Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Open Letter To A Young Friend

I don't remember not having pain in my life.

The pain of cuts, bruises and doctor's office visits; the pain of sports injuries and bicycle accidents are a part of any young person's life. But the emotional pain of losing people you love is something for which none of us can truly prepare. Indeed, there is nothing more difficult or more painful than coming to terms with losing someone who is important to you. We can tolerate the minor injuries and pains that our body often absorbs. We can even tolerate the pain, or better - humiliation - of failing at a certain task; but the loss of someone we love?

In my 45 years, I have endured the painful loss of many relationships. My parents divorced when I was 12 and it changed my family forever. I had a beloved step-father who died unexpectedly when I was 15 and it too shattered my world. As a pastor, I have been with members of my congregations as they have left this life. These members are never simply numbers, or faceless tithing units - they are people, people I knew well and with which I had a relationship, even friendships... and they are gone. I had a student in one of my Old Testament classes last fall die senselessly in a car accident.

The pain of loss with many of these people was debilitating. I became an emotional wreck; I even made myself sick. I did not know how to respond except with tears and even anger. I was angry at doctors, I was angry at people and I was angry at God. I could not be strong when I thought I should have been... which made me even angrier.

Now that I have experienced these losses, how do I cope when I lose someone to death? How do I cope when an important relationship is broken? This is where what you understand and what you believe becomes everything... read carefully...

1. It is never easy and it always hurts.
As human beings we are created for love and fellowship; and when that communion is broken, it is devastating. This is not God's fault and it is not your fault. The pain of loss shows us that we are alive and fulfilling our purposes - living in love and community. Our pain does not reflect the tragic purposes of an unfair God; rather, it reveals to us the fallen nature of our world. We live in a world of disease and accidents. Our lives are fragile and short. Loss, pain and suffering are consequential to this life.

2. God is there.
We have one purpose in life according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The God that we glorify and serve does not take joy in loss and pain; quite the opposite. He gave His own Son over to the most painful death and separation ever in order to reconcile all of creation to Himself for eternity. God knows pain and suffering. He lives it everyday in Jesus.
So rather than being absent; God is present with you, right now. Maybe more so than at any other time in your life. He understands and shares your burden. He knows your "heart hurt" and the struggle you are having to be strong. "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me" (Psalm 23). God is there and He is sharing your burden.

3. Don't hold back.
Because God is there, you don't have to hold back.
Cry. Let the tears flow: tears of love, tears of pain, tears of uncertainty. Cry. Cry out to God. Ask the "why" question: Why God did this have to happen? As you cry, as you cry out, let Him reach in and hold you.
Love. Love the people around you. Cry with them. Show them your heart. Hold their hands. Hug. Release your pain and your tears to those who are your community. You will find healing in that act.

4. Believe.
You and I were not created for this life alone. You must hold on to that fact. We were created for eternity. What we experience here and now, in time, is but a single breath. This life is the "crucible of love" - It determines our character and destiny in and with God. Those who love God and leave this life early, we will experience again with God. These people have been in our lives for a holy purpose - to show us God; to teach us how to persevere; to reveal and give love to us. We grieve the loss of relationship; but the mourning must turn into joy as we honor a life courageously lived and a life that has so profoundly influenced our own. Understand God's desire for your life now. It will never be a pain free, untroubled existence. If you have loved, you will experience loss and heartbreak. But you will be the person God has designed you to be.

5. Know you are loved.
You have friends who love you. Friends who are there for you. Friends who love you, pray for you and hurt with you. You do not need to be strong. Your God is strong and your friends are there for you. You need to be love.

My dear young friend. It is hard now, but you are not alone. God is there. We are there. This is the circle of life in which we all find ourselves. Our lives are better for the valleys through which we have walked. Do not fear. Only love; and allow God to work in your life.

I have loved much and I have lost much; my prayer is that in the living of this life, I will become the person God has called me to be. I pray that is your heart as well.

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