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Embracing Loss to Discover Life

Embracing Loss to Discover Life

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. — John 16:33 NLT

Have you ever given up anything for Lent? I’ve always really liked the idea of sharing in a season of repentance and reflection with the global Christian community. I mean, in theory. Despite my good intentions, I almost never remember Lent is happening until we’re already three or four days in.

At that point, I’m deep into the leftover king cake, and I’ve already spent several hours watching TV and scrolling mindlessly on my phone. So sugar, television, and social media fasts have to be struck from the list, right? Then I scramble to find some treat or habit I haven’t indulged in since Lent began. I usually squeak by with something slightly less concrete, like gossiping or complaining. (It still counts! You know you’ve done it too.) 

During a recent Lenten season, a friend posted online about her fascinating decision to give up her “illusion of immortality.” Intense, I know. She explained that if Lent prepares us to observe the role of death in Christ’s story, it should also prepare us to confront the role of death in our own stories. So for forty days she set aside time to actively acknowledge and reflect on her eventual death and the deaths of all the people she loves. (Needless to say, she’s a riot at parties!)

As I followed her online revelations, I had a revelation of my own. By very different means and without consent, I had given up my illusion of immortality too. At twenty-six years old, I’d seen and touched and tasted death when I suffered a catastrophic stroke without warning.

To me, death was no longer an abstraction. It was an actual experience, and now I had to decide what to do with that. 

I’m most tempted to dig my heels into denial. To deflect with empty optimism. To numb out to the pain (hence the king cake and the TV and the scrolling). I want to do whatever the opposite of a Lenten death reflection is.

At the end of my friend’s forty-day practice, she shared how she’d come to understand that death is not something to be denied, avoided, or even begrudgingly accepted. Death makes the expanse of a lifetime finite and therefore precious. Death is like the gilded frame that gives definition to our living days. It’s the built-in counterbalance that throws all beauty and goodness and aliveness into greater relief.

Death is not to be ignored.

I think all this is true of literal, end-of-life death. But it’s also true of all our losses. What is loss if not a type of death, after all? The death of a dream or a relationship or an ability. Before my online friend could see death for what it really was, she had to be brave enough to get on eye level with it, spend time with it, and call it by its name. The same, I think, can be said for our losses. 

If you’ve spent more than twenty-four hours on earth, you’ve probably figured out that this place can be just a little dark. And sometimes, pitch-black. If you are of the Christian tradition like I am, then you know our shared faith doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the dark stuff. In fact, the first few sentences of the Bible tell us that God carved the world out of a formless, empty void. Ages and ages later, Jesus reiterated the same idea without mincing any words:

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. — John 16:33

Hey, you can’t say He didn’t warn us! 

The very raw material of reality is darkness. So why are we taken by total surprise when suffering and sorrow find us, and why are we so prone to want to wish it away?  

Ignoring loss, denying grief, numbing out to pain, or strong-arming our souls into premature closure are all such tempting tactics. But these routes are less than useful. And maybe even harmful in the long run.

  • Before we can heal, we have to grieve what’s been lost.

We have to look at our empty hands and feel the heavy absence of the thing we loved. Naming our hurts is the beginning of seeing the goodness of our lives with clearer eyes. What is grief, after all, if not leftover love? To mourn a loss is to recognize a good gift you had.

  • To take its full form, resurrection requires both life and loss.

I learned that from Jesus Himself, who died a very real death to prove that a second-chance life is available to us, be it symbolic or literal. When I don’t name the deaths and the losses and the hurts, I rob myself of the full experience of the new life that follows. If death is inevitable, it might as well be useful.

Jesus’ second-chance life set into motion a staggered but certain rhythm of resurrection, echoing through reality: disappointment then delight, hard then good, wounding then healing, loss then gain, death then new life.

But before I can begin to experience resurrection, I have to grieve what’s been lost. If it’s true for me, could it be true for you too?

God, when the night is darkest, when the pain feels overwhelming, when loss and grief crouch at our doorstep — the light of Your presence orients us. You hold us close, lift our heads, comfort us, and speak into our hungry souls the promise of life with You and the hope of our heavenly home. Thank you, God. Amen.

Adapted with permission from Treasures in the Dark by Katherine Wolf, copyright Katherine Wolf.

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Your Turn

Have you grieved what has been lost? Maybe it feels like as a Christian, that isn’t ok. But, it is. We’re going to suffer and have deep troubles here on earth because it was broken by our sin. Jesus knows that we’ll face dark nights of the soul and He will be here for us through it all. Let’s lean on the One who loves us unto death. ~ Devotionals Daily