This is a sermon I gave last year, abbreviated a little for space. We were still recovering emotionally from Ara’s accident and I was feeling very reflective about losses and how they affect your life.
I have been reading JoAnn Lyon’s book, the Ultimate Blessing, in her chapter about the blessing of loss. Last week I talked about the blessing of holiness, what it is, why we need it and how we can find it in the chaos of this world. God calls us to be holy and expects us to be holy but we can’t get there without loss. Ecclesiastes reminds us that we are born to die, that is our lot in life. How can we face our mortality without a sense of sorrow or fear? Yes, the reality is that all things will end; we may lose our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our favorite hunting dog. You might miss the kids when they go off to school for the day or for a semester. Your best friend, your confidant, may move to another town and you experience a sense of grief or sorrow. The stock market may crash and you might lose a million bucks. How can you face the losses in this life? In 2005 in some of my darkest hours I found this poem by Elizabeth Bishop, called: “One Art”
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
As you grow older you lose your memory, not the one with the kids laughing and the best birthday party you ever had, but the shorter memories like where you were just going, what was on your short shopping list and that last thought you had that was so good. But the loss is not terrible, just irritating. Sometimes I wish I could forget those events that dig down deep and hurt so badly but they seem to be stuck in my soul. They are terrible and painful but I have learned and important lesson on how to cope with them. I have learned the hard way to lay everything down as an offering to the Lord, to depend on Jesus and let the Holy Spirit teach me daily how to deal with my life.
When we are faced with loss, no matter what kind of loss, we have to make choices. We have to choose first of all, how we are going to deal with the loneliness, fear, anger, grief and gnawing pain of loss. Some folks may choose to make it into a public issue, a drama like Shakespeare. Young people can empathize with Romeo and Juliet, the drama of lost young love and death. The loss here was to the families who lost their children and who had to learn a new sense of right and wrong. The young couple wouldn’t come back, they have gone on, but the parents have to continue to get up and face the day for years to come.
In our personal lives, how can we develop a good attitude toward pain and suffering? By being in a right relationship with God and most of all, choosing his offer of comfort over our desire for drama. There are promises of help for God’s people in times of suffering–
Psalms 46:1-3 1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Consider the emotions Jesus went through in Matthew 26:39: “39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Could any of us say that we have suffered as Jesus suffered? But Jesus showed us that we must let God rule in our hearts and in our lives. Accept God’s kingship in your life and accept His guidance. Jesus was fully obedient to His Father, laying down His life as He was called to do. Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” We need to focus on a daily life that is as pure as we are able in this distorted and evil world.
Listen to Lamentations 3:19-26 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
We trust in Him who is our Savior, He who sacrificed so much for us. We try to emulate Him in our lives. “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” Said Mark Twain. Our lives may not seem so clearly laid out and easy to respond to the call from God, the issues can be confusing and hard to see. That’s why we need friendships and a
community to help us. In community we also need to remember that others may also be experiencing a sense of loss. Friends and counselors can help us sort out issues to make them easier to handle. In Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Fear not, He says in Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Healing after any loss takes time. Losing financial security, a home, a family member, or developing a serious illness such as
cancer all require changes and loses. 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Try to relax into the fear and let time heal some of the pain. The following prayer might provide you with a way to ask God to bless and heal those grieving from any loss, that they may find wholeness in the midst of their pain: “God, You wept as Lazarus was laid into the tomb, yet You also gave him new life. Grant us new life, too, as we journey through losses like a cancer diagnosis or loss of spouse. Hold our hand no matter how rocky the path, and remind us, no matter how badly we feel, remind us that we are Your beloved children, with whom You are well pleased. Heal me, Lord if you will, in body, mind, and spirit, and make me whole again in You. Amen.”
Grief takes time and energy as an individual heals from a loss. With prayer, you can invite God on the journey through grief to wholeness and rely on God’s power and presence to heal, guard, and bless all who mourn. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 a chapter
called: The God of All Comfort 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
Grieving a loss takes time, but there may be joys along the way, such as a remission of cancer, a new relationship, and new healing within a grieving family. The following prayer thanks God for new life in the midst of grief. Grieving the loss of a loved one, job, or period in one’s life is normal. The following prayers —prayer for grieving a death, blessing for healing from loss, prayer for tears, and thanksgiving for new life — invite God into your grieving process.
In this case it is also important to know that we are not victims, and that maybe we cannot avoid feeling pain due to our loss, but that suffering is optional. We choose to suffer. We need to recognize our part in the loss and then we can give our loss, worry, or struggle to God. We can lay it on His altar, to repent and ask for His guidance. We need to know that sometimes people appear in or leave from our lives and it gives us new opportunities. These times can be a gift, a blessing. They help us recognize the things we need to change and work on in ourselves. If we decide to accept 100 percent of the responsibility and abstain from reacting or blaming, we can really find ourselves and discover how truly powerful we are. Sometimes losses help us find our real inner core, the strength that God gave us to rely on. Then we realize we can change our lives without depending on anything or anybody outside of ourselves.
The Native Americans realized at some point that the power of the invading force of Europeans was more than they could resist. Although some didn’t grasp the huge advancing body of people, others realized that their way of life was coming to an end and just gave up. The pain and sorrow was too much, they were walking around dead like sleep walkers. Others suffered the loss of their culture by drinking alcohol to drown out the pain. Some gave up their lives in quick suicide and despair. Others turned to God and found solace in submission. I found this Native American prayer called:
PRAYER FOR THE WHITE MAN
“And now, Grandfather, I ask you to bless the White Man. Heneeds your Wisdom, your guidance. You see, for so long, he has tried to destroy my people, and only feels comfortable when given power. Bless them, show them the peace we understand, teach them humility. For I fear they will someday destroy themselves and their children, As they have done so Mother Earth. I plead, I cry. After all, They are my Brothers.”
And then I found this Pueblo Indian Blessing:
“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself. Hold
on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here. Hold on to life even when it is easier letting go. Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”
Yes, even loss can be a blessing sometimes. You don’t learn much from basking in the easy days but you learn much about yourself and others when the tough times force you to think. Remember to relax, take a deep breath and stand straight and tall. Let God direct you on your path to happiness and you will find joy lurking there. Amen.