Vale of TearsShock and Guilt in the aftermath of Loss - part two
Shock and Guilt in the aftermath of loss (ii)
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton, On his Blindness
The huge number of people who live with some form of disability is one more good reason for taking the time to understand the grief process more fully – as well as for giving people time and space in which to mourn the things they can no longer do. People who suffer strokes or develop disa-bilities mourn the many things which we so easily take for granted but which they can no longer do: the freedom to drive, for example, or to applaud with both hands.
The more abruptly loss comes, the more grace we need to adjust, and to cope with the trail of unfinished business that it is sure to leave in its wake. Many struggled to come to terms with events in the summer of 2007, when flash flooding devastated whole communities in central and northern England. Few of us certainly are as phlegmatic as the nineteenth century senator Thomas Benton who declared, while watching his house burn down, “It makes dying easier. There is so much less to leave!”
Possessions can be replaced in a way that people cannot, but they still represent a considerable part of our livelihood. Quite apart from structural damage to houses, the one item that most people wish to preserve is the family photograph album, because it recalls events more precisely than memories alone can do. It is by no means a sign that we are “unspiritual” if it takes us a long time to recover from such losses. They truly are irreplaceable in the sense that we are no longer able to take our past in that particular form into our future.15
If I may take a rather small personal episode to illustrate how God can be “in” the losses that come our way, we were startled awake in the small hours of the summer solstice night of 2006 by members of the police and fire-brigade banging on our door. A man many times over the legal limit for alcohol had crashed into our car, which was parked outside our house.
As we peered blearily out, the twisted wreckage of two cars lay strewn across a road floodlit by arc lights, the flashing blue lights of fire, police and ambulance vehicles adding to the confusion. Two thoughts went simultaneously through my mind: the predictable one that “This is the work of the enemy,” (who is always destroying things!) but also a more surprising one, that “The Lord is in this somewhere!”
I was very attached to that car, and experienced more than a twinge of grief at losing it (not least because I knew we would get very little from the insurers for our nine-year-old jalopy)! I had been aware for some time, however, that it would by no means be ideal for the city we were about to relocate to. The car we replaced it with proved infinitely better suited to our requirements: a small automatic that threaded its way through Canterbury’s heavily congested streets.
You can probably call to mind similar testimonies from your own experience, quite possibly concerning far more serious issues. For a considerable proportion of the world’s Christians, the verses below have an extreme poignancy:
You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Reflect and Pray
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him . . . That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
1 Corinthians 1:27-28; 2 Corinthians 12:10
If, as many believe, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a person rather than the eye disease he mentions elsewhere, who can blame him for wanting the Lord to take the problem away? All too often, human and demonic adversaries conspire to hound and oppose everything that certain strategic leaders are setting out to do – even to the point of misrepresenting their best efforts.
If this is true for you, or for some leader you know about – may you be faithful in pressing on in prayer and faith until God moves to vindicate and deliver. In the meantime, may the Lord help you to make the best of these “grace growers,” as Graham Cooke calls them – and to let them make the best of you.