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The Lessons of Loss

14 May Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on The Lessons of Loss
The Lessons of Loss
 

When everything crashes down.

I was seventeen and just found out I had bone cancer.  Life as I knew it was over.  In the span of a few short hours I was told that that I had a rare form of bone cancer, which would require an immediate below the knee amputation of my right leg and aggressive treatment of chemotherapy.

Wow, wasn’t expecting that for my senior year of high school.  Instead of being able to run around with my friends, I was now facing surgery, intravenous lines, and a brutal two year regiment of chemotherapy.  Believe me, it was no picnic.  My schooling moved from Palmyra Area High School to the University of Pain.

Now 22 years later, I look back on that time and it almost seems as if it were another life.  As a 39 year old reflecting upon those difficult days, I remember some of the most difficult decisions that had to be made.

One decision in particular I remember very well.  It was the decision to amputate my leg.  A team of doctors sat me down and explained my chances to live with or without amputation.  Being the no-nonsense, “get it done” seventeen year old that I was, I responded quickly, “cut it off”.  In my mind I remember thinking, “The sooner the better.  I’ll fight the cancer in the rest of my body once I have the sarcoma and my leg removed!” Two days later my leg was gone.

Why cry over spilled milk?  Move on.  Let’s get it done.

These were all statements I made during that painful season.  Driven to beat cancer, my quick decisions has had two lasting consequences. One good, and one not so much.

First, that young crazy no-nonsense thinker actually made a good medical decision.  All my fellow patients who opted to keep their legs died within three years.  I lived.

Second, by refusing to look back, I failed to ever truly acknowledge or experience the great loss I had just gone through:

  • Loss of my youth
  • Loss of my way of life
  • Loss of friends
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of a leg
  • Loss of unfulfilled dreams

Why do we try to move on from loss so quickly?

 Frankly, it hurts.

No one likes to stay in pain.  Our human response is to flee.  How often does a patient come into the ER and refuse pain meds?  It simply doesn’t happen.  When loss occurs in life, it’s painful, and for many of us, our first step is to deny, minimize, blame others, rationalize, blame ourselves, and find the quickest way to move on. Unfortunately, in our haste to be relieved, we often miss the gift which comes only through being with God in the pain.

 Loss reveals our limits.

No one likes to admit they can’t do everything.  Especially here in the West, we pride ourselves on our independence and ability to triumph over adversity. However, in the midst of loss we are forced to come face to face with our limits.

For the first time in my life at the age of seventeen, I couldn’t walk.  Talk about a limit.  But when we acknowledge our limits, we come face to face with the true reality in our souls before God.  We are finite. We are limited. We can’t do everything. This unnerving realization is for many an unbearable place, too stark of a contrast to how we like to think of ourselves. The temptation then is to leave before deep growth of the soul is able to take place.

 It unmasks us.

Loss has a way of stripping us to the core of who we really are.  This past week we all watched the tragic passing of NFL great Junior Seau.  Arguably, one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game.  Junior, like many great athletes who have gone before him, struggled deeply once the game was gone.  Who was Junior if he wasn’t a NFL superstar? Loss often unmasks us, bringing us face to face with ourselves and God.

“Sadly, the result of denying and minimizing our losses over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces. For some, a dull, low-level depression descends upon us, making us nearly unresponsive to all reality.”   – Peter Scazzero

Lessons from Loss

Over the years I have realized that life is made up of a series of losses. Not all of these losses are as traumatic as when I was seventeen, but each having played a significant role in how God is shaping my life.  You probably have experienced similar losses.

  • Loss of job
  • Loss of loved one
  • Loss of dreams
  • Loss of friendship
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of ministry
  • Loss of a home
  • Loss of wealth
  • Loss of a marriage

How do we begin to embrace loss and understand its curriculum for our soul?

Pay Attention.

Be honest with yourself.  Don’t give the quick-fix Sunday School answers.  Be willing to sit with your pain, and then pay attention to what God reveals. Allow time to listen, process, and grieve through the loss well.  Loss cannot be processed quickly.  It takes time.

Wait in the Difficult Times.

Being released from what God wants you to go through is very rarely the best thing for your soul in the long view.  Don’t run, don’t try an escape.  Realize that deep internal soul change can only happen through being present in the mess.

Recognize and Embrace Your Limits.

Through loss there is always an exposure to limits.  These limits if embraced can free you from a spiritual life immersed in unreality.  Accepting our limits places a greater dependence upon God for the basics of life.

Speak Less, Listen More.

Allow the fire to bring about genuine humility into your soul.  Don’t keep searching for insights, formulas, or strategies to overcome.  Slow yourself, sit with those deep questions and begin to simply listen. When we speak less, we’re able allow the loss to birth something that is new.

22 years later.  My middle aged soul is now beginning to unpeel new layers of old losses which God designed for curriculum in my life. It’s only now, nearly two decades later, that I’ve been able to truly sit and learn from those old pains.

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.