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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Waiting in Darkness

There are many beautiful and powerful passages in the Bible prophesying or promising God’s full reign on earth.  God will create “new heavens and a new earth.”  “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.”  “They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”  “God will put God’s law within the people, and write it on their hearts.”  “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

Some of us know the agony of waiting more than others.  A mother longs for her challenged child to be able to overcome his limitations and live a fulfilling life.  But she waits in the darkness, not knowing.  African-Americans wonder how long their dream of true freedom and equality will be deferred.  Waiting so long for the reality of the wellbeing promised, we face a number of temptations.  One is to assume that God simply does not exist, that solving the world’s problems (and ours) is all up to us.  Other responses are hopelessness, despair, anger, and self-righteousness, which tend to be self-destructive.  Instead how can we hold onto the beauty and comfort of these promises and find value in the waiting and darkness?

I believe that living in hope brings a better world than living in hopelessness.  I think we have glimpses or moments of knowing inwardly that the promises are true.  And our lives lived in the glow of those help us live more in the promises, making the world better.

I think our logical thinking does not get us to the world we long for, but rather tends to turn us in wrong directions and selfish pursuits.  I think, rather, that we are spiritually formed in the darkness.  Like a seed.  Spiritual growth comes in letting go and loving God inwardly and outwardly.  The waiting we do provides the time and conditions for this growth in grace and truth, allowing us to peer into the darkness and see the Light that is always there.  In the darkness we learn our true proportion; we cannot push God around.

Queries:

What helps you live in disappointment and unknowing?

What promises are meaningful to you?

Prayer:

Teach me your ways, O Holy One, and keep me on your path.

For further reference:

“The lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . .They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (See Isaiah 11: 6-9.)

“The kingdom is not coming with things that can be observed. . . For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (See Luke 17: 20-21.)

Lost Baggage

On a trip to Rome for the wedding of a relative who grew up there and whose parents still live in Rome, my husband and I arrived but our suitcases didn’t.  Trying to sleep the second night we were there, lying in bed wearing my friend’s nightgown, I fretted.  Not only was I missing my clothes for coping with the heat of Rome and the special dress I had picked for the wedding, I was missing jewelry I had packed, including several pieces of some value and much sentimental significance.

I felt foolish for having packed the necklaces, helpless in the face of cultural and language barriers and airline run-arounds, and pained by the mistakes and losses.  I lay there hurting.  Eventually I turned to prayer—not so much the kind with words addressed to God requesting a fix or a rescue, but more putting my heart in the goodness of God.  At a certain point I felt myself let go.  I valued the clothes and jewelry; but as far as I knew they were gone, and they were only things, possessions.  I had a choice—to be miserable or to make the best of things and be open and present to the adventure.

I had a wonderful time.  Letting go of fretting about my losses also let go much of my usual need to be in control and even my perfectionism.  In the week we were in Rome I found joy all over the place.  And that joy has followed me home, allowing even more spiritual and psychological changes and freedom.

In reflecting on the experience I find myself back in the Lord ’s PrayerGive us this day our daily bread.  As I understand these words, all we need is what God knows we need for this one day.  All the extra is unnecessary, maybe even baggage that gets in the way of life.  I still have too much stuff, and I’m not interested in losing anything.  But I do have a taste of another way.

(P.S.: We did retrieve our luggage, with no items missing, one month after it should have arrived in Rome.)

Queries:

What baggage would you benefit from letting go?

Where can you go for comfort and direction when things go wrong?

Prayer:

Creator and Sustainer, help me to know what really matters and to be able to let go of the rest.

For further reflection:

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (See Luke 12: 13-21.)

“. . . do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . (See Matthew 6: 25-34).

Be Still

Today I have a full day—exercise at 11, lunch at 12:15, haircut at 3, conference call at 5, and meeting at 7. I am feeling anxious and distracted. I don’t feel overwhelmed, because most of these activities are not responsibilities but opportunities for fun and friendship. But I do feel ungrounded. God is “out there,” and I am not in touch. It feels as if I am a stack of children’s alphabet blocks. The stack has been kicked and each separate block is flying around unpredictably in space.

There have been other times when I was at odds with myself and did feel overwhelmed. I was busy with responsibilities and things to do, and some of that included frequent checking email and fiddling with my smart phone. Everything seemed too much.   I stopped, I unplugged and was still.

Maybe in these situations, the quieting comes in yoga class. Maybe it comes in a walk around the block by myself, being aware of the sounds of birds and the beauty around me. Especially if I recognize soon enough the racing that is going on inside of me as I do one thing after another, maybe it is simply sitting down and breathing. Simply being quiet, re-grounding, letting the blocks be put back into a plumb-lined stack. Breathing in the Spirit, letting go the racing. Letting the heartbeat find the divine rhythm.

Queries:

How do you discern when you are doing too much, or when you are not doing what you do need to be doing?

How do electronics figure into your life? How do you keep their use in their rightful place?

What helps you re-find your anchor?

Prayer:

Stop and breathe. Stay with it long enough to find the flow. Be mindful of what you learn from this praying.

For further reflection:

“Only one thing is needed . . .” (Luke 10: 38-42).

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God . . .” (See Philippians 4: 4-7).