More losses than I thought
I didn’t expect to suffer as many losses as I have in my thirties. Or maybe, I didn’t expect to learn to name the losses I’ve suffered so readily. I read Judith Viorist’s classic book Necessary Losses last week. It’s a wonderful journey through all of life’s major losses from birth until death, and it helped me to think about the losses I’ve suffered and the losses I may suffer in the future too.
Suffering loss is elemental to being a Christian. In fact, Jesus says that the only way to gain your life is to lose it. Jesus is familiar with loss and familiar with suffering. If you spend your whole life delaying loss, and avoiding suffering; or if you organize your family and friends to protect you from any negative feelings, you’ll be living a diminishment. And unfortunately, you’ll be living without consciousness of the loss of the life you could have had.
I want to share about three losses that I’ve endured and how I hope to grow beyond them here. Viorst says that enduring losses is necessary and a part of growing. It doesn’t make anything easier, though.
Loss of my childhood dad
My dad isn’t dead. Far from it, in fact. But the man who I wish he was when I was younger is gone. I have felt disappointed by my dad, and in becoming one, I can see how easy it is to disappoint your children. I had wished he loved me in different ways, affirmed me in different ways, and helped me overcome my tendency toward shame.
Dad wasn’t very emotionally-available or present. So I missed a lot of affection as a child and as a teen, and even as a young adult. I think he did his best to raise me. He gave me a lot of faith and taught me to work hard. I’m grateful for that. And I think I’m living proof that he had some success as a father. That doesn’t change the pain or the losses that I’ve experienced as a result of him, though. And I think it’s OK to name them.
But more than just enduring the losses is simply acceptance of who my dad was to me. He was, largely speaking, good enough. He wasn’t everything I needed to be, and that childlike idealism is something I needed to let go of. I’m better for letting go of it. As hard as it was for me to acknowledge that my dad wasn’t who I needed him to be, holding on to the hope that he might miraculously change and fulfill the needs of an 11-year-old doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and leads, necessarily, to more pain. It’s OK to let go of the bad and receive the good. As I learn to be gracious to dad, I can be gracious with myself.
And as I learn to name the pains and the losses of my father, I can rest on my Heavenly Father, one who won’t fail me (and who won’t fail my earthly one).
Loss of my friends
A painful reality of being a pastor and being a friend to many is the inevitability of losing some. I have recently gone through a series of losses that are painful. They bring a rare tear to my eye, even. Sometimes I lose a friend because I’m so disappointed in who they are and who they are becoming. It hurts when I’m one of their necessary losses. I wish it weren’t so and sometimes it feels like I’d do anything to not lose them. I’m not sure that’s been healthy for me. Some people need to go. Some people don’t tell long before they leave. It’s tempting to hold on, as if we can change reality. Letting go is OK.
But that doesn’t stop the pain. There are people that I think of almost every day that I haven’t seen in years. There are some losses that stick with me. My loved ones know who they are. Partners in the church. People I’ve known for my whole time in Philadelphia. People who were my intimates at one point in time.
My anger and sadness can get the best of me. I can resent people that have left me and hurt me. I can blame them for my failures and mistakes. But that isn’t fruitful. That doesn’t build up. It doesn’t make me into who I am.
Sometimes we necessarily lose our friends. People move away. People move on. They break up. They mess up. They run off. It’s still worth it for me to try to build something new. It’s still worth it to invest. It’s still worth it to love. To connect. To attach. Oh, the pain and suffering and loss that follows is inevitable. But the joy and hope and little piece of heaven that I feel in those relationships is worth the necessary risk and the necessary loss that might follow.
Loss of my faith
Once more, I didn’t lose my faith, thank God. But I might have if I tried to hold on to what it was ten or fifteen years ago. It’s hard to keep your faith if you aren’t committed to developing it and growing it. It’s a plant that needs to be nurtured and often times it also needs to be re-potted.
I grew up in a fundamentalist-style Evangelical family. Suffice it to say, that “pot” for my faith, would be hard to keep for very long. Too many of my friends break the pot and lose the contents of it. Sometimes deconstruction gets the best of it and we never repot our soil or plant; we simply think that the new pot is breaking pots. I’m not sure that’s good enough.
We need to reconstruct our faith. And not just once. You might need to do it daily. Pray, “Who are you God? And who am I?” That might give you a chance to reconstruct our faith again. But even doing it seasonally, yearly, and throughout your life matters. For every major loss we endure, there is a new opportunity for faith.
If we try to stay the same Christians as we were yesterday, I think our faith will get old. If we try to hold on to our parent’s faith, our faith might die.
The faith we had is a necessary loss. Holding loosely to what has been given us today, will help us move into something new. It’s hard to do that and take your faith seriously, though. We need a grounding that’s bigger than just our ideas and abstractions. We need a lived reality. We need a community, one that’s centered on a dialogue of love, not just a set of immutable doctrines. The former allows for an opportunity for development, the latter might just leave you without any.
Loss and gain are inextricable
There’s more I could say about this, of course. I have more losses to describe. We can touch careers, aspirations, marriages, and children. We can talk about loss of ability and loss of life, too. But I hope this gave you a helpful framework to forgive your parents, love your friends, and deepen your faith. I’ll leave you with the final words from Judith Viorist:
“As for our losses and gains, we have seen how often they are inextricably mixed. There is plenty we have to give up in order to grow. For we cannot deeply love anything without being vulnerable to loss. And we cannot become separate people, responsible people, connected people, reflectively people without some losing and leaving and letting go.”