Winning and losing
I’m a fan of the Detroit Lions, the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Cubs, and an English soccer team you’ve probably never heard of called Derby County. (Derby County was the best team in the UK for a couple of years in the 1970s, but has spent most of the last 40 years outside the top flight of English football. ‘The Rams’, as they are nicknamed, are currently fifth in the third tier.) In other words, I’m used to losing.
Defeat and I are old chums. We go back a long way. Over the years, I’ve become painfully familiar with the agony of its dagger, the sting of its broken promises, the cruelty of its taunts. You’d think I would have learned by now – loss (along with death and taxes) is one of the few certainties in life. I should have got the message by now. No matter how much I believe in victory, Lucy will always snatch the ball as I’m about to kick it through the goal posts.
And yet, when loss barges its way uninvited into my life, I usually respond as if it had no business there. Losses still shock me. It’s as if I had this expectation that life could be lived without its intrusion.
At the risk of getting too gloomy and ruining your week, I’ve come to a shocking but vital conclusion… Life is a long series of losses and how we respond to them will determine how happy and peaceful we are.
When I say ‘loss’, I’m not restricting it to major bereavements, like the death of a friend, the end of a marriage, or the cutting short of a job. Those deaths are truly grievous. They wound deeply. They cause us to question the goodness, and even the existence, of our loving God. Recovery takes years. We will never quite be the same again.
No, ‘loss’ includes a million tiny griefs – the departure of something, ANYTHING, from your life. I confidently predict that even this very day, you have lost something. It hasn’t sent you reeling into despair. In fact, you may hardly have noticed it. You may not even think of it as a loss. But loss is your experience. Even when we lose something that has caused us to suffer, it is a loss, of sorts. We have grown accustomed to its presence in our lives. It has been a lens through which we have viewed the world. We have adjusted for its presence. So, when it is gone, even though it brought misery, we can see that it also brought security or a kind of warped contentment.
Think of what you lost in the pandemic. I warn you, you will have to remove your shoes and socks if you are going to count them, because you will quickly run out of fingers. There are the tangible things like health, a job, a family member, a business, a home, money, a pet. But there are other less concrete losses that lie at the feet of our pandemic – a dream, an aspiration, hope, confidence, self-belief, faith, a friendship, a community, a sense of belonging. (Did I hear a shout of ‘bingo’?)
My pandemic losses included energy, desire, and social skills. The first time Gelind and I were invited to the home of friends for dinner, post-pandemic, I felt unskilled, unprepared, hesitant. Before we left home, we looked at each other and said, “I’m not sure I know how to socialize anymore.” Of course, we had a delightful evening with wonderful company, but we have simply lost the skill of being with others.
Because we don’t want to be negative, we can fail to recognize that these intangible losses are significant. ‘It’s no big deal; mustn’t complain’, we can tell ourselves. But when we do that, we deny our deep need to grieve the death of something important. When we do that, we can find ourselves feeling frustrated by our sadness. This, in turn, can cause deeper disconnect within us.
Here’s my advice, as we continue to feel our way through this pandemic. Don’t deny your losses. Call them what they are – mini-deaths. Don’t expect yourself to ride victoriously through this time of your life. You HAVE lost things, and you WILL lose more before we finally emerge from the pandemic.
Loss is something that holds us together. It is one of our common experiences. Being people of faith will not shield us from experiencing losses of a million kinds. But being able to see God working in those losses will give us hope that one day we will emerge from sadness. And, being part of a church will surely help, as we journey through loss together.
Sometimes we NEED to lose something. In fact, God can use loss to set us free for a fresh phase of life and a dynamic new purpose. However, even when this happens, loss is always painful, and it always takes time and patience to be able to live with it.
Whatever losses you are experiencing today, may you know the strength of God lifting you and carrying you through the pain. May you be able to trust that God has a future for you. May you understand that to everything there is a season, and this period of loss is a time of preparation for something that you cannot even imagine right now.