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Ashes: Loss

Date: 05/03/2023/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Ashes: Loss
5 March 2023
Miak Siew

I came across this quote earlier this week – “To observe Lent is to prepare for loss – Kate Bowler” and it was a very astute observation (pun intended).

To observe Lent is to prepare for loss – from the very beginning of Lent, we are made aware of the transient nature of life. We are reminded, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you return.”

We can find ways and means to deceive ourselves, and pretend everything can and will last forever, everything can and will remain the same – but all that is vanity. I spoke about that last week – only God’s love is everlasting. This week I am going to talk about loss.

There are different kind of losses – the loss of a person – whether it is the end of a relationship or the end of a person’s life. It could be the loss of a way of life – whether it is losing one’s job or one’s physical ability due to health issues, or even one’s way of seeing and understanding the world.

It could be loss that comes from moving and migration. We may not think much of it, but to be honest, saying goodbye to so many people who moved overseas last year did have an impact on me.

So it is a given that we will experience loss at some point in our lives. The question is how do we prepare for loss?

How have you prepared for loss in your life?

I will say that earlier in my life I didn’t know how to deal with loss. I just simply ran away and pretended it wasn’t there. And spoiler alert – the grief did come back one way or another and I still needed to deal with them. Of course, I now have some tools now to deal with loss in healthier ways. So I want to share with them with you today. And oddly, these tools are derived from WWJD.

The first is to allow ourselves to feel the emotions that come with loss – instead of running away or avoiding these emotions.

I don’t know how many times at wakes or funerals I have heard someone telling a person who is grieving “don’t cry” followed by whatever reasoning to try and make the person feel better.

Telling someone not to cry is asking them to deny and suppress their emotions that will lead to more issues later on. They may deal with these emotions in unhealthy ways like finding ways to numb themselves.

Sometimes, people tell others not to cry because of their own discomfort with crying / display of emotions, sometimes it is because we are just repeating unhelpful advice we have been given before.

So we look at WWJD. Jesus, in one of the shortest verses in the Bible, John 11:35, wept at the news of his friend, Lazarus’ death. I often thought of this as an example of how Jesus behaves in contrast to toxic masculinity.

After all, Jesus cries here – something that men are told not to do and they are instead supposed to repress their emotions.

But there is something more as I approached this passage after reflecting on it during a wake last month.

Let us follow what happened in John 11.

Lazarus was sick and Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Jesus even said – “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

So, even though Jesus knew he would bring Lazarus back to life, Jesus wept.

No matter how prepared we are for loss, we cannot avoid the feelings that come when it happens. Even Jesus – who comforted Martha, saying to her, “Your brother will rise again,” even when he knew that Lazarus would be brought back to life (and he was the one to do it!) couldn’t hold back the emotions that came up when they showed him where they laid Lazarus.

John 11:35 Jesus wept.

So – the first tool we have – is to acknowledge our feelings, and allow ourselves to feel the emotions that come with loss.

The second tool comes from another occasion that Jesus was “deeply grieved.”

Matthew 26:36
he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[i] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 

45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Now the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. Look, my betrayer is at hand.”

There is much to be learned here at the garden of Gethsemane – Jesus knew what was to come. His trial, his crucifixion, his death. He, too, struggled with it. “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.

And this is second tool to prepare for loss – prayer. We may be silent, we may speak aloud, we may even weep. As we pray – we, like Jesus, will struggle. We, like Jesus, will bargain with God. We pour out the emotions we feel into the prayer. “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death”

“God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,”

And as we pray, may we come to the second part of what Jesus said – “yet not what I want but what you want.”

Then – “God, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 

This transition from struggle to acceptance is the movement of aligning our will with God’s will. And it probably take a period of time longer than just one night. And that is ok.

And that leads us to the third tool – Ask for support

Matthew 26:37 – Jesus took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 

“Remain here, stay awake with me.”

Having people support us through times of loss can make a huge difference. We do not have to go through difficult times alone. Even Jesus reached out for support from his disciples in his time of need.

I must admit – even I find it difficult to ask for support myself.

Have you ever had difficulty reaching out and asking for support?

Why do you think you have difficulty asking for support?

Perhaps there is a fear that we would be rejected or abandoned. Perhaps we think that people do not care about us. Perhaps we may think we do not deserve the support. Perhaps we think that the matter is too small to bother other people.

Asking for support is very counter-cultural in these times where self-sufficiency and independence are valued, and vulnerability is seen negatively. Yet, that’s what Jesus demonstrated. We ask “What would Jesus do?” and here’s an example of what he did, and we don’t follow.

I have shared 3 tools to prepare for loss as an individual.

I want to wrap up today flipping it around and talk about how as a community we support and individual’s preparation for, and experience of loss. After all, this year’s theme is “walking each other towards growth and wholeness in Christ.”

How do we walk each other through loss?

Don’t be like Jesus’ disciples who fell asleep, but be like Job’s friends ( at least the first 7 days)

Job 2:11-13
11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 

12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

So far, so good. For seven days and seven nights, they were supporting Job.

Then, they started talking – and instead of being supportive, they started offering their opinions. And really – that isn’t helpful. I wonder if the advice and opinions Job’s friends offered have more to do with them and their discomfort, rather than really caring and comforting Job.

Walking each other through loss is sitting quietly. It isn’t a time for theological debate, or offering advice, and even explanations for what happened. All of this isn’t helpful.

Offer advice only if you are asked. Often, our need to give advice is about us, than about supporting the individual. It has to do more about our discomfort with our helplessness – so we try to “help” by offering advice that isn’t solicited.

Even Jesus, when he was restoring Bartimaeus’ sight in Mark 10, didn’t assume, didn’t prescribe, didn’t advice – he asked Bartimaues “What do you want me to do for you?” I have shared berore that this passage really helped me in changing my approach.

I have, in the past, before any training, been very frustrated when people came back to share the same problems with me. Haven’t I offered a solution? Haven’t I pointed the way forward?

But I wasn’t listening to them, I was trying to problem solve for them. What they needed – and perhaps they weren’t able to articulate clearly – was support – just a listening ear and someone to be present with them.

Listening isn’t agreeing with people. Listening is just being present to hold space for them.

J.S Park, a chaplain at Tampa General Hospital says “”When a person grieves, very often they’re falling. Falling into a sudden vacuum of loss, falling into hard and overwhelming emotions, falling into a ‘new normal,’ literally falling on the floor,” Park explained. “In many ways, I am trying to catch them. Not to stop their grief, but to be with them on the way down.”

We are too often focused on results and outcomes. We want the situation to change. But the invitation is for us to just be there and hold space for people – the Lenten kind of space, the space that is filled with silence, the space that allows us to reflect, the space that allows us to prepare and wait, waiting for God’s will to be done.

How do we prepare for loss?

1 Allow ourselves to feel the emotions that come with loss and be gentle on ourselves
2 Pray (and anger is ok!)
3 Ask for support

As a community –

We hold space – and not offer unsolicited advice or opinions. Be present. If all else fail, do what Kerry Egan, hospice chaplain (on living)

“I take a deep breath before I enter the room, and I ask God for help. I remind myself why I’m there, and I let go of everything else in my mind. I try to focus love in my heart. Then I go in and say hello, and notice if the person notices me.

Then I smile, but not too big a smile, and I tell them my name. I try to create a feeling of peace and acceptance and love with how I move and sit and look. I focus all my energy on their face… And then I imagine a giant bubble of love encompassing the patient and me.”

“The meaning of our lives cannot be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues. It’s discovered through acts of love. If God is love, and I believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love.” Then we know how to be with each other through our loss.