There’s an APP for That
Part 7: Loss
Psalm 46:1-3; John 11:31-36; Galatians 6:2
Pastor Morris Brown
As many of you know, we’ve been sharing a worship series over the last few weeks entitled, There’s an APP for That. In this series, we’ve been learning that our faith has some apps that can help us deal with a number of the challenges we each face in our daily lives. Challenges such as: transition, work, worry, busyness, peer pressure and shame.
Well, today we come to the last message in this series. And to be honest, this morning I was going to talk about the fact that our faith has an app that can help us deal with success in life. In light of the tragic events that took place in Las Vegas, however, that just seemed inappropriate. As a result, this week our worship team decided to switch gears.
This morning I want to share a message I’ve entitled, “Loss – There’s an APP for That.” I share this message because the victims of the shooting in Las Vegas are experiencing loss in their lives right now. I share this message because people who were affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and now Nate are experiencing loss in their lives right now.
And I share this message because many of you may be experiencing loss in your lives right now – the loss of loved ones, the loss of your health, the loss of employment, the loss of a relationship – just to name a few. So, what does our faith have to say about loss? Does it have an app that can help deal with it when it occurs? Well, I believe it does!
First, when we experience loss our faith says we must tend to our emotions. You see, when you and I experience loss in our lives we have all kinds of emotions. We may experience anger, shock, sadness - even rage. And to deal with our loss in a way that is helpful and healthy we must acknowledge these emotions and express them!
We see an example of Jesus doing this in our gospel reading from John 11. The story begins by telling us that Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, became ill and died. When Jesus finds out about this, the scripture says, “His soul was deeply grieved.” And then the scripture offers us the shortest verse in the entire bible. It simply says, “Jesus wept.”
Did you hear it? When he experienced loss in his life - Jesus wept! I believe his tears give us a model for dealing with loss in our lives. His actions remind us that when it comes to dealing with loss we must tend to the plethora of feelings we have: anger, fear, sadness, and deep despair. And, we must not be ashamed to express them freely.
In an article on grief and loss, author William H. Frey, the former Director of Health Partners Research Center writes, “Tears and other forms of emotional release are such an essential part of the grief process that if we suppress them, if we fail to express them, we can end up poisoning our immune system which can lead to serious health problems.”
I remember once hearing about a man whose daughter suffered a serious brain injury in an automobile accident. When the injury happened the girl’s father was the rock for the family. He remained calm in the midst of chaos. He made crucial decisions about his daughter’s care. He encouraged her each day of her slow and minimal recovery.
Eventually, however, as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, the father found himself beginning to struggle. He withdrew from his wife and the rest of his family. He found that he was unable to maintain his focus which impacted his performance at work. And he discovered that he never really felt physically rested or good.
So one day he decided to drive to the park where his daughter played as a little girl. As he sat there he thought about her and the things she would never get to do – go to college, get married, have children. A wave of grief swept over him and he did what he had not been able to do. He screamed. He cursed. And finally, he broke down and wept.
When he got home he told his wife what had happened. “How do you feel now?” his wife asked.
“Well”, he said, “I still feel sad. But, I have to admit I also feel better. I feel better because I realize that expressing my true emotions is the only way I can begin to heal.”
To move through loss, we must tend to the emotions brought on by our loss.
Second, when we experience loss in our lives our faith says we often need a team to help us. In Galatians 6:2 Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, in this way you fulfill the way of Christ.” In other words, to deal with loss well we often need other people to help us through – family, friends, counselors, pastors, a community of faith.
As we all know, the events in Las Vegas this past Sunday rocked the city. It caused extensive pain and loss that’s nearly overwhelmed people’s lives. And yet, this week I saw an interview with a resident of Las Vegas. When the reporter asked her how she, how her city was doing she said something interesting. She said, “We’re devastated by this tragedy. But, we will not allow this to defeat us. We’ll mourn our loss. Then, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand, heart to heart we’ll join together to help our neighbors, comfort strangers and do what we have to do to get our lives and our city back on its feet!”
Did you hear what she said? The residents of Las Vegas will work through their loss as a team!
One grief expert writes, “Humans are social creatures. As a result, having someone to share our pain with can help us feel better and less alone. Whatever the nature of our loss - friends, family members, counselors and support groups to carry our burden with us can help us heal.”
If we want to deal with loss in a healthy way we need a team to help us.
Third, when we experience a loss our faith reminds us grieving our loss will take time. Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. There is a time to dance and a time to grieve.” If there is one thing the ancients understood, it was that everything takes time, especially grieving a loss.
For example, scholars tell us that when a person experienced the loss of a loved one in ancient Judaism there was an official forty-day period of mourning. Now, in the bible the number forty does not literally mean “forty.” The number “forty” is a metaphor for “a long period of time.” Ancient Jews realized that the grief process required a long time.
Unfortunately, as Americans we live in an instant gratification culture that likes to rush through everything – even grieving a loss in our lives. We are like the man and wife who rushed into a dentist’s office one day.
“Doc,” the man said, “We’ve got a tooth that’s needs to be pulled, but we’re in a big hurry - so no gas, no novicane, no fancy stuff. Just pull the tooth and we’ll be on our way.”
Surprised the dentist said, “Gee mister, I wish more of my patients were as courageous as you. Now, tell me which tooth is it you need me to pull?”
The man turned to his wife and said, “Sweetheart, show him your tooth.”
Unfortunately, the grief we experience from a loss cannot be “pulled out” in a hurry. The grieving process takes time. It cannot be rushed, no matter whose grief it is. Psychologists tell us “it takes most people an average of two to three years to process the grief caused by a significant loss in some area of their lives.” However, psychologist are quick to add, “Two to three years is only an average. There are no hard and fast rules in grief.
For some people grief takes more time, for others it takes a little less. The trick is not to worry about how long it will take, but realize that our psyche, like our body, heals at its own pace.”
Rabbi Allison Van writes, “You must not hurry as you walk through grief for it does not help with the journey.”
Our faith says to grieve a loss well takes time.
Fourth, when we experience loss in our lives our faith says we need to trust. No matter how deep our loss is, our faith says we must trust that God is with us and will give us the grace and strength we need to move on with our lives in spite of our loss. As Psalm 46 so beautifully reminded us this morning, “God is our refuge and our strength. A very present help in times of trouble.”
This psalm reminds us that when we experience loss in our lives God is with us! There is no loss we can experience in life where God is not by our side to comfort us, to be our refuge. But, the psalms also remind us of something else. They remind us that God is not only with us in times of loss, but there to help us.
They remind us that God will provide us with the strength and resources we need to move through our loss and find new life. And this is important. Why? Because sometimes we get stuck in our loss. We get stuck in our grief. And when we get stuck in our loss, in our grief, it can have dire consequences for our lives and the lives of people who love us.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Paul Laurence Dunbar, but he was one of the first African Americans to gain national attention as a poet. Born in 1872, he wrote a large number of poems and short stories that addressed the struggles of African Americans to gain equality in America. Tragically, however, Dunbar died of tuberculosis at the age of 33.
When Laurence Dunbar died, his mother was totally overcome by her loss. In fact, she became so overwhelmed that she turned Dunbar’s room into a shrine. She left it exactly as it was on the day of his death and wouldn’t allow anyone to enter it but herself. Years later, when Laurence Dunbar’s mother died, friends went into the room to clean it out.
When they entered the room they found a tattered pad of paper with the faint image of a handwritten poem. It was the beginning of the final poem Laurence Dunbar had ever written. Unfortunately, the end of the poem could not be read. It could not be read because the sun had bleached the ink on the paper to the point that it was invisible.
The world was robbed of Laurence Dunbar’s last poem because his mother got stuck in her grief. When we get stuck in our grief over a loss we’ve experienced in our lives, much of what’s left of our lives can be lost. Consequently, to deal with loss our faith says we must trust God is with us and will give us the strength we need to move on.
One final thought. Our faith reminds us that every loss will leave a tender spot in our hearts. When I was 9 years old a friend of mine’s family got a new refrigerator. Now, that wasn’t a big deal, except for the fact that my friend’s mom let my friend and me have the box the frige came in. And to us that was like an early Christmas present!
Well, we took the box outside. We climbed in it. We made a fort out of it. We each got in it while the other pushed the box around the yard. It was incredibly fun, until it happened. With my friend in the box, I pulled the box toward me, and when I did my hand slipped and ran across one of the metal straps that held the refrigerator box together.
You know what happened, don’t you? It took a trip to the emergency room and seventeen stitches to close the wound. Now, that happened over forty-three years ago. But, you know what? I still have the scar. And when its cold and I hit my hand just right, I experience the pain of the cut all over again. Oh, it’s a duller pain. But the spot is still tender.
You see, it is true that when we experience a loss in our lives, with God’s help and the help of others we can eventually heal to the point that we can move on with our lives. But, it is also true that every loss we experience in life will leave a scar, a tender spot in our heart. For you see, just as the resurrected Christ still carried the scars of the crucified Jesus, we will always carry the scars of our losses. As a result, we can expect that there will be moments when we see something, do something, go somewhere and suddenly we find that the pain of the loss we experienced is triggered again. It may not be as intense, but it will always be there. Our faith reminds us loss always leaves a tender place in our hearts!
So, this morning the victims of the Las Vegas tragedy are struggling with loss. The people of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Mississippi are struggling with loss. And you may be struggling with loss. If so, I want you to know our faith has an app for that! If you’ll tend to your emotions. If you’ll allow a team of people to support you. If you will take time to grieve. If you will trust that God is with you and willing to help you. And, if you will remember that your loss will always leave a tender spot in your heart. You can grieve with your loss in a way that is healthy and whole. You can grieve your loss in a way that will allow you to one day move through your loss and find new life!
© 2017 Morris A. Brown