As we here in South Africa pass the day 140 mark in our national pandemic lockdown we need to come to grips with dealing with loss. Although many of the more irksome regulations have now been lifted, we still live under the looming threat that they may all immediately return. The picture above is of my Granadella plant. It started well, spread across the trellis and was about to bear fruit. Then came winter, yet it still seemed to be surviving. But a Black Frost hit, and look at it now! I think that many of us are feeling like my Granadella plant or fear that we soon may.
Jailhouse BluesThe tragic loss of life for some, loss of income for many, and for almost everyone, the loss of things that bring us joy. A sense of loss is a part of grieving and has profound effects on our mental and even physical health. Conventional psychological wisdom says that we should express our grief, come to terms with it, and then accept that it will eventually pass. However, this does little to persuade the suicidal person from taking his own life, or the addictive personality from overdosing on ‘happy pills’, or the melancholic from succumbing to deep depression. So I am unconvinced that this advice is of enough practical use in dealing with multiple and sustained losses in our lives. Let me give a few examples of the kinds of loss that people (that’s us folks) have been dealing with. After that, I want to propose the best solution I know.
Loss Upon Loss
Some losses, like when a life partner dies, are certainly more profound than others, but when lesser losses come in quick succession, then the accumulative effect can also be severe. Even the pain of losing a loved one has been magnified in these days as the family members are prevented from being with them in their last days.
Loss of Touch
For many people, particularly elderly folks, the loss of touch is painful. We can’t hug our grandchildren or hold their hands as they cross the street. For those living alone, they can’t even reach out and touch a partner. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that as the pastor of two small churches he needs and wants to visit with his congregants, even if via Zoom. One old lady member is blind and poor of hearing and so he would visit her regularly in her home. Now, with social distancing and face-mask regulations, the best he could do was to stand outside her garden gate to talk with her. Her habit was always to greet him by reaching out to touch his face but now she could not. This was devastating for the old dear and she burst into a flood of tears.
Loss of Social Contact
I used to get much joy from regularly meeting with my long-term male friends. We would have breakfast together almost every week to share, joke, and enjoy each other’s company. I would also meet with a friend of thirty years for lunch once a month and we would spend up to five hours talking theology and solving the problems of the world (or so we thought). This is all gone now and may never return to what it was.
Loss of Resources
I am retired, and although interest rates have dropped dramatically, my wife and I are still blessed to be living well. However, many are not. Many have lost their jobs, their businesses, their investments, and their sources of income. This is a devastating loss and it is often accompanied by a loss of identity and purpose – who am I and what am I doing on this planet?
Loss of Trust
I and I suspect most of us, have lost trust in politicians and the media – not that we had that much trust in them to begin with. But I don’t want to make light of it because this is a big loss. We don’t know what information we can take seriously, let alone trust and act on. The men and women who are supposed to wisely and faithfully serve us, and who we reward handsomely with our income tax, betray our trust daily. They steal billions from us, make irrational and highly suspicious laws, and act, for the most part, with breathtaking incompetence.
So then, what do we do about this? Curl up into a fetal position and blubber? Lash out in violent protest? Immigrate if we still can? Perhaps not the best or even acceptable ways of dealing with loss… but there is a better way.
Peter’s Inspired Insight
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
There is material in these seven verses for several articles or sermons, but I want to make just one point. In and through Jesus Christ we have both a present hope and a future inheritance. This is a source of great joy even though our current conditions are dire. We cannot see Jesus now but we believe him and although he is not physically present with us, we love him. This is the essence and the purpose of our salvation, which is to know Jesus.
We may not be able to spend time with loved ones, friends, or Christian brothers and sisters, but we can spend time with Jesus. We may have lost health, income, or trust but we can build a healthy, rich and trusting relationship with him. Paul wrote: ‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.’ (Philippians 3:8)
How to Know Jesus
Just how do we come to know Jesus better? Firstly, we must be born again of his Spirit for how can we know someone who is spiritually discerned (Jesus Christ) if we are spiritually incapacitated? However, we then need to build our relationship with him and the most obvious way to do this is to spend time with him.
The full nature, character, and glory of God is embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ. He, the second personage of the Triune Godhead, came and lived among us as one of us. It is Jesus who said that if we have seen him then we have seen the Father (John 14:9). But how do we ‘see’ him now, in our time and circumstances? Well, one of the best ways is through a Spirit-led reading of the Gospels.
All of the bible is in-breathed of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and important, but the fullest revelation of the Lord Jesus is in the four Gospels. However, we often miss out on getting to know him through the Gospels when we study them simply to acquire information.
As you do this, try to see, hear, smell and even touch what is described. When Jesus cooks fish on an open fire for his disciples (John 21:7-14) then smell it, hear it crackle, and taste it. Put yourself into the scene. For a few brief moments, be Peter, or John, or Mary and hear what the Lord is saying, for perhaps he is also speaking to you.
Think about how the text helps you understand more of the Lord’s character and nature. As the song goes, ‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus; to reach out and touch him, and say that we love him.’
Counteract Loss Through Gain
Perhaps the pandemic wave will peak and then pass and things will go back to normal again. However, for those who have lost loved ones or jobs or businesses things will not be the same as before. But, no matter the extent of our loss, we can all gain so much by focusing on strengthening our relationship with Jesus. Paul understood and applied this truth although he, like us, had never seen Jesus in the flesh. And let me repeat what he wrote to the Philippian church: ‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.’
Paul’s Prayer and Blessing
Let me end this article with Paul’s prayer and blessing: