Tag Archives: Loss

The End of the Line

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
2 Kings 17:6 (NIV)

In this life, some things end. That’s the simple truth of the matter. Along this life journey I’ve come to the realization that we human beings like to feel a sense of the eternal amidst the temporal. We like things to remain fairly stable. We are lulled into a state of accepting that what has been always will be…

  • I will always live here…
  • I will always have this job…
  • We will always be together…
  • We will always be friends…
  • My parents will always stay together…
  • My children will outlive me…

And then suddenly, things end. Relationships end, jobs go away, homes are destroyed, people move away, churches split, companies are acquired, and so on, and so on, and so on.

World rocked. Equilibrium off. Heart breaking. Mind spinning.

Life changing.

In today’s chapter, we get to the end of the line for the northern Kingdom of Israel. For 190 years they had existed through a roller coaster succession of monarchs. Hoshea would be the final king. The Assyrian empire lays siege to Israel’s capital city, Samaria. It is destroyed, plundered, and the Israelites taken back to Assyria as slaves. Using the ancient playbook of conquest, the Assyrians move a melting pot of other immigrants peoples into the neighborhood to ensure that the Israelites left behind don’t unite in rebellion against the Empire. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel.

As I read and mull over this morning’s chapter, I’m reminded of our chapter-a-day journeys through the prophets who warned that this was coming. For those who had ears to hear, the warning signs were there. Amidst the chaos, grief and questions that arise when things end, we can often look back with 20-20 hindsight and see that the signs were all there. In our desire for the eternal amidst the temporal we simply choose to ignore them.

I’m also mulling over the lessons that I’ve learned both in my journey through God’s Message and my journey through life. Things must end for us to experience new beginnings. In order for there to be resurrection, something must die. God even wove this truth into His artistic expression of creation. The seasons teach us that the new life and recurring promises of spring don’t happen with out the long death of winter. In summer Iowa has such lush green landscape with deep blue skies that it almost creates a new color all its own. But eventually we reach the end of the line. Lush green corn turns to ugly brown stalks, and the blue skies give way to the dull gray snow clouds of winter. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Old things pass away, then new things come.

For the people of Israel, this chapter of life is ended. But the story isn’t over. The prophets predicted this, as well. A new chapter has begun. Perhaps unexpected. Perhaps unwanted. Perhaps scary and unnerving. Yet that’s why we love great stories. They take us to unexpected places and new experiences we hadn’t dreamed or imagined. But we don’t get there without journeying through the end of the previous chapter(s).

Mourning…and Moving On

The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
Deuteronomy 34:8 (NRSV)

Wendy and I enjoyed watching Joe Maddon take over as manager of the Chicago Cubs this year. He brings a lot of fun and laughter to the clubhouse, keeping things light and his players relaxed. “It’s just baseball brother,” Joe says, “never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” And so, the Cubbies have enjoyed petting zoos, magicians, pajama parties, and a rookie Disney princess dress up day.

As silly as some of it seems, I have also observed some simple wisdom in some of Joe’s clubhouse rules. For example, when the Cubs win, Joe lets the players party and enjoy the victory for 30 minutes. There’s a disco ball and loud music and dancing and a raucous party…for 30 minutes. Then, it’s on to preparations for the next game. Likewise, when the Cubs lose, Joe allows the team to grieve and groan and grumble. A black cloud of mourning the loss can hang in the clubhouse…for 30 minutes. Then, it’s on to preparations of the next game.

In today’s chapter, Moses’ death is followed by a period of national grieving…for 30 days. Then, the mourning ended and it was time to move on to the next chapter of their lives and the conquest of Canaan. As wise King Solomon put it, “there is a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” But, in either case, it’s only for a time.

Today, I’m reminded that there is wisdom in grieving for a time. I’m sure that being swept in the NLCS will be mourned by all of the Cubs this year, and the pain of it will be felt for the rest of their lives. Still, there’s another season for which to prepare. Mourn the loss, but then you’ve gotta move on.

Likewise, we all experience tragedy and loss along our life journeys. The pain will be with us to the end, but at some point the period of mourning has got to end, and the next stretch of the journey has to begin.

Rebuilding

Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
Ezra 1:3 (NIV)

The temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. It had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army just as had been prophesied by Jeremiah and others. Now, time has passed and the wind has changed. God’s people living in exile in Persia have been granted permission by Cyrus to return home and rebuild.

This morning, I’m thinking about the seasons of life. All of us will face times of rebuilding that may or may not be physical. Some suffer the loss of some natural tragedy, but more often than not our rebuilding is  the rebuilding of our lives after the loss of a loved one, rebuilding after a divorce, rebuilding after a significant move, a job change, or the rebuilding of life after our hopes and dreams shatter.

Whenever my life journey has brought me to a season of rebuilding, I have always, always felt overwhelmed by the task. It is the nature of the process. It stretches us, tests us, and generally requires an increased measure of faith. How apt that Cyrus’ decree to the Hebrew exiles included “May their God be with them.”

Facing a time of rebuilding life? May God be with you.

 

photo: FEMA

Job’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

art by William Blake
art by William Blake

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

Last night Wendy and I attended a special healing service at our church. The theme of the service was healing our losses. It was about facing those griefs that have us mired on life’s road, about processing them so we can spiritually move forward. There was a large crowd on hand, and a good portion of the night was spent in quiet worship. There were stations set up around the perimeter of the room for people to receive communion, prayer, holy water, or to symbolically surrender their losses. Wendy and I have both had our share of losses in life, and it was good to meditate, reflect, and have some personal conversations with God about those things.

What struck me most last night, however, was the tremendous compassion I felt for others. I was surprised how many people I knew. I was also surprised at the pieces of their stories I knew. The abused who became an abuser and whose life fell completely apart. The person who lost a spouse. The  person whose marriage ended in terrible pain and whose life is out of control. The person with incurable disease that is wreaking havoc on the home front. On, and on, and on. My heart broke for friends and acquaintances. My own whining and petty complaints were silenced in relation to the pain I saw realized in the lives of others.

Job seemed an appropriate book to start this morning. I was struck by Job’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. We all fear getting “the call” telling us tragedy has struck, but Job gets four of them in rapid fire succession. Assets gone, employees gone, business gone, children gone. We all have our share of pain in this journey, but I imagine that precious few of us know the sheer terror of losing everything we own, and nearly everyone we hold dear in a matter of minutes.

Psalm 112 is a psalm that I’ve internalized as a foundational text for my life journey. It describes the kind of person I desire to be, and I found myself reciting it over and over in my heart last night at the service. It came to me again this morning as I read of Job’s unforeseen calamity:

“He has no fear of bad news,
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear.
In the end he will look in triumph at his foes.”

I am going to have my share of tragedy in this journey. It’s inevitable. Worrying about it, fearing its arrival, and being anxious about what dark tidings the future may bring do nothing to make this day worthwhile. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the unholy trinity of worry, fear, and anxiety serve only to suck the life out of me and keep me from living this day fully and abundantly.

Today, I’m thinking and praying about those who are suffering tragedies and losses in life that I can scarcely imagine. At the same time, I’m trusting God with today, tomorrow, and each day of my journey so that I can be free to live this day fully. I will have my own share of grief and loss along the way, but I will also have God’s grace and provision in the moment(s) that I need them.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 30

Cover of "Churchill"
Cover of Churchill

Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5b (NLT)

I recently read the book Churchill, a long biographical essay on the celebrated British leader by historian Paul Johnson. Other than my passing knowledge of Churchill’s role in rallying Britain to victory in World War II, I had very little specific knowledge of his life and background and I found the book a fascinating read.

One of the many things I learned in the book was how much of Churchill’s life was framed by loss and defeat. Churchill suffered critical political setbacks that would have ruined most men. He was criticized, diminished, and made a scapegoat. As Adolph Hitler rose to power and built the Nazi war machine, Churchill became a lone voice in the wilderness to the loud pacifist ideals of the day. He never gave up, however, and when the fate of the nation hung in the balance he became the one man with enough “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” to save the nation and, in so doing, the world from Nazi horrors.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Most great leaders suffer and overcome loss. God’s Message speaks again and again of the necessity of trials and suffering to produce endurance which produces character which in turn produces hope. I look back at my own journey and can see clearly how the most difficult stretches became the most critical in the process of spiritual transformation.

Today, I’m once again reminded to embrace the grief, loss and difficulties that come my way in anticipation of the joy which inevitably follows.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 26

Last Will And Testament
Image by Ken_Mayer via Flickr

God spoke to Moses: “Divide up the inheritance of the land based on population. A larger group gets a larger inheritance; a smaller group gets a smaller inheritance—each gets its inheritance based on the population count. Numbers 26:52-54 (MSG)

Along the journey I have had the experience of walking families through the death of a loved one and the accompanying grief process. Death is a subject most of us try to avoid, and therefore it is a stretch of life’s journey that few individuals – not to mention entire families – are prepared to walk through.

What has been extremely sad for me to witness is the descent into conflict and bitterness that often occurs after the funeral of the deceased loved one. Family members position themselves for shares of the family inheritance. Sometimes the conflict is over large sums of money and land, but it I have often witnessed just as much conflict over small material possessions of little worth.

Looking back, I recognize that the issues and conflicts which arose while dividing the inheritance were the fruit of relational and emotional seeds planted within the family system years, sometimes generations, before the argument took place.

In today’s chapter, God gives Moses instructions for the division of the land in which the people are going to settle. The will is being drawn up. The inheritance is going to be divided among the 12 tribes representing numerous family clans and 600,000 men and their families. If you think there’s conflict in dividing the inheritance among a relatively small nuclear family, imagine the conflict that’s going to occur among the tribes, clans and families of the millions of Israelites.

The largest tribe, according to the census was Judah. This meant that Judah would received the largest amount of land as an inheritance. It’s interesting to note that Judah would eventually secede from the other tribes, establishing its own kingdom and entering into civil war with the other tribes. Were the seeds of that eventual discord planted in this process of dividing the inheritance of the land?

Today, I’m reminded that this world, with all that it possesses, is not my home. I’m reminded that the things of true value cannot be bought, sold, divided, or acquired by legal inheritance. I’m thankful for family and friends who value love more than any material object this world could possibly contain.

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