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Dealing with Loss

How do we deal with loss? I’ll tell you how I deal with it: NOT well. I guess a more accurate way of putting it is that I feel lost. When I lose a loved one, I feel as though the compass of my heart is spinning around and around in circles, with no hope of finding North anytime soon.

I once heard someone say that God gave us feelings like anger and sadness so that we could know when something was not right, so that we could recognize when a situation is not the way it’s supposed to be. Death was and is something that was never supposed to be.

When God first created the world, He created it perfectly. There was no sickness, or pain, or death; but then sin entered the world, and God’s perfect pattern of creation was shattered. Now, we live in a world where there is sickness. We live in a world where pain and death are everyday occurrences. Yet, whenever there is a loss of life in our lives (the death of a parent, sibling, child, friend, peer, coworker, or perhaps a life that had yet to be born into this world) our bodies and souls react as if they have been wronged, because they have been wronged; we’ve been wronged. Our hearts cry out, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be!” and you know what? They’re right! This was not God’s original plan for us.

This past week, the sudden death of a high school friend and brother in Christ had my heart tearing in two. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, and part of my sadness has been over how much I wish I’d had more time to get to know him, to talk with him. But there is one occasion I remember with great tenderness when both he and I were traveling with our church’s youth group to the beach.

At that time in my life, I was dealing with a lot of insecurity; I was having friendship troubles that left me questioning my self-worth and withdrawing further and further into my own, little self-loathing corner of the world. I hadn’t even wanted to go on this trip, but somehow, I ended up on the bus, sitting quietly by myself. And then, there was Michael. Sweet, sweet Michael, who spent an entire hour-and-a-half or more coaxing me out of my shell by simply talking with me. With his bright eyes and encouraging smile, he made me feel like I mattered, like I was worth talking to. What’s more, he listened when I talked, with rapt and genuine attention. It was one of the most well-balanced conversations I’ve ever had; I talked about school and my writing, and he talked about his school and hockey. Here I was, a whole two years older than this guy, and he was the one making me feel welcomed on this trip; he was the one reaching out to me with the caring and compassionate nature of Jesus. In Michael’s moment of kindness, I truly experienced the all-accepting, ever-pursuing, life-affirming love of God and in that moment, I realized how special Michael was.

So, when I heard of his tragic passing, I was devastated. More than that, my heart broke over what I could only guess his family was and is going through. I thought about his parents and how hard it must be for them, to have created something so beautiful together and out of love, to watch this adorable baby boy grow up before their eyes, graduate high school, get ready to go off to college, and then to lose him without warning. I thought about his sisters and how hard it must be, to spend your whole life growing up with someone, experiencing all the joys of life (birthdays, holidays, summer vacations) and then overnight realizing that those moments will never be the same again because your family will never be the same again. Most especially, I think of Michael’s older sister. I tried to put myself in her shoes, and, having a younger brother myself, wasn’t able to fathom it without immense pain and many tears. All I kept thinking was, “Older siblings should not outlive their younger ones”.

About a day or so after I heard the news about Michael, I felt drawn to a passage of Scripture that only the Lord could have known I was going to need. He brought me to Psalm 61, and I have read it every day since Michael went home to Heaven.

The two things I love most about this Psalm can be found in verses 2 and 5. In verse 2, the Psalmist states that, “From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. ‘  When I read that, I walk away having learned three things: 1) that no matter where I am, I can call to God for help, 2) when words fail me, I can cry out to God, confident that He will hear me, and lastly, 3) I can wear my heart out on my sleeve when I come to God. I don’t need to hold anything back from Him because he can handle it, even when everything in my life seems “overwhelming”.

How comforting it is to know that we have a God who not only can handle the grief, pain, anger, and sorrow we experience over dealing with loss, but that he actually understands it! Just think about how he must have felt when he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

Verse 5 is also full of comfort for those dealing with loss, but for different reasons entirely. In this verse, the Psalmist writes, “For you have heard my vows, O God. You have given me an inheritance reserved for those who fear your name.” The “inheritance” David is writing about here is the salvation that comes when we acknowledge that we are sinners and accept our need for Jesus; these are our “vows” and as soon as we declare them before God, we inherit eternal life. For those of us who have already left this earth and joined Jesus in our Heavenly Home, the inheritance is no longer “reserved”, it is active!

What a joyful revelation and comfort it is to know that even though loved ones like Michael are not alive with me here on earth, they are alive and thriving in the presence of the Creator, and that when the time comes, I’ll be reunited with them again. My own inheritance will be fully fulfilled. This glorious hope is enough to keep me going even on the darkest of days, and it’s all because of Jesus. He is the true source of our hope.

So, whenever you feel lost in the forest of despair, examine the compass of your heart: In what direction is it pointed? On temporary sorrows, or the eternal hope of Jesus? Then, remind yourself of these simple truths:

  1. Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, I can bring my heart to God.
  2. Even though I miss my loved one(s) right now, because of my inheritance in Jesus, I can look forward to seeing them in Heaven someday.

With your heart-compass fixed on Jesus as your True North and true source of hope, it’s only a matter of time before you find your way again

E.B.