All Loss is Gain

 

Last week God dropped a little nugget into my lap. God said, “All loss is gain.” This is hard to wrap my mind around since the usual arguments ensue: what about babies who die? What about the holocaust?

 

While reflecting on this some particularly challenging scripture came to mind as well; verses about losing your life in order to gain it or giving up important things in order to experience something else or seeing good things coming out of seemingly bad things. These all trouble me and make me wonder whether I would ever be able to live like this—or even want to live like this. Who, in their right mind, would deliberately give up all they have or love with no guarantees for the future?

 

Here are some of the verses or quotes that cause me the most consternation.

 

*Anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. John 12:25 Message

 

*All is gift. Teresa of Avila, 16th century abbess, mystic and saint

 

*Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. I Peter 4;1-2 Message

 

*Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35 NRSV

 

But then, after pondering these challenging verses, I decided to see this new little nugget as God’s way of inviting me to more intimacy and to a deeper truth growing within me. I like this shift but I still can’t quite fathom what it means for me to lose my life or to be reckless in my love for God or to embrace loss lovingly. How do I even taste of this radical call to loss as gain? I cautiously asked God to show me little glimpses of it in my own life. What a dangerous prayer. Use only with caution!

 

God gently pointed out a few places in which I am getting a small taste of what it means to count loss as gain, to be “reckless” for what I need instead of what I want.

 

One place I’ve experienced this is cleaning out all the hidden clutter in my condo. I’m sure readers can relate to thisJ It seems deceptively simple until you try it. I now have a list of more than fifteen areas of my condo that need shedding but as soon as I move toward any of them I come up with excuses to keep or cling to my things. I mean things like photos by the hundreds, files of old careers, teaching notes that are no longer relevant, clothes I’ve not worn for a year, rag rugs made by a friend, gifts that I don’t have room for any more. It is just plain hard work to deal with all the memories that come up as I sort through things. And I usually bump into the less attractive reasons I cling to things: guilt, loss of identity, ego, even self-pity.

 

But on my better days when I have more perspective on the bigger picture, and I get into what I call my flinging mode I can release boxes of unnecessary, even sentimental or worn out items and feel cautiously elated, lighter, less burdened. Something within me is decluttering as I toss. It is like a small symbolic act to actually toss or recycle something. Not easy, because it reminds me of moving towards death (which may be the ultimate reason I don’t want to do it) but still strangely liberating.

 

The harder area of my life that illustrates this “letting go and losing” concept is in relationships. I am a relational person and take the nurturing of my close relationships seriously. So when a particularly close relationship ended in a surprising and deeply unsettling way this year, I felt a deep loss. In order to be fully present to this break I called upon God to be fully present and God responded by providing me with clarity, vulnerability and honesty within the hurt, anger and sadness. The parting was emotionally and spiritually excruciating. The loss was great. The grief was intense.

 

It’s difficult for me to see clearly the bigger picture for both of us but I do catch small glimpses of the larger story this break is a part of. And I do trust God to show me some day what the ultimate gain will be from this loss, as hard as it has been to endure.

 

What I am experiencing is a deeper internal cleaning so that I am available with more energy and presence for something else, perhaps more of the holy to fill the empty space. I feel God gently calling me to more creativity, both in my writing and with my icons. I feel like I have more compassion for myself and for others who lose people they care about.

 

I also feel as if the process of navigating the loss brought me to a new place within myself, a place of deeper honesty, relative calm, new self-regard and an understanding of the other person—ultimately the capacity, for the first time, to stay present to the searing but cleansing power of pain. None of this would have happened without God’s help. I would have just withdrawn or found a way to blame myself or the other person.

 

I feel like I’ve found a new part of myself through this loss. I believe I am learning to be a healer, a compassionate truth teller. While I am still very sad, I feel the sadness is creating a cleaner heart in me. I’m reminded of David’s words in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (v 10). Another verse from that same chapter resonates in me as well, “Behold you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. “(v 6).

 

Oh, to have that wisdom that only God can give… Maybe there is gain in this loss after all. And it occurs to me that maybe my two glimpses of “loss as gain,” of cleaning out my condo and cleaning out my heart are more related than I realized.

 

 

 

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Reflections on this essay

What comes to mind when you hear the words, “all loss is gain”?

 

Which of the verses listed trouble you or draw you the most?

 

How have you experienced loss that resulted in some gain; freedom or new life for you?

 

How do you embrace God in the difficult or unfathomable realities of your life?

 

What have you learned about yourself or about God that enables you to trust God in the process of life?

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