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When you’ve lost

By Charles Qualls

If talk of paradigm shifts or the amateur self-diagnosis of Type-A Personality were the buzz words of the 90s, then surely the preceding decade closely examined “stress.” In the ’80s, everyone was stressed. Turns out, there is a clinical and very real understanding of stress that features the feeling of a lack of control. Being busy or active was not automatically stress-producing, as everyone seemed to use the word. I am not clear on what word might best describe either the 2000s or the 2010s.

Moving forward, though, the 2020s may turn out to be the decade in which we explore a sense of “loss.” In the pandemic that ushered us into the 20s, we lost. Nearly all of us lost the degree of personal freedom we were used to. More prudent and considerate strategies for managing the raging virus called upon us to take others into our plans. Many people stayed home and either worked or sheltered in place for a time.

Organizations and companies lost the ability to gather, and we suffered economically. If churches or other groups were experiencing any momentum before the pandemic, we likely lost that over the last year if our approach was cautious. Even now, we still do not know what an adjusted normal will turn out to be. We are carefully figuring out what our organizations, communities, economies and culture will look like in a new reality.

Individually, many lost a feeling of independence. Suddenly, we were confronted afresh by just how much of life can be beyond our control. We also realized the extent to which we depend on others to do the right things. My brother, a cancer survivor with a renewed immune system, was cautioned by his oncologist to avoid the coronavirus at all costs. For months on end, he and his family lived in a tightly controlled bubble. But one careless co-worker brought the virus to a family member, who in turn shared it with my brother. He nearly died, likely because of someone he’s never met.

Some of us did lose loved ones during this odd time. My wife and I both lost parents during the virus isolation time. Neither of the deaths were Covid-related. But our ability to be with them in the last weeks of their lives was greatly reduced by it. We grieve the time we couldn’t spend with them. We grieve their deaths even more. We were heartened by how many people actively cared for us, and lost a sense of connection because of some others who didn’t.

Despite technology’s limitations, it is predicted that congregations will lose some members from active participation because they have now tasted the comfort of just staying home. Most will eventually return, but some will not because they like being at home in their pajamas and sipping their coffee while merely viewing. Their churches will lose from the fellowship what each of these individuals bring to the gathering.

With all this loss, what are we to do? Is it all gloom and doom ahead? To be clear, some losses will not be offset in kind. I will not get my parent back in this lifetime, nor will my wife. For every inspiring example of goodness during the last year, I have had someone else I thought I knew show me a side of them that was bitterly disappointing. I lost respect for some people. A hard reality of life is that sometimes, what is lost is gone.

But all is not lost, because I did see those shining examples of hope. I did experience love and goodness. We all benefited from others who could see and reach beyond themselves. I did not simply dispense love and consideration without receiving some back.

I don’t know about you, but in my life I have noticed that losses seem not to go unbalanced. Though the pain of grief is real, God has a way of giving back as much as we lose, if we pay attention. Franz Kafka once said, “Much of what you love, you will lose. But it will come back to you in different ways.” I think he was right. Methodist hymn-writer Johnson Oatman wrote in 1887, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest toss’d, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Maybe they’re right. Maybe we’ll see loss and gain in a different way. If we pay attention.