This week Nate got two pieces of mail, reminders of someone who used to live with us but now is missing. One envelope even said, “We want you back!” It used to hurt when this kind of thing happened, but after 3½ years, it doesn’t zap me like it used to. I know my heart is healing, and I’m grateful.
But there will be more pain-producing moments in the future. It’s true for all of us, since no life is without its share of grief. If we aren’t dealing with a loved one’s death, we’re processing other losses – a job, a prodigal child, a bank account, an opportunity, a friendship, a home.
Of the billions who’ve lived on the earth, not one has escaped travail. We can trace that back to the first humans when they lost Eden, and that was just for starters. Never, as long as we live, will there be a loss-less life.
So how do we cope with such a dismal prospect?
Surely God doesn’t want us to live on red-alert beneath a banner that says, “WATCH OUT!” Scripture tells us, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.” (Ecclesiastes 7:4) This probably means that as we move through life’s losses from grief to healing, we somehow gain wisdom along the way. If life is hunky-dory, we don’t learn much.
The biblical Paul insisted that every struggle he endured (when persecuted for his faith) was minor compared to what he gained in the way of salvation. This was quite a mouthful, considering all he’d experienced:
- temporary blindness
- 195 lashes (He kept track.)
- 3 beatings with rods
- 1 stoning with intent to kill
- 3 shipwrecks at sea
- multiple robberies
- unnumbered whippings
- intense physical pain
- severe thirst and hunger
- extreme cold without proper clothes
- multiple imprisonments
- the deaths of friends
Each of these included painful loss and a struggle to heal, physically and also emotionally. But Paul was willing, actually eager, to tackle trouble for two reasons: (1) to testify to God’s bringing him through; and (2) to grow in wisdom.
Most of us won’t have to cope with such a list of agonies. But as we endure different losses, we have a choice: to respond as Paul did, leaning into God’s sustenance, or to resist healing, clinging to our losses.
When I see Nate’s name in my mail, I miss him a great deal, but I no longer cry over the envelopes, a credit to God, not me. As the Giver of all gifts, he’s shown me he continues to give, in the midst of our losses. Hans and Katy’s new baby will be born in a week or so, and soon after that we’ll witness Klaus and Brooke’s wedding. Nate won’t be with us for either of these major events, but just like Paul, I have a choice. I can continue weeping over my loss, or I can rejoice in my gains.
The choice is easy.
“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10 )