Pastoral Ponderings–Side Effects
Disoriented is a good word, good at least for describing much of what I’m feeling today, and as one of the unexpected side effects of loss. Loss is always rough, and the closer the loss the more difficult. In a sudden, unexpected loss, the disorientation and other side effects can be all the more profound. And it’s all the more true as well, the more central to our identity is the one lost.
When my dad died 8 years ago almost to the day—he died on Feb. 4, 2014—it was far from un-expected, as he had been struggling with heart issues for years. I was surprised he made it as long as he did. It had been decades since I had lived with him, and almost 20 years at the time, that I had not even been in the same state, so our visits weren’t very frequent. And yet, despite all his imperfections, he was my dad, a defining piece of who I am. The disorientation, the loss of focus, the loss of connection, the loss of motivation and direction were all still big parts of my grief.
And yet what I went through was only a shadow of what my mom felt, after having been married for 56 years, and having gone through hell and back together. I think that probably makes the loss all the more powerful, too, is how much challenge you struggle through and overcome together. But it does get better. As much as he was a part of myself, my siblings, my mom–we were then, and still are now, whole, if wounded and scarred, without him in our lives.
But that’s not quite the right way to put it either. I often tell people going through a loss, that in some ways, as when I’m doing wood-working or the handy-man kind of things I learned from him and often did with him, I often feel closer to him now than I did before he died. So it’s not really true to say we are without him in our lives, as there are facets of him that are still very much with us.
Perhaps sometimes we even deal with our loss more though its side effects than through grief or mourning itself. One of Jesus’ sayings that has always mystified me the most, is when He said “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” How can this place of loss and pain be a place of blessing? The Greek word used here for “comforted” has a range of meanings, and in this usage, in addition to “comforted” also means to be encouraged, consoled, and animated—that is brought back to life! It is also a word related to what is used for the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called “the Comfortor.”
So Jesus is here saying that when we mourn, we become re-connected with other, we gain a special connection with the Holy Spirit through our loss, and that Holy Spirit then also brings us to a newness of life through it all. Reminds me of that old chorus—“Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I have learned to trust in God…” The pain and loss are real. But it is only through this kind of pain and loss that we come to know, appreciate and experience a deeper kind of connection than we would ever know without it.
So where do we go from here? Even if nothing else is clear in this peculiar blessing of mourning, it is at least clear that the blessing comes by going through it all TOGETHER. And perhaps gleaning a bit of wisdom from Kris Kringle—“just put one foot in front of the other… and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor…”
Through it all—Rev. Jim