One of the high points of my week is Wednesday evening, when I get to be with my friends as we gather for our home church. This is a time when we come together to share personal stories of our spiritual journeys with Jesus. We are always encouraged to hear of how God is working in people’s lives. Occasionally there is the “amazing God story” where someone has experienced God’s hand in the form of an intervention or an appointment with another person. At other times there is a need for us to circle the wagons, so to speak, and engage in spiritual warfare as we bear one another’s burdens. No matter what the need, the one thing that is always present is our common pursuit of living with our hearts centered on God.
Although every week is somewhat different, our last gathering had quite a different feel to it. It soon became apparent that since our last meeting, many in the room had experienced loss. My sister Teresa spoke about how her much-loved dog, Buddy, had been bitten by a rattlesnake. He was recovering well, but it was still a very traumatic experience and it had completely derailed her vacation. Another lady spoke about how her new smart phone had been stolen at her place of work. There were also others who were struggling with serious medical issues and the frustrations they were having trying to get the care and treatment they needed. I too related a great injustice that I had suffered and how I was struggling with it.
What became readily apparent to everyone was the theme of loss and injustice. It was as if the loss had produced an additional weight that many were carrying that night, almost as if they were laboring under a physical burden on their backs. People were in various stages of processing these personal disappointments, which for some was sadness, while others were experiencing denial, hurt, or anger.
The more we talked, the more we sensed that our individual burdens were growing lighter, as if they were actually lifting them from our shoulders. Our time spent speaking was not a bunch of grumbling and griping; instead we gave voice to our feelings of disappointment and turned our words toward our confidence in God and His goodness. We also took encouragement from examples of godly people like Jeremiah, Elijah, and others, who suffered loss.
Here are some of the things we discovered that help us deal with loss:
- Let it out
One of the most destructive things we do when we experience a loss is stuff our feelings and emotions. God has designed us as emotional beings, and when we suffer an injustice we need to be able to discharge the pressure building up inside us. Ancient cultures understood this need, which is why when they grieved, they would “tear their robes” and “weep and wail.” A person would also sit in an ash pile and toss ashes on his or her head as a symbol of their deep despair. They acted out externally how they felt on the inside and this allowed them to release their pain.Years ago, when I was really upset, I would go out into woods at the back of my property and talk (well, actually, sometimes I’d YELL!) to the trees. I gave voice to my feelings, acknowledging them so that I could get clarity and move on. Letting off steam, so to speak, does not mean we should give in to acting in ungodly ways, such as lashing out at others or God in the name of honesty or authenticity. Instead we must find ways to give voice to our feelings that are not harmful.
- Examine your expectations
Disappointment is the result of having an unfulfilled expectation, but sometimes we have to face the fact that our expectation was unreasonable in the first place. For instance, as in the case of my friend who had her cell phone stolen at work, we should be able to expect a safe and secure work place environment, but the reality is that this is a fallen world in which there is evil and wickedness; so in this sense, there was an unreasonable expectation of security. In other words, “we should have known better.” Aligning our thinking with reality is a big step toward processing loss. This doesn’t mean we have to like what happened, but we must see things truthfully—see them as they really are.
- Seek to learn
Although we all want life to be easy and fun, genuine growth and development of character often happen when we experience adversity and have to persevere through it. It is essential to develop the habit of asking God to teach and train you when you are feeling pressure in the crucible of life. In the face of loss, many flee and hide, or live in denial, and then act out in harmful ways as they seek to relieve the pain. When we seek to learn instead, our minds become open to new perspectives and we can see alternative opportunities. The world is full of examples of people who have suffered loss, and then turned it into an entirely new way of life. God will lead and teach us if we are open to Him. Remember, “…in all things [all situations] God works for the good of those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28).
- Go deeper with God
When adversity comes, some people react by lashing out at God, when really adversity should drive us deeper into His arms. Our relationship with God and His son Jesus is supposed to be an intimate one where we can share fully with them, and they in turn share fully with us. Going deeper with God occurs when we tell Him our deepest feelings, express our despair and loss, or when we enter into greater prayer and praise. Going deeper with God helps get our thoughts off of ourselves and onto Him and His eternal realities. It is hard to be upset about a temporal worldly loss when our thinking is filled with gratitude toward God for all He has done for us, and joy about the hope that awaits us.
There is nothing wrong with feeling disappointment when loss and injustice occur. Processing our feelings in healthy and godly ways will help keep us out of being self-absorbed in the black hole pity party.