Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The following is something I published in the local paper; as such, it's not explicitly Quaker, but reflects my Quaker perspective. There's more to come, feedback is welcome.
Everyone experiences loss at some point in their lives. Death is the largest loss: whether facing our own mortality, or dealing with the passing of a loved one, it is a life-altering experience. But we face many kinds of losses in all parts of our lives, such as the loss of a job, or of a relationship. Sometimes these are part of a larger, positive transition: a promotion, a child going off to college, friends moving to a new home in their retirement. However, even when we see the silver lining, there is still something to mourn. Each of these losses can change our daily lives in ways that we often cannot predict. This month, I will be looking at different aspects of transition and loss, and how our faith can help us through.
Often when we’re faced with a loss, our first reaction is denial: we simply don’t accept it. Sometimes that means flatly rejecting the facts, refusing to acknowledge what has happened. Other times, we use humor, treating the situation as if someone is pulling our leg: “Quit joking around and put Dad on the phone.” But the most common way of avoiding the reality of a loss is to simply say, “I’m fine,” and try to continue on with life as if nothing has happened.
Denying loss is not inevitable, but it is a natural human reaction. Even when we’ve been preparing for it, the event itself can elude us. As a hospice chaplain, I have spent long hours with patients and their families who know that death is near; and yet so often, they find themselves unprepared when it comes. We even see this struggle in the Gospels. When Jesus foretold His suffering and death, Peter’s reaction is, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” This is the same Peter whom Jesus had just proclaimed would be the rock upon which His church would be built: but even Peter falters when confronted with the reality of death. With us, as with Peter, it can take a while to come to terms with what has happened.
Finding that “new normal” can take time, but it cannot happen without acknowledging the importance of what was lost, of finding a safe and appropriate place to express the grief. The novelist Pat Conroy once wrote of the danger of being eaten up by “that lake of grief inside” which has no place to go. He knows that, even when we tell others, and sometimes tell ourselves, that we’re fine, that we the loss will take a toll on us. This is especially true when we can’t seem to face it directly. In some respects, the death of a loved one is easier to come to terms with than some other, less profound losses, simply because that reality is insistent, and confronts us in ways other losses do not.
Acknowledging loss is a first step in what can be a very long journey through grief. It is difficult, even when we know that there are better things ahead. As Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”