Her story is full of pain and heartache. A consultant has visited her workplace and suggested changes which make her job seem less significant and even at risk. She has partnered with the Holy Spirit for years to understand that her worth and value is not determined by her performance but by her acceptance of God’s love and grace; she knows she is someone in whom Christ dwells and delights. But she doesn’t feel much like a much-loved child right now. She feels devalued and dispensable. As I listen to her story, I identify with the layers of loss with which she is struggling. And yet, I know, from my own experience, that this struggle will bring healing and even comfort because it is only as we let go of what we need that we find it.
I thought of her today as I watched an interview with Ethan Canin, author of The Doubter’s Almanac, a wonderfully rich story of genius and failure, loving and leaving, grief and renewal. Canin remarked that he was once asked, “What is the purpose of literature?” He answered, “It is a rehearsal for death.” I think that every loss we experience in life is a rehearsal for our death. How we receive and deal with those losses is training for how we will navigate our last act on earth.
My mother experienced many losses in her life, the deepest being the loss of her chaplain husband in World War II. She sent him off to war in fear and 3 years later that fear was made real. She was left with a daughter and her plans for her life in ashes. She never recovered from that loss. Her rehearsal for death was fueled by bitterness and denial – her actual experience of dying was the same.
My husband and I are selling our house and down-sizing to a more affordable apartment. Each of us is experiencing our own complicated set of losses. I mourn the loss of my flower gardens, though I recognize that I can’t take care of them anymore. He mourns the opportunity to walk across our street and fish in the pond, though he hasn’t done that for years. I mourn the light that pours through the windows in every room of our house. He mourns the comfort of familiar surroundings. I mourn the dozens and dozens of books and the plants and paintings that will have no place in our new home. He mourns the loss of his privacy.
And yet, these losses are easier somehow because we both have experienced other losses big and small and come out better for them all. Fear of losing and of losing out is human nature, but we live in an unshakable Kingdom where everything is grist for the mill of life and the rehearsal for death. And everyday is one more day that we are safe with God no matter what happens to us.