Several weeks ago in one of our church services, I introduced as one of our new members a young woman, now in her early thirties, whom I baptized when she was a baby and I was a new preacher at my church in Palm Harbor. Next month I will have the privilege of baptizing her baby. Talk about making me feel old! But also making me feel so good about the “ connectedness” of life. Here we were meeting again some thirty years later.
Ironically, on that same afternoon I received a call from a young woman who was just a six-year-old child when I was serving in that same Palm Harbor church. Although I had not seen her for thirty years, she connected with me by Google to tell me that her father was dying and he wanted her to try to contact me to see if I could officiate at his service. She told me, through tears, how much my ministry had meant to her family when her mother died at the age of 33; how I helped navigate them through that difficult time; and how I was there a few years later to officiate when her father married again. She asked if I remembered those times.
Oh yes, how well I remembered my deep friendship with her father. But it was not what I had done for him but what he had done for me! I was going through a divorce at the time and he was there for me, helping me navigate through that difficult time in my life. As I spoke with his daughter, sitting in my car in the parking lot at Fresh Market, tears flowed freely as I remembered the absolutely joyous times and the absolutely horrible times together with my friend.
I lost touch with my friend as the years passed by, but as the memories poured back it felt like it was just yesterday when we were sitting at his dining room table laughing and/or crying. I regret that we did not stay in touch. Life is like that, isn’t it? We meet people who make a difference in our lives, thinking we’ll always be close, and then life gets in the way, we go our separate ways, and move on. I don’t think we ever truly forget those people. How could we? We can beat ourselves up, especially when it comes to the end as it has with my friend, or we can thank God for the times we did have together and cherish them.
I thank God for my friend Alan. If he had not been stalwart with me through that difficult time in my life, who knows where I would be today? I’ve lived long enough to know that all things change eventually. People come in and then go out our lives. Kids grow up and go away to school. Jobs end. Families come together and families fall apart. What we depend upon today, or count on as a given, the status quo: it shifts. The familiar departs and it is hard. Loss is hard. We may prepare for it, steel our hearts for it, even expect it and yet, it still hurts.
Perhaps what it means to be really alive is to somehow figure out how to accept loss as a natural part of what it is to be human. Yes, I believe that we are children of God, made with a bit of the eternal within us that I believe lasts forever. Yet we are also contained within these mortal, fragile containers. We live in world with a multitude of powers and people and events that are far beyond our control. Loss just happens.
Please understand I’m not saying that all this loss stuff is easy to embrace and I’m not suggesting a simplistic theology of “when God closes one door God opens another door!” Not at all. Loss stinks, it hurts and it’s scary. Sure, loss may teach us a thing or two and maybe even open up some new opportunities in life…but it is often a heartbreaking instructor.
There are times when I wish everything just stayed status quo and that life was more dependable: people not changing or leaving, work not changing, everything staying the same. But is this really how we want to live in this wonderful, dynamic world of ours? Surely not!
As I look out my office window on this cold February day in Tallahassee, I see a bare redbud tree and several bare crepe myrtle’s. There is an odd beauty to their bareness and I know in another month or so those trees will begin to blossom more beautiful than ever. All creation witnesses to the miracle of loss and rebirth, death and resurrection, endings and beginnings.
There is always the risk that things will end but I firmly believe that if we courageously give our hearts to friends and family and God, to places and people, to jobs and causes…indeed, if we dare to love…then the risk of “endings” will be worth it. No matter how hard we try we can’t make the various losses of life go away. What we can do is to accept it and then love our best and try our best and live out our best lives in the moments we have right now.
Sure, I may lose but I’m willing to take that risk. How about you?
I am so looking forward to holding in my arms and baptizing the child of the mother I baptized so long ago!
And life goes on…
You are loved,