Thriving Through the Loss of a Loved One
A very close family member of ours has just received a terminal cancer diagnosis and has opted for hospice care at home. And we are at their home right now to help in whatever ways that we can. The aggressiveness of this type of cancer usually results in death within 2-3 months of diagnosis, so we are preparing for that scenario. I also met with a friend last week who recently lost his wife and is facing the challenges that loss brings. Doubtless, these are difficult situations to face.
Perhaps you have been through something similar in the past or are facing it right now. Unfortunately, many “fall apart” when one who is close to them dies. But does it have to be that way? Is there a way that we can face the loss of loved ones and not just survive, but thrive? The answer to this last question is, “Yes!” And the key to the answer is a new paradigm.
When you were born, how much did you have? Nothing. And when you die, how much will you take with you? Nothing. If you begin with nothing and end with nothing, how much do you have to lose? Nothing! If you have anything right now, where did it come from? “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James 1:17. So, everything you have is from God.
Did God give it to you so you would be the owner of that thing, or the steward of it? God is the owner. “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:8. “all the earth is mine.” Exodus 19:5. “whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:11. “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” “The world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” Psalm 50:10,12. We are the stewards. In this life of sin, how long are we given stewardship over anything? It is only given to us temporarily. We start with nothing. We end with nothing. Everything that is given to us is for us to be a steward over for a while. This means that everything given to us at one time will be taken from us at another.
Every stewardship given to us will come to an end. Job faced this reality when he lost all his children, animals, and servants in one day. But what was Job’s response to this great loss? “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job recognized that he had nothing when he was born and he would take nothing with him at death. He recognized that everything he had had been given to him by God. And He recognized that, though it may have been through the direct action of the devil, God was ultimately the one responsible for removing Job’s stewardship over those animals and people at that time, “the Lord hath taken away.”
Was Job resentful because God had ended his stewardship at that moment? No! He said, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” How could Job say, “blessed be the name of the Lord” when he just acknowledged that the Lord had “taken away” possessions, friends, and family? Job recognized that he didn’t have those possessions, friends, or family when he was born. He recognized that he wouldn’t take any one of them with him when he died. He recognized that God gave them to him for him to be a steward over. And he recognized that everything God gave him stewardship over was only for a time. So, Job blessed God for the time God had given him to be a steward over those things.
“Blessed be the name of the Lord for the 42 years I had with my first child; for the smiles, hugs, mealtime laughs, weekend walks, and heart-to-heart talks. Blessed be the name of the Lord for the 40 years I had with my second child; for the bedtime stories, animal rearing, shopping trips, discussions about God, shared tears over disappointments, and so much more. Blessed be the name of the Lord for the 39 years I had with my third child…” Job’s focus was not upon what he had lost, because he recognized he had nothing to lose. He only had something to gain. God had blessed him with each of these relationships and possessions for a time, and Job was grateful. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The problem that we face is that we believe others belong to us. We see ourselves as the owners, and when they die, we are the ones at loss. We expected them to always be there for us when we need them, and now they aren’t there. Hence, we are disappointed. But if we recognize that they don’t belong to us, and never did, we will cherish the moments that we do have with the ones that are still in our stewardship. We will recognize that each one is a precious stewardship given to us by God for a time—for us to care for and protect for the Owner’s sake. Then we can thank God for the time that He has given and live a life of gratitude to the One who blessed us so much.
Another paradigm comes from the Ten Commandments. The law of God is the law of love, and it reveals to us how love operates. There are 8 of the 10 commandments that begin with “Thou shalt not.” Each of these commandments essentially tells us, “Don’t take from here” or “Don’t take like this.” That leaves us with commandments number four and five. The first four commandments, written on the first table of stone, govern our relationship with God, and the last six commandments, written on the second table of stone, govern our relationship with others.
The fourth commandment on the first table of stone essentially tells us that God is the Creator of the heavens and earth. Therefore, He is the Source of everything that we need. The fourth commandment also calls us to rest. You don’t feel rested when you are suffocating, thirsty, or hungry. You feel rested when your needs are satisfied. So, to rest, your needs must be satisfied. The fourth commandment calls us to come to God, the Source of everything we need, and satisfy our needs by taking from Him all we need.
The fifth commandment on the second table of stone tells us that we are to honor others. Honor is giving, not taking. We are to give to others, but what do we give them? We can’t give them what we don’t have. So, we have to take something first in order to give it. How, then, are we going to be able to give them honor? Are we the source of honor, that we can give them honor from ourselves? No! God is the source of honor. The only way we can honor them is to take honor from God. Then we have honor to give away. This is true for everything (love, respect, understanding, compassion, mercy, freedom, etc.). We must first come to God, the Source of all things, and take what we need. Then we are to give away to others that which we have taken from God. This is love—taking what we need from God and giving it away to others. And because God is unselfish love, what we give to others is unselfish love.
It becomes clear from the law of God that our relationship with God is a relationship of taking, and our relationship with others is a relationship of giving. In the context of God’s law, I don’t develop human relationships so that I can take from them as a source. (Yes, they can be a channel of God’s love to me. But I recognize that they are only the channel, not the Source. So, my dependency is upon God, not them.) I have human relationships so that I can give away what I took from God.
If we enter into a relationship so that we can give and not take, then the purpose of the relationship is FOR THEM, not for me. I give to them to help and support them. I listen to them. I understand them. I accept them. I give them a place of belonging. I give them mercy and compassion. I tell them the truth in love. Everything I do is for their good. Anything that I need for myself I go to God and take. Everywhere I am, God is there. I can take from Him at all times and be full. He is a faithful Source of all that I need.
If I am in a relationship with another, and they stop accepting what I give them, who has the problem? They do. Who do I feel sorry for? Them. Who is my concern for? Them. Am I disappointed? Yes. But for whom? For them! But if I am in a relationship with someone for what I might receive from them, for how they might fulfill my needs, so that I might be loved, accepted, understood, etc.; and now they stop giving to me, who has the problem? I do. Who do I feel sorry for? Me. Who is my concern for? Me. Am I disappointed? Terribly! For whom? For me!
Unfortunately, this second scenario is how we usually approach the loss of loved ones. And the solution to the damaging grief is a selfless love FOR others. The solution is entering into relationships for the purpose of giving, not taking. The solution is a change of heart from a selfish to a selfless motivation. And this change is impossible for us to accomplish on our own. But it is something that God offers to us as a free gift. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.
Does God condemn us because we selfishly mourn over the loss of our loved ones? No! He loves us with an infinite love. He wants nothing but the best for us. He wants to open our eyes so that He can save us from the type of grief that we suffer from—a type of grief that will destroy us. He wants to set us free by His truth so that we don’t need to hurt like that anymore.
Does that mean that if we are selfless, we won’t hurt when others die? No! But we won’t hurt for ourselves. We won’t hurt for what we are no longer able to receive from them. We will miss what we are no longer able to give. We will hurt because sin has resulted in death. But in the selfless hurt, we will trust in God that He will work all things out for good, and we will confidently leave their case in His hands to work out as He knows is best. There will be a mixture of confidence in God, and sorrow for sin, death, and the suffering of others. We will not despair. We will rise up in that divine confidence and thrive, for our God (our Source) is with us and has never forsaken us and is always available to fulfill our needs. What a day of rejoicing that will be!