On The Loss of a Friend

The last time David sees Jonathan the son of King Saul, they kiss, they weep and David mourns knowing he will never see him again and says, “The love of Jonathan surpassed my love for women.” David had quite a few wives.

To this day one of the best chapters I have ever read in a book comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves in his chapter on friendship/phileo love. His argument is that while friendship is not the kind of love that is necessary for human survival, friendship is the kind of love that makes life worth living, that adds joy to life.

I think about this when I think of Jesus when he calls his disciples friends. Friends allow friends to know what they are up to and what their intentions are and this can be both fun and freeing. Friends agree to be a part of each other in adventure and interests.

This is the reason why I think losing a friend is so hard to bear. Friends are people we have given ourselves to in a social contract of complete choice. I have chosen to allow you in and you have chosen to allow me in. Obviously friendships can vary in depth of intensity and intimacy. The ones we have given more of ourselves to usually require a deeper level of commitment, accountability and trust.

If a friendship becomes too intimate without honesty it becomes confusing.

How to Get Over the Loss of a Friend | Psychic 2 Tarot

If a friendship becomes too committed without accountability and boundaries, it can become codependent and toxic.

If a friendship has trust without intimacy it is unbalanced and susceptible to collapse on an unknown foundation.

Here is the other side of friendship that is unlike affectionate familial love or romantic love. Those two require commitment to exist and sustain and to break commitment is neglectful. You fail to fulfill obligation and covenant in the case of family and love/marriage if you walk away. In friendship, that social contract can end without demand. Mourning is probably necessary, but friendship has no obligation because what it was based on in the beginning was mutual agreement.

This becomes slightly complicated in the context of the family of God. We can’t entirely walk away from family when we have the same Father so we have to learn to simply coexist despite the end of friendship because the implication and demand of the kingdom is to love even if a friend has become an enemy. The kingdom can have enemies even from within (David and Saul). Christians have in the past been known to kill each other over doctrine. Now they kill one another with ostracism or with bad doctrine rather than over it.

You might be wondering if you’ve made it this far, how do friendships end? In David and Jonathan’s case the urgency of their lives on different plains of trajectory and Jonathan’s eventual death marked the end of their friendship. The book of Acts gives us a picture of people who parted ways but there is no indication of if they considered one another friends or merely partners.

The fact that it does not seem that it was an easy parting of ways does suggest that there was some level of relationship that made it difficult to separate. But in 2021, it is easy the maintain friendship with people I rarely see.

It takes effort to end friendships in the Kingdom, concentrated intentionality to avoid people you see with regularity. Somehow despite that concentrated effort, it is unavoidable apparently to not coexist as family. So instead we occupy space as family in light of our reasons we have chosen to abdicate friendship.

Here are some of the reasons we make the choice to abdicate friendship:

-betrayal abandonment (John Mark, presumably the writer of the gospel of Mark is for a period of time uninvited by the apostle Paul to travel with their missionary party because of a perceived abandonment) When people feel like they were left in a moment when they needed partnership, they have an easier time leaving behind friendship.

-exploitation/being used, while this is something we tolerate in most areas, work, church, service without much thought, within the context of friends, there is mutual expression of give and take that often goes un-communicated among friends. There is usually a self awareness that comes with this give and take and usually an acknowledgement when the balance is titled in one direction. But there comes a point when someone perceives they have given too much or too much has been taken and a boundary has been crossed.

-discontentment with what or who you have, one of the complaints I hear most often among friend groups is people not liking when other people ask, “who is going?” Because of an abundance of options or social equity which I have discussed previously people try to evaluate who will be at places in light of many “good” options. It’s weird and in a way it’s still using people. I only ask who’s going to avoid people.

-triangles, whether they be romantic triangles or relational triangles, these are breeding grounds for miscommunication and hidden motives. Someone is usually hiding something and avoiding something in order for the triangle to break its bond. As is the case with triangles one person is usually left to be the side that gets dropped. This in some ways can strengthen the bond of friendship/codependency of the remaining sides.

-death, often the most permanent but also preserving of the friendship. When we mutually lose a friend there is a shared understanding of fondness with which the person is remembered. Death is a loss but one outside of our control. This in some way makes it the most tolerable if we are able to accept that there was nothing we could have done. And so we have the potential to mourn without the uncertainty of what could have been done differently.

Why even write or talk about a topic? Why even give voice or expression to the loss and process it in a public way. Because I think this loss is in some ways inevitable. We are prone to mistreat and use one another for our own benefit. We are prone to miscommunicate and say something hurtful. We are prone to walk away to pursue a greater desire or perceived need. And we are prone to exploit people until they become no longer useful to us.

And these are things we do to our friends not just our enemies. Maybe we will think twice or think more deeply about the way we treat one another. Maybe we will pause to think if we are treating someone as collateral to gain traction with someone else. Maybe we will learn how to be more selfless in our affection and lay down our lives for friends.

There is no greater love.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Last Call: On Grief and Time

              When someone my age dies, grief comes from all angles: from parents, from siblings, from friends, from children. The older ones carried the deceased as far as they could in the ways they knew how. The ones younger expected to be carried, guided, molded.

                But when someone dies of complications related to an overdose at 3 am, grief has this way of hypothesizing while moving like a wave. The family members who are awake are confronted with a reality that those asleep have no idea about. The woke ones grieve perhaps for the ones that don’t yet know (thus the hypothesis), while the wave of grief both victimizes and carries us.

                Grief is held until it overflows out of us enough times that it will hold us.

                Grief when allowed becomes our teacher. It is the writing on the wall and the writing in our hand and that which we grieve, becomes the etching on our heart. 

                Enough, metaphor speak, and on to the feeling.  Grief when held is first anticipated in our gut. It sits in our gut until we know what we are grieving. As it sits and perhaps stews in that stomach arena, we might be provoked to anger or ache or sickness. But once we know, once we are certain or convinced enough that we have lost what we loved, grief moves upward and sometimes becomes tense in our chest as a way of clutching the figment of what remains. What remains is memory, but what makes loss, as it pertains to grief, is the anticipation or assurance that we aren’t getting what’s lost back in this life.

                Sure, the memory will comingle with the grief in our minds while our hearts are about to burst. It’s as if the brain is trying to comfort or confuse the heart so as not to feel the entire weight of loss all at once. But the brain is no monster. We don’t get to just forget the one we’ve lost. The brain insists on reminding the heart, the whole body, all the senses that this now gone person has taken with them their scent, their smile, their warm touch, their laughter, even their personality and that sense of loss will pervade every person the lost one has sojourned with.

                Once the heart has dealt with this tension, it opens. With that opening comes emotions flowing with such fervor and uncertain frequency that we often weren’t aware of how much we were able to feel once we allowed ourselves to. Usually feelings don’t consume us when we allow them to be felt. They only consume us when we numb them. But even for the particularly hardened or wounded, it is an act of mercy for God to nudge those feelings out. Once the sadness or anger or pain has expressed itself, we await the comfort.

                And God do we hope the comfort comes. This is where we can often get lost. The lack of comfort or the well meaning attempts of others to try to comfort in their un-comfortability can feel neglectful or destructive. Avoidance in our grieving is not desired, but just as unhelpful is the one who unwittingly rushes us through our process rather than handling our pain with patience and gentleness. lastcall-1030x576

                Grief is as fragile as the initial loss and when mishandled it can break us for an extended period often without us realizing. If grief is not permitted its proper course of expression, if not allowed to be held then poured out to its last dreg,  not let go of, we miss out on grief actually holding us.

                And what does that mean “to be held by grief”?  

                When we are held by grief, we become generous with our emotions. We become more free to give our mourning to others who need us to mourn with them. We recognize that quick consolation is cheap. Instead, we are willing to sit in our own and others pain knowing first that this is a valuable way to spend our time, and second, as we sit, the real strengthening work is being done. It is being done because we are giving opportunity to attend to the most urgent thing in front of us, our loss. Laundry is no longer important, that task can be put on hold or perhaps delegated to someone else who cares.

What takes precedence is honoring the time necessary spent grieving, to function and move forward in spite of the loss. A return to normalcy should not necessarily be the goal. Numbly stepping back into the grind as a way of escape will stifle your compassion for others and self. But giving grief it’s due time and course and withholding judgment from yourself for it, will not only help you navigate future loss, but it will adequately enable you to hold another’s loss when they call.

The pain of loss always calls somewhere. It will always eventually show up. The unfortunate aspect is it can show up and be septic because it has sit too long. It can be unleashed rather than free to feel in safety. It can manifest violence or self harm reacting as an attempt to protect or it can be given space to overflow, to animate, to be beautiful in its brokenness. Then, at the last, given time we find that grief held us and healed us. a

Jesus wept for Lazarus, at the thought of death then raised him from the dead.

Jesus wept in the garden for himself and the cup he would drink. He drank it and raised from the dead.

Jesus weeps for you, with you… the pattern will continue. 

Mary

It’s hard to imagine the heart failing of someone who loved me so well. 

Maybe she was finally convinced we’d be okay without her. Maybe her body was just finished; certainly not her mind. Maybe it was just time. 59775954_646730895794525_4785438645509160960_n

I think I’ve learned you can prepare to make an end of living, but not death, for the moment or moments between life and life. The middle space that grief takes up. You can plan logistics of funerals and finances and forgiveness, but you can’t take a pulse of grief and parcel out emotional energy or therapy sessions to navigate the middle piece of what loss will leave in its wake. Because of this we ritualize. We have ceremonies, and sift through possessions and pictures, some of us hoping the deceased will visit us.

And after the rituals we return to life and vocation hoping the deceased will visit us. And then we form more community, hopefully enlarge our families and churches, hoping the deceased will visit us. But Jesus doesn’t want the deceased to visit us because Jesus doesn’t want death. He wants living and living abundantly, and Jesus wants the living to gather and in time the formerly dead to be seen in light of the resurrection with a glorious newness. It’s my only real consolation.

Any other emotional appeasement is not a hope I’m interested in. Merely being at rest or ending suffering is not enough. Life gained in full in the glory of Christ as a Christian has become the bare minimum of my desire, but it is also the ultimate.  It’s what I wait for and allows me to mourn as one not without hope. Because that hope also has the power to end or comfort me in my mourning.

Now I turn to Mary, my grandmother:

You didn’t leave me, you stayed with me for a season.

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It’s hard to accept your gone when you remembered our visits and held me to my words. You kept track of the time like you knew it was short but looked forward in time like you’d live forever. It wasn’t a lie; it was you weaving the story I think you knew I wanted.

I was as proud as you were while wrapping your bingo nickels

I’ll cherish the smirk you gave me the last time I “stole” your cookie.

And even though your hand won’t hold back I’ll try to hold your heart. Lord Have mercy

You were too busy living, enjoying simplicity to worry about dying. Christ have mercy

You were showing me, I believe, that death is not something to worry about. Like Jesus, it is something we can be angry about and mourn, but it mustn’t be something that hinders living or the hope of resurrection. Death might be inevitable, but death is defeated, and I’m currently becoming okay with the fact that it was your turn to pass through it, into glory. Lord have mercy.

When I spoke with Gabe in February or March, of my visit to you in January, he felt I spoke of you like one should speak of their spouse. I wanted to you to meet her (I mean, I’d like to meet her, but I wanted you to meet her), not that I needed your approval, just so I could share you with her and her with you. I mourn that. I own that. I’m sorry for that. I’m not sure anything changes because of this, but my imagination placed you there at the celebration. If you have time, please come with the Lord. Invite friends. Christ have mercy

Thanks for all you’ve given me, it would be impossible to repay you or even out the scale of love. I think you would want it that way. You win gram, but we are probably close to even in Pokeno. Lord have mercy.

I thought you might live forever, and now you will. To Christ be the glory.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

This is it folks, the blog post that will break the internet. If  you couldn’t tell by the title I’m ambitiously going to person-splain the meaning of life.

But before I get into it and switch gears, allow me to set the stage of the state I am in while I’m writing. I’m eating candy heart grapes and gluten-free pretzels while drinking Arizona Iced Green Tea from a protein shake bottle. I also took the day off today because the hospital offered it to me after working a 24-hour shift on Friday, and I highly considered not taking it, but I did. I took it not because I was tired or needed it, rather I took it because I read a few pages from a book titled Images of Pastoral Care, from a chapter written by Henry Nouwen regarding personal loneliness and the minister.

And to explain a little more, I took it because I believe the greater challenge for me today is not ministering to patients in a hospital, some of whom could be dying. Rather, my greater challenge is how Nouwen puts it “finding the wound of loneliness to be an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

But that’s enough from the guy who has given pastoral ministers one of the clearest images of caring for others spiritual health in the last 40 years. If you want to hear from him I’ll loan you the book.

So let me ask you one question, then I’ll write a little, then I’ll go pay my parking ticket, visit the library, and write an assignment, and then maybe make some time for self-understanding.

Have you ever found the awareness of loneliness or loss to be a source of beauty?

If yes, well don’t read the rest and just write me immediately or better yet call me or better yet come to Charleston and agree to sit and talk with me for at least several hours about this topic and nothing else. I’ll buy you a moderately priced meal.

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

To start, loneliness can only begin to be beautiful with the assurance that it is temporary. If we feel our isolation will never end, all we will see is despair and be paralyzed by fear. Reminding the feeling that it is fleeting even if it seems final, is essential.

What also helps but is not a solution is the reminder that there are worse things than feeling lonely. Feeling incessantly annoyed or tortured is probably worse. But what’s actually worse than being lonely is self-loathing. There is  perhaps nothing worse than not liking yourself, which is why if you combine this with loneliness, its combustible.

I have a theory that people who genuinely like most things about themselves have little problem being alone.

Why is that?

Because they know what they like and feel absolutely no shame embracing that which they enjoy. Sure this could turn into complete selfishness, but there is something admirable about someone is completely secure in their delights.

Combine liking your self with self-awareness, you combine to make a refreshing human being. You’re like a classic Coke or Sprite, your like a refreshing Iced Tea, your like a warm (insert favorite latte), you’re the type of person that its okay to walk around in your underwear in front of. You won’t be creeped out or do anything creepy; you’re content to breastfeed in public without judging the people who might be judging you. You’re (this stopped being helpful 2 sentences ago) contented.

In other words, your happiness is not dependent on others but you allow it to be heightened and appropriately saddened given the person and circumstance. You’re soul is malleable rather than easily broken.

So you can use loneliness as a method of further self-discovery. This is the type of person I must become, and I must become it quickly and joyously and love God and others all the more for the opportunity.

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

Anything you lose sucks to varying degrees. (Except excess weight, I guess). Especially when you lose something you think you need, keys, phone, family, kids. Like it sucks to misplace those things for five minutes but the loss I’m talking about is the kind of loss that implies permanence.

Loss sucks so much, I got to this part of the blog, and I don’t even want to write about it and part of the reason for me writing is to write about it. That’s how much I try to avoid it; I even am trying to avoid writing about it. (Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels are great by the way; I wish they would pay me to say that).

Yet loss is inevitable. And worst of all, it usually if not always comes despite our intent. I won’t go so far to say that all loss is unintended because that is not the nature of what I’m trying to convince you and myself of.

If loss is inevitable and loss is painful and it’s something we, I included, try to avoid how exactly do we beautify it? Well, like loneliness, the effects of loss are temporal (what I mean is you can’t permanently lose the same thing twice) yet the love of that which was lost is enduring.

Love has this enduring quality and while you cannot change or really replace that which was lost, whether it be a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a potential spouse, a friend, a pet, a vocation that gave you purpose, love need not die because of loss.

The loss of any one of those things may yield unbearable weight or heartbreak and most likely will. That heartbreak is real and it stings. We may yearn that we were lost in the stead of whom we lost. And the temptation becomes losing ourselves, to lose our identity in that which we lost. To become the person that our broken heart makes us vulnerable in believing: that we are irreparable, irreconcilable, impossible or unworthy to reconstruct. And the lie of loss is not the same as the loss itself or the love of the loss.

The lie of loss tries to tell you all is lost, but all is not lost. Even if in the moment, or in the season, or in the seeming lifetime it feels like all is lost, all is not lost. You are not lost if you are reading this. I mean in the metaphorical cosmic, what is the purpose of my existence, schema you might be lost, but that too is temporal. Our potential for being found is far greater than our propensity to wander away.

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

See the divine nature of love is recognizable by its endurance. It’s recognizable by the lengths it pushes us to, and by the length and depth it propels others into. Love has this amazing potential to infuse tangible, powerful hope into the darkest of situations. The demonstration and resource of love provided to us by Jesus gives new strength, new life, and it need not end. Love doesn’t have a salary cap.

But it also has the attribute of self-forgetfulness that gives us additional strength to recognize our losses and loneliness as unique, yet equitable when met with love. It acts as currency to others in the midst of loss and the feeling of loneliness.

38710813_440696929773474_7108082828050432000_nBut the only way we can even begin to be a dispensary of this kind of love is to lean into the divine love of God, as the well we drink from. We drink as much as, even more than we might think we need throughout the day so our loss and loneliness won’t dehydrate us, leaving us so poor and empty that we lose sight of beauty and self-understanding.

The goal of lasting love in spite of loss and loneliness is not to erase existence; it is to thrive in spite of the suffering that comes with existing. It is so that if we lose a parent and yearn for that intimacy, we adopt a widow or widower; it’s if we have lost a sibling, we befriend a lonely stranger who yearns for loyalty; it’s if we lose a child, we find strength to be able to lavish love on one’s not lost, providing hospitality and family to the orphan. It’s if we lose a spouse and suffer heartbreak, we don’t crumble so far inwards that we close ourselves off or run from the viable love of others around us.

Sometimes allowing ourselves to be loved is the only salve that will heal us in time. I don’t think this blog will change the internet, but I hope it provides us with hope to give and receive divine love as our defense against loss and loneliness in a lasting way.