Tag Archives: Loss

Lamentations (Dec 2021)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Lamentations published by Tom Vander Well in December of 2021. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Lamentations 1: Blue Christmas

Lamentations 2: How I Should Grieve!

Lamentations 3: “Yet This I Call to Mind”

Lamentations 4: It Stinks to Be Right

Lamentations 5: A Different Spirit of the Season

Of Rubble and Restoration

Of Rubble and Restoration (CaD Ps 126) Wayfarer

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.

Psalm 126:5 (NIV)

I had a great conversation recently with a gentleman who shared with me some of his life story. It read like a roller coaster of ups and downs in business from the luxuries of being at the helm of successful corporate ventures to the bitter pill of his own companies that failed terribly and lost him everything. As he reaches the twilight of his vocational journey, I observed a deep joy within him for all that he’d experienced and also deep wisdom sourced in the lessons of both successes and failures.

As I mulled over what he told me, it reminded me of my own dad who I observed navigating his own vocational highs and lows as I was growing up. There is so much I observed in my parents that I never fully appreciated until I was a husband and father trying to provide for my family and make my own way through vocational peaks and valleys. It’s in adulthood that I finally appreciated all of the joys of vocational success, all the anxieties of job changes, and all the pain of business failures.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 126, isn’t fully understood outside of the context of history. In 586 B.C. the Hebrew people had their own “lost everything” moment. Their nation was plundered, their capital city destroyed, and their temple was desecrated and reduced to rubble. Most of the people were taken into captivity and exile. For a generation, they were forced to make a new life for themselves in a foreign land left to wonder if they would ever return to their own land and rebuild their home. Those not taken into captivity were left to try and survive amidst the rubble and the carnage. Some were reduced to cannibalism just to survive.

One of those left behind was the prophet, Jeremiah. The book we call Lamentations is his poetic expression of grief at the devastation he witnessed when Jerusalem was destroyed:

“This is why I weep
    and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
    no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
    because the enemy has prevailed.”

At the same time, it was at this rock-bottom, lost-everything moment when Jeremiah’s faith was activated and he discovered this thing called hope:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In 538 B.C. the first wave of exiles were allowed to return and begin rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple and for the next 100 years the restoration continued as more and more exiles returned.

Today’s chapter was a song likely written from the pinnacle of Jerusalem’s restoration and the realization of Jeremiah’s hope. As I go back and reread the lyrics, I imagine being the descendant of Jeremiah singing those lyrics on my pilgrimage to the Passover festival knowing that I was experiencing the realization of what the prophet could only dream.

As I meditated on this, I thought of my grandparents being newlyweds and starting a family during the Great Depression. I know their stories. They shared with me how little they had, how hard they struggled, and I got to observe them en-joy-ing the goodness they experienced in their later years, long after those tragic times. It strikes me that my generation is probably the last generation to have known that generation and to have personally heard their stories.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on the highs and lows of this life journey. There’s so much joy, faith, and hope to be found in life’s dark valleys if I choose to seek it. Wisdom is there if I open my heart to hear her speak to me. There is also so much to celebrate when the road of life winds its way up the next mountain and that dark valley is a distant memory and life lesson. That’s the waypoint from which the lyrics of Psalm 126 spring.

The “Bitter Defeat Blues”

The "Bitter Defeat Blues" (CaD Ps 60) Wayfarer

Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.

Psalm 60:11 (NIV)

Anyone who knows me and Wendy or who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that we love baseball. In particular, we’re Cubs fans, but the truth is that we really enjoy the game. In fact, when we’re at the lake during the summer I love going out on the deck, turning on the audio of the game, and then filling out my scorecard while I have a pint and a stogie. I’m such a geek.

What is ironic is that I was terrible at baseball as a kid. I was always relegated to the outfield, which we all know is purgatory in pee-wee little league, or else I was on the bench. I once considered writing a Cubs blog entitled Sliver Butt with the tag line “from benchwarmer to bleacher bum.” Another irony is that it was while I rode the bench while I played for the Pirates in Beaverdale Little League that I sat next to one of the coach’s wives who had the scorebook and she was keeping score. I was mesmerized by all the marks, symbols, and secret code she used to keep track of the game. I only got one hit that I can remember in two years of little league, but hey, I learned how to keep score!

The other major memory I have from my two-year career in Little League was the devastating loss my pee-wee team suffered. I played for the pee-wee Cardinals, which was a bad omen in and of itself, but we were terrible. There was this one game when we were playing one of the best teams and we were ahead by a ton of runs going into the final inning. I remember being so excited that we were finally going to win a game against a really good team, and then they rallied in the bottom of the final inning and beat us. I remember breaking down in tears in the backseat of our Volkswagen on the way home. I was convinced God hated me.

You’re probably wondering where on earth I’m going with this.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 60, is a song of lament that David wrote after suffering a bitter defeat. The song was intended for the entire nation to sing the blues.

If you listen to my podcast Time (Part 1) I made the case that I think the entire Great Story, the whole of human history, is like one giant, spiritual life-cycle. On this macro-spiritual level, humanity went through its own version of infancy, terrible twos, childhood, pre-adolescence, and etc. As I read David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” this morning it read a bit like a kid in pee-wees crying in the back of mom’s Volkswagen, convinced that losing was a sign that God hates me, God has abandoned me, and God is punishing me. In retrospect, I know that’s not true, but I had to work through that. I had to grow. I had to mature in my understanding.

One of the other things David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” had me thinking about this morning is Wendy and our daughters. Being the only male in the household for many years, I have come to appreciate that there are certain sections of the Great Story that just don’t resonate with women. While most guys can easily read passages about battles, banners, and the blood of enemies and it resonates in our wild-at-heart spirits, I’ve learned that most women simply go, “ew” and then skip over to be captivated by the story of Ruth or Esther. I get it.

Nevertheless, from this waypoint on Life’s journey, I find David’s song today is less about an actual battle than it is about feelings of loss, defeat, and despair. Those can be found in infertility, the disintegration of a relationship, a divorce, the death of a loved one, being unemployed, an appliance breaking down, or the cheesecake you made for a special guest falling. Everyone has “Why me God?” moments and they come in sizes from individual travel pack small to mongo Costco-sized huge.

At the end of David’s song today, even in the midst of defeat, he is already beginning the process of moving on. He is moving past the loss. He’s already proclaiming confidence that this defeat is not the end and God will help him and nation process the pain, press on, fight another day, and put this one in the review mirror.

That’s a lesson for me crying in my pee-wee little league uniform, but it’s still a lesson for me today in my company’s logo-wear. As I journey through life the defeats grow in proportion with me. I still have to process the pain. I still have to find the faith to press on to the higher, deeper, and more mature things God is calling me to seek and to find.

“Buck up, Tommy. Mom’s got lemon cake waiting for you at home.”

Have a great weekend, my friend.

Losing the Truth of Loss

Losing the Truth of Loss (CaD Ex 22) Wayfarer

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
Exodus 22:21-24 (NRSVCE)

I find it fascinating, as I read the laws of Moses in today’s chapter, that the Hebrews were commanded by God to take care of foreigners living among them, and to take care of socially and economically disadvantaged groups within their society. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene some 1500 years later, the Temple in Jerusalem had become a religious racket (which is why Jesus drove the currency exchange vendors out of the Temple). The religious system prescribed through Moses had become an institution that made money for the the chief priests and religious leaders who then leveraged their power and authority to line their own pockets at the expense of their own people, while they prejudicially looked down on anyone who wasn’t one of them. They religiously kept the rules that made them look pious while finding excuses for ignoring those that might require real compassion and generosity.

One of the reasons the early Jesus Movement grew so rapidly was the fact that Jesus’ followers were radically challenging the social structures of the day. There were no church buildings. They met in homes around the supper table and, at that table, everyone was welcome to sit together. Both women and men, Jews and non-Jews, and even slaves were welcomed to sit at the table with their master. Beyond that, the followers of Jesus took care of those who were socially and economically disadvantaged in the society of that day including widows, orphans, and lepers.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome a few hundred years later, the Jesus Movement became a powerful religious and political institution almost overnight. The good news is that Christians would no longer be persecuted and fed to the lions in the Roman Circus. The way was paved for sincere teachers and theologians to meet together, debate, and establish core doctrines. With the authority of the Roman Empire, there was an opportunity for real change.

Interestingly enough, what followed was ironically similar to the very things Jesus criticized in the religious leaders of His own people. The movement moved from the supper tables in peoples homes to churches and cathedrals, which required a lot of money. Generosity to disadvantaged groups was curtailed as funds were shifted to lining the pockets of the church leaders and their churches and residences. Women were once again diminished as male dominance was established within the institution. Those who threatened the emerging orthodoxy, like the desert fathers and mothers, were branded heretics and either killed or forced to flee. Leadership positions in the church suddenly became positions of socio-economic and political power that were bought, sold, and traded by rich, powerful, and connected families. That’s how we eventually ended up with an eleven-year-old pope (Pope Benedict IX).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking a lot of questions. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has spent the last year grappling with the mega-trends we’re seeing in our culture and our world. There are fewer and fewer individuals claiming to be Christians. Churches, especially here in rural and small-town America, are closing for lack of members. Christianity is no longer accepted as the prevailing cultural worldview in our culture, and there is open and growing antagonism as the historic sins and failings of church institutions spark anger and resentment in many circles. Meanwhile, around the world, Christians are being persecuted and killed without earning much attention.

As a follower of Jesus, I find myself wondering if all of this is simply going to lead Jesus’ followers back to our roots. The history of the Hebrews and the history of Christianity both reveal to me that when the heart of God’s message to care for strangers, aliens, and disadvantaged groups is lost amidst the desire for social, economic, and political power, then there is a loss of spiritual potency and legitimacy. I can’t help but believe that the loss of cultural prominence is actually the road back to spiritual progress. The way of Jesus has always been about letting go, giving up, and leaving behind. The diminishment of self for the gain of others is not an optional path for those followers of Jesus who want an advanced spiritual placement. It’s foundational to being a follower at all:

“and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

-Jesus

I think that this has been lost. I confess that as I reflect on my own journey it’s clear that I am as guilty as anyone.

My heart and mind return to yesterday’s post. I want to stop being an ally to Jesus’ teachings and become an accomplice in putting them to work in tangible ways.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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.