We are told, as God's people, to "fear not". But in the face of so much loss and suffering in the world, I hardly blame anyone who does fear. Loss can often breed fear, depression, and a lingering sadness that rests within our soul. Sometimes we can't put our finger on why the sadness is there; it just is.
I've lived with this lingering sadness most of my life. It's only been very recently, as I've turned more fiercely to Jesus Christ for relief, that I'm beginning to see it weaken, as bit by bit I bring it before the Lord in prayer, often with tears.
All of us, whether believer or unbeliever, have lost many good things in our lives. We've lost the intimacy of cherished relationships that have broken apart; or a sense of safety through violence and hatred done against us; or innocence in the face of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse; or love through abandonment and neglect; or the loss of home through warfare; health through diseases; children through illness, accidents, or death; the loss of country through political upheaval; and the loss of life through natural disasters, accidents, bombings, shootings, and various diseases. Those who are in Jesus have even lost the comfort that they once found in sin.
What have you lost in your life? Maybe everything. Maybe things that are intangible, too, like the loss of childhood dreams, or the loss of hope for healing of bodies or of broken relationships, or even the loss of your faith in God. You may have lost a friend to cancer, a child to disease, a spouse to death, or a lover to circumstance. Maybe longtime relationships are being brought to an end. Maybe you've lost money or your house or your job through troubled times or bad investments.
Sometimes life has felt like one long series of losses. When we're born, we lose the security of our mother's womb. As children, we go off to school and lose the security of our home. We lose the freedom of our childhood when we get our first job. If we get married, we lose the options we had as bachelors or bachelorettes. If we don't get married, we lose the opportunity to experience marital love. When we grow old, we lose our good looks, our bodies begin to fall apart, our friends begin to die, and when we die, we physically lose it all.
How can we cope with so much loss? How do we find our hope in the midst of so many opportunities to despair?
Acceptance is the answer to how we begin to enter into the healing that God has promised each of us. And when we accept what we've lost, we're free to mourn what we've lost.
Henri Nouwen, priest, spiritual director, and writer of many books on walking with Jesus, wrote the following on mourning our losses in order to find joy in God:
"The question is not whether you have experienced loss, but rather how you live your losses. Are you hiding them? Are you pretending they aren't real? Are you refusing to share them with fellow travelers on the road to Christ? Are you trying to 'go it alone' or convince yourself that your losses are 'no big deal' compared to your gains? Are you blaming others for what you've suffered?There is another option--the possibility of mourning and, when mourning, the possibility of finding others who will mourn with you. Yes, you can mourn your losses. You cannot talk or act them away, but you can shed tears over them and allow yourself to grieve deeply. You can never get to the joy if you dare not cry, if you do not have the courage to weep, if you don't take the opportunity to experience the pain. The world says, 'Just ignore it, be strong, don't cry, get over it, move on.' But if you don't mourn you can become bitter. All your grief can go right into your deepest self and linger there for the rest of your life.Better to mourn your losses than to deny them. Dare to feel your losses. Dare to grieve them. Name the pain and say, 'Yes, I feel real pain, real fear, real loss; and I am going to embrace it. I will take up the cross in my life, and accept it.' To fully grieve is to allow your losses to tear apart feelings of false security and safety and lead you to the painful truth of your brokenness and dependence upon God alone. Finally, you come to the point where you can honestly say: 'Yes! This is my life, painful as it is, and I will accept it.'"
Only God knows how much we've lost in our lives. And we'll lose much more, as our lives continue on. We are, after all, called to lose our lives, for Christ's sake, in order to find the life he has for each of us. But my friends can tell you how hard it's been for me to bring the pain of these losses to Jesus, to trust in a god who I've only perceived as taking, never giving.
Over the past couple of months, however, I've begun to trust him again and have, in knowing him better, become more open to laying my wounds out before him and grieving the pain in my heart for all the things I've held dear but could never have. And right in the middle of my grief, when I sometimes have experienced my deepest sadness, something new began to happen. In the pain, I began to get in touch with a sense of expectation that ran much deeper. I began to feel understood by a god I couldn't see but who could see me, and in that understanding, I also began to see that this same god could lift me out of my grief and could replace my losses in his good time. It was the beginning of hope.
True healing begins at the moment we can face the reality of our losses and let go of the illusions of control. We can only do this safely in the presence of the one who knows what it's like to suffer as we have, and who has promised us the help of his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus himself, in the midst of the struggle to grieve.
Nouwen writes, "This is what mourning is all about: allowing the pain of our losses to enter our hearts; having the courage to let our wounds be known to ourselves and felt by ourselves; embracing the freedom to cry out to God in anguish, or to scream in protest--and so risk being led into that inner space of the heart, where God can respond and speak to that pain, and joy can be found."