Life Over Loss: Some Comforts for the Soul
“If I say ‘my foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Your comforts delight my soul.”
– Psalm 94:18-19
We’ve heard the biblical expressions those sowing in tears will come again with joy bringing sheaves with them, about as often as we’ve heard that weeping endures for a night but joy comes in the morning. What happens when the weeping is longer than expected? How long a night, and which morning were they talking about? What if no one told you that the grieving process could be different for everyone, and on the other hand, what if you didn’t believe it applied to you when they said you’d need more than a year to adjust to loss?
One of our Israeli tour guides, Yishai, gave such an enlightening description of planting in Israel. He spoke of the ancient farmer there planting in a place where rain could either come in abundance or not at all…where enemies could march over an early crop or burn it out entirely. Weeping in desperation for divine assistance, the sower would sow his seed, yet hoping as he did his part, Heaven would oversee with blessing and he would rejoice in days of harvest yet to come. Wow. That gives me a better idea of a timeline, with the understanding that even if disaster strikes and things are out of my control, I still direct my heart to trust my Creator who had actually planted the first garden. No matter what, He will be there.
Oh the uncertainties we faced in the Covid year! No one seemed to fully know what we would deal with, and even in its aftermath, we still pick through gingerly like rubble after back-to-back hurricanes, unsure of the salvage and rebuild. Much of the anxiety we felt was in not knowing what was next or how badly it could affect someone near us. Whose actions or decisions, which we were powerless over, would change our lives next? Besides school, church, fellowship, travel, groceries -- What else would we lose?
Loss looks like lots of different things. When John and I decided to make significant life changes, we didn’t set our sails for all major roads to converge at once. We kind of expected it to take a few months to sell our home, ease gracefully into life minus one income while I embarked on a season of doctoral studies. But no. It didn’t go down like that. Not at all, and bless Adonai for it! (Students, go and learn the lesson of Nachum Ish Gamzu 😊 ) Our home of nearly twenty years sold the day we listed it, and literally from the eve of Passover to the fiftieth day upon which Shavuot fell, our whole world changed with whirlwind pace. In forty days, we off-loaded, sold, gave, or packed a lifetime of “stuff,” closed on and exited a home we loved, spent two days in a hotel (then our kids’ home) while we closed on a new home that we hadn’t intended to buy. Between the fortieth and fiftieth day of that spring feast season, we counted the omer with an amazing chain of blessings and severe anxiety at any given moment depending on which of us you asked - then changed homes and I left for nearly a month on the field. The return to India! What all came of that season marked us forever, an entire orchard was planted and quickly began to grow.
In the calendar year of Covid, the beginning of Year 3 in this great adventure, my husband and I experienced what many of you did. He had a surgery, the waiting area from which I was ousted immediately because it was discovered I had recently been overseas. I spent hours in isolation from him because so little was known about Covid at the time. Weeks after that, he lost his job and we had the joys of working from home “together,” me getting to proofread his emails and job applications in between dissertation writing (it’s ok – we can laugh about it now). On other days, he stood hours in line at the county unemployment office. Thank God 3 months later he was hired on in a good new job but only a month or so after my father had been moved to home hospice care. My parents’ challenges elevated quickly, with our family dealing not only with Dad’s Parkinson's decline, but his cognitive changes and every heartbreaking thing that comes with death of a loved one. His move to Heaven was after some extremely difficult days, especially for this only child. Again because of Covid, we chose to serve him at home with no ‘round the clock’ caregiving help – again, the best and worst of how it all could have happened. Wrapping his body for the coroner, seeing him physically leave us forever…gathering his personal effects and donating clothing was hard. There are no words for the coexistence of bitter and sweet. Holidays and anniversaries were emotional. Not much later, we had to say goodbye to the ten-year-old family dog, Daisie.
Three years. Three years that felt more than a decade long, my soul reeling at times from the vastness of personal change. My identity in work had changed inside a career more than once. Exiting that entirely was another story. Reforging life, launching new endeavors…all these things carry their own kind of “loss.” Change is loss, if you’re a John Maxwell reader, and change can be hard, even good ones. Dad’s end of suffering was merciful and a blessing, but his absence is a huge void. The loss of his patriarchal covering is a strange feeling. Leaving a beautiful home was tough, but being near our family was so much better, especially knowing I could never get back these last two years with my father, and was able to help Mom shoulder a heavy load that carried within it thousands of daily unknowns. There was abundant grace for it all.
By now you wonder, so when are you getting to the good part?
We never fully know life’s landscape for people around us. We don’t know what they are walking through, what defining experiences are lodged in their souls, what sacrifices or losses or changes are in some way besetting or challenging them. It makes a difference to know, to offer human compassion and identification with someone’s story, to just hug and offer some comfort, a meal, a pat on the shoulders…anything to close the gap of isolation. I believe this is what we learned.
The prophet Jeremiah's experience, not unlike that of Jesus, gave him every opportunity to throw in the towel in the face of his nation’s devastating condition and impending exile. Jeremiah was personally rejected and harassed, imprisoned abusively, asked divinely to do very difficult things, but could still so beautifully and poetically say:
“…This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul, there I hope in Him!” – Lamentations 3:21-24
Like him, Jesus would endure suffering because of joy set before him and promise them His Spirit & that He would return for them, saying "I will not leave you comfortless..." (John 14:18).
The psalmist of Psalm 94 could say the same. The intensity of life in Israel, of being the chosen people rejected of many, harassed, surrounded by enemies, jeered and misunderstood by nations could also cause one to agree – there is loss in change. There is loss in answering covenant’s offer with wholehearted participation. There is often pain and personal cost, but there is no greater reward than Hashem Himself. The reality of belonging to Him is comforting in itself, but then His promises, His fidelity, His faithfulness, His commitment to covenant and to His family, all flesh out in beautiful acts of mercies and fellowship and provision. This is the story of the whole Book, from Garden Lost, of broken sons and daughters estranged from God and one another, of years enslaved, forced to serve outside of personal gifts and talents, sacrificing children and Sabbath to survive, everything at such cost. Yet Hope. Hope that the time of Divine Release comes – Passover and a crossing over comes – and a wilderness of change becomes The Place of Demonstration & Destiny. These are the truths that comfort, no, that delight our souls, our nefesh. It was with such hope that Jeremiah bought property intending to help rebuild on the solid promise of God. Likewise, it is with that reality and hope that we continue to love and build in Israel, from Gan B'Shalom in Judea to the far south in the Arava and beyond.
Sometimes we have to take moments to shed tears and give ourselves the emotional release we were wired to have. It’s okay to do so, to cry it out, pray it out, shout or stomp. Your covenant partner is not afraid of your emotion or your need, and is well able to console and to counsel, to give consolation, then speak some solution. Weep the tears into His bottle then breathe in His balm. He is the solution.
Whatever your journey, Shalom. Peace in your soul and into its deepest chambers. Don't close off the doors into the places the Lord wants to go. Trust me, it will be worth your investment having that conversation with Him. And a few tips for the Roads of Change --
Try not to be a worry wart. Most anxiety is in the mental ruminating over things we need to trust God for! Jesus' words & rabbis throughout history exhorted us to consider things like flowers and birds, who are daily cared for with no concern on their part! Flip the brain off-switch when it defaults into worry mode.
Find an action step you can take. As you move through change, loss, or new adventures, it doesn't always have to be in waiting mode. Find small steps of action you can take. There is emotional capital gained in accomplishing even small goals. Little things make big things happen!
Be aware of what you bear. Your mind & body may be signaling to you that you're heavy. Find a way to offload. Take a walk, talk to a friend. Pray an hour in the middle of the night. By the same token, as a believer, you carry the divine presence. Carry it with reverence and confidence that you are a solution to someone else's need. You're an answer awaiting arrival.
Stay consistent. Just like brushing your teeth is a good idea daily, life changing habits are powerful when consistent. Time in the Scripture, contact in your community, exercising your gifts & talents with some kind of regularity all add enjoyment, benefit, and progress to living.
May you walk refreshed and helped into what’s next, however adventurously scary it may be...and may you have the grace and courage to share your life, gifts, and lessons along the way.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8