Almost every day my life crosses with someone who is living with some form of loss.
One day I am standing in a driveway talking to a man who is slowly watching Alzheimer’s claim his wife one memory at a time.
Another day I am visiting a woman in a nursing home with the same disease that has advanced so far with her that she has lost all cognitive ability to recognize me, carry on a meaningful conversation, or even acknowledge my presence.
I have listened to people that have lost their jobs, prayed with people that have lost their health, heard stories of the emotional trauma of miscarried babies, and shared the anger of those whose children have been wounded and violated by others.
Not long ago I was preparing messages from the Sermon on the Mount. When I came to the passage about divorce I thought about the many friends I have who have gone through the loss of relationships because of their divorces, not just from their spouses, but of other family and friends because the promises of a long life together came to an unexpected end.
Eight times this past year I have gone to the graveside with members of my church. Life on this earth ended for their loved ones. No longer could they reach out and hold that person, talk to her, ask for advice, sit quietly and be comforted by his presence, or be frustrated because they could not agree or get along. Let’s be honest. Not everything about a loved one is missed.
However, any person or anything of value that is lost is grieved.
Many people do not recognize this or understand this. Many people do not understand that the emotion they are experiencing when they have lost something is grief.
Some don’t allow themselves space to heal. Consequently, joy doesn’t return. Depression sets in. Life can become like an old abandoned house where things just continue to deteriorate inside and out without changed habits or better emotional health.
I stopped by my grandparents’ old house not long ago. The back porch has rotted and fallen off. Boards are bucking up on the porch. It has been left for the elements to claim.
The porch swing I used to swing in as a boy sits in ruins right where it fell when the chain rusted through.
We all lose a lot when we move away from home, when we leave childhood for adulthood. It’s true that you can never go home again. I don’t grieve that so much, because we gain a lot, too. I accepted that years ago.
I grieve that the old home place is not treated with any care or reverence and we can no longer use it and have the joy of gathering there.
While it is true, it’s all just wood, land, old buildings and stuff, it was around all those things that my grandparents made a home and a life together. It’s where we built memories and cared for each other.
It’s where we ate and slept. It’s where Daddy Floyd hung his hat and Grandmother sewed on the old Singer sewing machine and made biscuits every morning.
It’s where we cleaned fish, gathered eggs, made homemade ice cream when the cousins came. It’s where Grandmother canned pear preserves and made blackberry jelly. It’s where she read letters from her sons that went off to the military.
It’s where Daddy Floyd killed hogs for family and friends and raised cows and walked across fields carrying a hundred-pound sack of fertilizer under each arm to the garden. He was a man’s man.
It’s where the Bible was read and prayers were said. It’s one place I learned the meaning of family and was one of the places I knew I was loved.
This house is slowly rotting like stump in the woods. However, as long as I have a good mind these memories will not pass away.
Still, the slow loss of the home place is painful to see. Its slow demise is a reminder that anything that isn’t tended to will result in loss. Some things not tended to result in far greater loss than an old house.
So, today, make sure you tend to what’s most important. Jesus told us what is most important when he said to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Love God. Love others. Love yourself.
We usually love ourselves too much so we live selfishly. God wants us to balance our self-love by loving others with that kind of passion and attention. The only way to come close to accomplishing that is to love God more than we love ourselves or anyone or anything.
Because God loves us unconditionally, God is always working to help us put loss in perspective. Even as we experience loss, God is the business of making all things new.
God will show us and teach us how to grieve in healthy ways so that He can show us purpose and opportunities for service even in the midst of loss which can help us find joy again in life.
Everyone experiences loss. It is as unavoidable as breathing is to living. We have to learn is how to breathe in loss without it causing our breathing to stop.
God wants to help us exhale and then to breathe in new life, growth, and possibility. This takes time. Some seasons of grief are longer than others.
However, life after loss is always different. It will never be the same or look the same. We are never the same. But because of God, life after loss does not have to be hopeless. It can still be hopeful and even joyful. And we can find a new purpose after loss. This is a process that takes time.
While there is little hope that I’ll ever swing again from that old swing on my grandparents’ front porch of their old house, I know there are other swings and other children calling me to come and join them as we make new memories together.
So, I’ll not dwell on the old broken-down swing out there on that porch. It means nothing to the people who drive by it every day, but it’s sad to me. However, I’d rather focus on the beautiful 21-month-old child I’m pushing in the swing in my back yard who says, “More, more,” each time I try to stop.