We Are About Relationships
‘Tis the season. No, not the Christmas season; I mean the season of loss. It feels like it to me, anyway.
In a few weeks, I’ll be going to Winston-Salem over the Thanksgiving holidays, but for the first time, I will not be seeing my mother. When we get together with Marne’s family during the Christmas holidays, we will not be seeing her Aunt Sue. A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral service for Sally Cavin, Carol’s mother. And quite suddenly, not long ago, I learned of the untimely death of my cousin’s teenaged son. I am acutely aware of the range of emotions and energies that accompany all these disparate losses. Then most recently, I’ve had conversations with friends here in our congregation who have had to deal with various kinds of loss, both expected and unexpected.
At some point we all lose something dear to us—a loved one or our own health, for example. Losing is part of living; although knowing that doesn’t make living with loss any easier. The truth is this: being deprived of something precious, something unrecoverable, nearly always leaves us with an aching emptiness, with the feeling that we are alone. Only we are not truly alone, because nothing is so universal as the experience of loss. And no matter how we try to hide it from others, we cannot hide it (or ourselves) from God. We are never alone in our loss and brokenness.
The psalmist knew that and wrote passages like this:
“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. . . But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand.” -Psalm 31:9-15
The term for that kind of psalm text is lament. And I find it comforting to know that there are more psalms of lament than any other type of psalm in the Bible. The very fact of their frequency assures me that the psalmists’ laments are attuned to the realities of the human condition. We suffer. We break. We feel pain. We know loss. And we need God to know that and we want God to do something about it. But the more fascinating characteristic of the psalms of lament is that no matter how harsh the cry, the plaintiff never completely gives up hope. Nearly every lament in the Book of Psalms refers to some time in the past when God was a refuge, a rock, a deliverer, a worker of mighty deeds. No matter the reality of the present circumstances—no matter the weight of the loss—the psalmist nearly always proclaims the steadfast love of the Lord—from memory. Memory is key.
So if you happen to find yourself in the midst of a season of loss (as I have), consider taking time to remember. Swap stories. Celebrate the memories that give evidence of God’s grace in your lives, often disguised in seemingly ordinary moments of unhurried and unplanned conversations, spontaneous laughter, generous fellowship, and the keeping of particular traditions.