There are many people right at this moment facing an unexpected and sometimes tragic loss as I write this article. Loss of any kind is difficult to maneuver through but when it comes out of nowhere, it can almost be too much to bear. Within the last 12 hours, I have had four friends who have lost a spouse, parent or a child unexpectedly. I have also had friends within this last couple of weeks show up to work only to find out they have been terminated from their position. I have personally talked with a very dear friend who has lost a beloved pet, who was, as all pet owners know, a member of the family, too.
While I am not equating the loss of a pet/job on par with the loss of a spouse, parent or child, it is still a loss and can make it difficult for me to see or understand God’s plan for my life. There are a couple of points I’d like to address when it comes to unexpected loss and how I as Christians should respond within those first few moments, days and possibly weeks. First I would like to address how one can respond when the loss happens to “you.” Then I will discuss how one can respond when loss happens to “others.” Then I would like to wrap it up with a short word of how God showed up in unexpected ways during a recent unexpected loss that I experienced and how men from the Bible helped me to respond.
First of all, when loss happens to you, it is personal, it cuts the deepest, and can often destroy all aspects of your life. Often times loss can be as insignificant as misplacing your phone, keys, wallet or other material items. How many times do you lose your temper over one of these things? But what exactly happens when we experience life altering loss? A death, loss of a job, failed relationship or loss of a home. These are all changes that directly and immediately alter one’s every day routine or way of life. Getting up at the same time every morning to go to work or have breakfast with your spouse or even that evening phone call to check on your mom and make sure she made it through the storm last night. Things that we wouldn’t give a second thought to until we no longer have it. Immediate feelings of grief, despair, sadness, a sorrow so deep that it feels as though someone is crushing your heart and there seems to be no end in sight can quickly cloud our mind and confuse our thought process. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a time to be upset and experience these feelings. After all, God tells us,
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-12 (ESV)
However, we must make sure not to get lost in this time of grief and loss. During this difficult time it is important to allow the body of Christ to minister to your spirit and your physical and material needs. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. While you do need to allow the body of Christ to help bring comfort and support it is important to feel comfortable saying, “not today,” or “I just need to spend some time alone.” Sometimes, we can only truly process our feeling when we are alone with God’s word and a cup of coffee.
It is okay to cry out and ask God why this happened. It is acceptable to be mad at God. You can be mad at God and not be happy about your situation. You can be angry at that which has caused your loss (an insecure supervisor, a cheating spouse, cancer, a car wreck, Alzheimer’s Disease, Fibrous Dysplasia/McCune-Albright Syndrome, other medical conditions, etc…) but don’t let your anger fester. Get it out of your system and release into God’s most capable hands. God is much better equipped to handle our problems than we are. Whenever you are experiencing these feelings take hold of your thoughts and feelings and turn them into prayers of lament, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of deliverance, prayers of comfort, etc… By taking your focus and placing it on God and His promises you are simply allowing Christ to take on your pain and grief and are allowing Him to carry it. In all of Job’s suffering and loss God reminds us that even in Job’s asking, “why?”, and in his anger and frustration, his lack of understanding, “Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:22 (ESV)
When responding to someone else’s unexpected loss it can be a bit tricky. Everyone reacts to loss in different ways. I have personally seen people cry uncontrollably, shut down and shut out the world around them, lash out in anger, and even laugh and tell jokes. This tends to happen because we are human. That’s it. Nothing left to say. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. People react differently to loss because of their experiences. Some people haven’t experience a loss before while others may have experienced much loss. Either way emotions are going to rise up. Because we aren’t sure how others will react it can be intimidating or uncomfortable when trying to console or offer comfort to those who have experienced loss. Don’t let this stop you from offering a shoulder to cry on, or bringing by a meal, or offering to watch the kids, to mow the lawn, to pick up the kids from daycare or school. Sometimes, offering to help with very simple tasks are a huge weight off of the shoulders of those who are struggling.
When words fail to adequately express or convey your condolences or sympathies simply be there. Be available for some of those simple, every day tasks that I mentioned previously. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone to be the hands and feet of Christ. One of the most important things to remember when comforting or consoling someone who has just experienced loss is the rush to judgment or the “I told you so” syndrome. Whether or not you “knew better” or could see it coming does not give you the authority to ignore compassion, mercy, empathy, and grace to point out what could have been done differently. Simply listen and offer your love and support.
Many of you know that I have experienced an unexpected loss of a job. I have also experienced the loss of loved ones. I am currently walking with my wife in our journey as we continue to transition to our next season of ministry all while helping to cope and care with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for my mother in love. Through all of this loss and stresses on our family it has been easy to fall into that trap of “why me” or that lonesome party we refer to as “PITY.” I have found that it has been in the depths of the valleys in my life that I have grown the most in my relationship with Christ. It is often when things are going bad, life is weighing you down, bills go unpaid, loss of a home, loss of friends, loss of family, that God is calling you to move closer under His shelter. Move in, further under His wing. Have you ever noticed that during a storm Eagles will gather their babies in under their wings and protect them from the rain, wind and all the frights that the lightning and thunder bring. Not only do the Eagles provide shelter, but the warmth of from their bodies keep the temperature of the baby birds at the right level and provide a sense of security. When scary things are happening that are out of my control, what better place to run to than my Heavenly Father. He will shelter me under His wing. He will sustain me with strength and deliver me from my fears and ailments.
In closing, remember that loss happens to everyone at different seasons in their life. When it happens in your life, remember to keep your eyes focused on Christ. Allow yourself time to experience and feel the pain of loss and all of the emotions that come with it. Don’t let your emotions lead you to sin. If you do, remember that Jesus offers forgiveness and grace to all who will receive Him and ask Him to forgive you. His love is greater than anything that can come against us. When loss happens to others be willing and available to offer help with daily tasks and be present in their time of need. Resist the urge to “fix” or “judge” the situation. Trust me, God will allow the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, if conviction is needed. He doesn’t need you to deliver judgement to them. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you are part of the body of Christ. Remember, to be His hands and His feet.