Navigating Through Loss
Jim Martin is a long-time preacher in Churches of Christ and currently serves as vice president of Harding Graduate School of Theology in Memphis. Each week, Jim shares insights and encouragements for preachers. I am greatly blessed by his articles and tweets.
After this past week’s storm—and really the COVID-19 storm of the past year—I received great benefit from the following article. Please read it and meditate on it. Perhaps it will benefit you, too. I've added a few of my own thoughts at the end.
A few years ago, Susannah Smith wrote a fine article entitled “Loss: An Engine of Growth?” As the title suggests, the article was about loss and what it might contribute to our growth. After a difficult year like 2020, we might describe losses with examples such as these:
· The funerals we didn’t attend.
· The weddings we missed.
· The church services we watched online instead of being with fellow Christians personally.
· The Christmas that was virtual. So many experienced Christmas without families being physically present.
Yet, loss is not unique to a pandemic year but is a part of the human experience.
· When your M.D. tells you that the test results are in. She is concerned.
· When you learn that your son has left his wife and children.
· When you receive the news that you no longer have a job.
· When someone at your congregation, with whom you have spent hours serving and helping, tells you he is leaving for another congregation where he can get his “needs” met.
Loss hurts. Loss is hard. Loss can be exhausting. Yet, loss occurs not only personally but within the life of a congregation. I find these words from Smith helpful:
“Whatever the situation, a church leader is wise to tread carefully, recognizing that the disturbance caused by loss could open a door into a healthier way of being. It’s a good time for leaders to be curious about how the congregation has reacted to past losses. Did it find creative, imaginative ways to deal with loss that helped it move into the future with new direction and energy? Or, in its rush to restore its equilibrium and get past its sense of helplessness, did it apply a band-aid solution that avoided painful adjustments?”
She then says, “I think loss can be the engine of growth in our personal lives and in our relationship systems. The question that presents itself when we experience loss is, ‘Am I functioning through this loss in a way that leads to growth in myself and healthier relationships with others?’ If your answer is ‘yes’, keep on keeping on!”
There is great wisdom here. Are we responding to these losses in such a way as to enhance our maturing? Or, do we just react from raw emotion? Does my functioning reflect a growth and development as a result of these losses?
Jim Hays’ thoughts:
We have lost many things in the last year. Loss of freedom mainly. We’re not used to that. We can no longer travel freely, dine out freely, and worship freely. Some believe they’ve lost the ability to freely elect government officials or the ability to freely speak their thoughts without being “cancelled.” As a congregation, we have "lost" nine families in the pandemic year--nine!
In the article, Smith addresses the feeling of helplessness that sometimes overwhelms us in our loss. Feelings are real. Don’t let anybody tell you that you shouldn’t “feel” a certain way. What matters is how we deal with our feelings.
This Sunday morning, I will argue from scripture that no matter the circumstances, no matter the severity of the pandemic or the chilliness of the storm—if we have Jesus, we have everything we need.
By faith, you and I must grow in our relationship with Jesus. We must get to know Him intimately so that we don’t have to ask, “Who is this?” By faith, we know who Jesus is and what He is capable of (which is everything). By faith, we know that as long as Jesus is in our boat—or better, as long as we are in His boat—then we have nothing to fear.
Loss becomes something through which we find ourselves drawing closer to Him.
I pray that the pandemic has brought you closer to Jesus… that being without electricity and water this week has taught you to more deeply trust Jesus… that losing loved ones and freedoms has caused us to reevaluate the institutions and persons in which we place our trust and hope.
As we so often sing:
In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song This Cornerstone, this solid Ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace When fears are stilled, when strivings cease My Comforter, my All in All Here in the love of Christ, I stand.
As Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not fear. Only believe” (Mark 5:36).