known in that which is now gone.  Stand with us and strengthen us as we let go into what is to come.

For further reference:

“You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (See Mark 10: 17-21).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (See Revelation 21: 1-5).

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Judge Not that You Be Not Judged

I awoke one morning obsessing about a situation that had gone wrong. Certainly I had made mistakes I could learn from. But lying in bed I didn’t focus on the good that had come from the problem. Instead I was judging myself. I scolded me for being inadequate and incompetent, and I wondered if there was anything I could do well. My self-judgment was harsh.

Fortunately I spoke with my spiritual director, who gave me perspective. What I experienced from her was God’s love. We agreed that it is wise to evaluate problematic situations and to learn the lessons they contain—to make those kinds of judgments. But, when I judge myself in a condemning way, I am acting as the ultimate judge—as God. That blocks God’s love and keeps me from facing reality and, if appropriate, making changes.

Being overly self-critical, which makes it hard to receive love, makes it easy to judge others. The less love one is able to receive, the less one has to give. The more I pick at everything wrong with me, the more I do the same to you, and the more likely you will do that back to me. The wounds multiply. Compassion–God’s love and mercy that heals—is missing.

Queries:

When have you judged yourself or others or been judged by others?

What helps you be in the flow of God’s love?

What is your experience of compassion or forgiveness that is helpful to you?

Prayer:                                

Repeat the Lord’s Prayer—“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . .” You may want to rewrite it in your own words.

For further reflection:

“Judge not that you be not judged. . .” (See Matthew 7: 1-5).

“Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (See Matthew 18: 23-35).

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (See Psalm 51). You may want to read this psalm in different translations. Consider Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying.

Love Your Enemies

There is a certain woman who interacts with me in a way that results in my feeling as if she has shoved me into a corner with her arm pushed up against my neck, threatening bodily harm if I don’t do what she wants. My feeling is irrational, but it makes me think about Jesus’ call to us to love our enemies.

How can I love this woman!? Much less a real enemy–someone who threatens my very existence and what I value most dearly. My first reaction is to find a way to strike back.

Jesus tells us that anyone can love those who love them. He seems to see that kind of love as simply natural (See Matthew 5: 43-48). Yet for Jesus, something different has become possible for those to whom he speaks. Some people read this injunction and give up on being able to follow the teachings of Jesus, or decide that this passage is one to ignore. But I find the charge an invitation to consider what, at least at first, doesn’t seem possible.

When I can know myself inwardly as loved and acceptable (that is, find myself grounded in God), then I can allow the other person to be who she is. I recognize my own fears and shortcomings. I feel compassion. I let her carry herself the way she wants to, and I respond without having my response be determined by how she’s acted toward me. I calmly provide the information she asks for and let the results be what they are.

Queries:

Who do you see as threatening your existence or what you value? What is weakness and what is power in the face of threat from an enemy? (What are you called to in response to the killing in Charleston?)

How does being in Christ change how you can respond to an enemy?

Prayer:

“Pray for those who persecute you.” Holding the person or situation in your heart, with your eyes closed and using your imagination, or by writing in a journal, ask to be given insight about your reaction and what door would open you to love.

For further reflection:

“Love your enemies . . .” (See Luke 6: 27-36).

“Do not fret because of the wicked . . .” (See Psalm 37: 1-8).