Learning Through Loss
- Monday, April 23, 2007
In all honesty, this is not an article that I wanted to write, but rather, one that God laid on my heart. In fact, I avoided it, put it off, and argued with God about the fact that I am not fit to write on this subject. I have no "answers" and I'm not a theologian, counselor, or psychologist. Nonetheless, here I am, attempting to share some thoughts on teaching our children to learn, accept, and grow through the inevitable losses they will face in this journey of life.
This is my oldest son's second year of college. In the first year he was away, a girl in his college was killed in a school rafting accident. I recall my son saying, "She was just 18. Her parents were expecting her home this weekend, just like the rest of us." I think that was the first time he really understood just how fragile life is--that death isn't reserved only for the elderly. This year, shortly after returning to school, his pastor's teenage son died unexpectedly. He was shocked to find his pastor preaching the next week. How did he have the strength to do that?
The loss of a loved one is something we will all experience at some point, but death is not the only way we experience loss. We can experience the loss of a dream, the loss of a friendship, the loss of a talent or skill due to injury, and more. Loss is inevitable and arrives in a myriad of forms. Therefore, it is imperative that we help our children understand and grow through loss.
Sadly, I'm intimately familiar with the opposite response. When I was eighteen, my fourteen year old step-sister died. We were quite close, as she was the only other girl in a houseful of boys. While she was happy, full of life, and wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother, I was the exact opposite. The fact that God took her rather than me was more than I could bear. I was beyond angry. This was the final straw in my long list of grievances about how unjust and pointless life was.
While I was never quite able to convince myself that I didn't believe in God (believe me, I tried!) I chose to blatantly reject him. I became bitter and self-destructive, both to myself and those who loved me. I spent years in this state of mind, with God tugging at me the entire time. Finally, I came to the end of myself and landed at His feet, acknowledging that I didn't know more than He did after all. I am ever thankful for His patience and love for me, though I didn't see it at the time.
While I recognize that our children must experience their own struggles as they grow in their relationship with God, I would like to spare them from the type of torment I put myself through, as much as possible. There are a few things I want my children to know.
For one, our circumstances are not a reflection of how much we are loved. I think we are sometimes given the impression that if we behave a certain way, our lives will be wonderful. That was part of my anger. "I did everything I was supposed to! Why are you doing this to me?" I decided that God obviously didn't love me and that I couldn't do any better to "earn" that love so I quit trying.
It is important that we talk with our children about our own losses and struggles. They need to know that these are a normal part of life. They need to see that the great men and women of the Bible experienced pain and sorrow, yet they were much-loved and God was very much in control. Our circumstances, while they can certainly be the consequences of our own behaviors, which is a different issue entirely, cannot be the scale on which we weigh God's love for us.
I've always been a bit bothered when I hear people say, "God is good!" in response to some positive occurrence in their life. I'm left thinking, "So, is God 'bad' when things don't go right?" I do realize and appreciate the fact that by acknowledging God's goodness when we receive a blessing we are offering Him praise and magnifying the good things in our life. That's right and appropriate. I think, though, that we might consider saying, "God is good!" when bad things happen as well. What a simple way for our children to learn that we trust in God and His love regardless of the circumstances. That He is good, and is caring for us, even when our circumstance is bad.
Linked closely to the understanding of God's love for us is that of our trust for Him. We must show our children that God is trustworthy regardless of how things may appear at the moment. Sharing from our own life as well as stories from the Bible helps us to understand that God knows what He is doing even when we don't. That there is more to the picture than what we see, and that our role is to trust. Pray daily for your children to know and experience God's love for them on a deep and personal level.
In my 30's I experienced another time of great loss and pain. Again, I questioned God. I felt hurt, alone, and even betrayed. This time, however, instead of running from God, I ran to Him. I took Him my questions and anger and pain. It still took a great deal of time to heal, but my wrestling with God brought me closer to Him in the end. That is what I want for my children. That they would be secure enough in God's love and trust Him enough that they will turn to Him rather than from Him in their inevitable times of confusion and sorrow.
I've also learned, and want my children to know, that God will give us the grace and peace necessary to deal with life's difficulties if we ask. Our role is to accept that gift. That can sound much easier than it is. So often, we focus on the injustice or our "right" to be hurt, angry, etc. As long as we stay there, we are rejecting God's gift of grace. If He enables us to forgive or accept or experience peace, then we need to accept that and not let our mind take control, convincing us of how we "should" feel or have the "right" to react.
Now, in my 40's, life is still not pain-free. There are great joys, to be certain, but the sorrows and struggles are ever-evident. I think, though, that I am finally beginning to accept them as a necessary and even positive part of my growth and relationship with Christ. Years ago, I read a quote that I've been unable to find since. At the time, I didn't understand how it could be possible. It went something like, "We will experience peace when we welcome sorrow with our arms open as wide as when we welcome joy."
I'm finally beginning to understand that. It comes from a deep trust in God's love for me; an understanding that He is with me. He WILL give me the grace to accept a situation and move forward. It is up to me whether to accept or reject that grace. In seeking comfort from Him, I can share in His pain and grow to know Him more intimately.
This is a far cry from the teenager who rejected God because He was "unfair" and felt she could never measure up or earn His love. It has been a long and painful journey and I know there is still a good way to go. I just hope that by sharing my mistakes and struggles, showing my children a different way of responding, and firmly rooting them in the knowledge of God's love for them, they will be able to skip some of the more painful steps in their own walk.
As I write this article, we are preparing for the funeral of my husband's 97 year old grandmother. She was a godly woman and a true treasure. It would be impossible to count the many lives she has touched. Even while living each day fully and with abundant love, she's talked, the last several years, of being ready to go and be with her Father. So her passing, though sad, is filled with joy as well. I pray that my children experience the same trust and love for their Father that their great-grandmother knew.
Dena Wood is a homeschooling mom of five in Eastern Washington State. She is co-owner of www.TriggerMemorySystem.com, producers and marketers of non-traditional learning materials and creators of www.TimesTales, a multiplication memorization system. She and her partners also operate www.CreativeHomeschooling.com, which offers creative learning tips and ideas. Dena can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com
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