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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Secret of Losing

 You look at the calendar and stare at the date: a loved one would've had a birthday today had not cancer not robbed them of the chance to live. You hold the now-meaningless ring that used to symbolize a thriving union but only signifies a relationship gone cold, a love now dead. You open up the bedroom closet and see the clothes hanging there stiffly - your beloved once called those their own, but all you're left with is an aching loss and unfinished dreams. You walk into the nursery that was meant for the life you carried and were waiting to bring forth: the crib now sits empty - a cruel reminder of the shallowness of life...of the existence that never came to be. 
 Life holds so many tragedies for us all: parents bury their children - a life lost too young; a young widow watches her dead husband's flag-draped coffin emerge from the belly of a plane as an honor guard stands ready to receive it; friends die unexpectedly in car accidents; a hard-working, single parent finds out they've been laid off; a fiancé breaks off an engagement to pursue another relationship. Our lives are an endless list of unexpected hurts and sorrows, and nobody is immune to them, no matter how hard we try. 
 Each person, at some point in their life-story, is brought face to face with an important lesson: that of the secret of losing. Because, for all our human desire to hold on to what we have, we find that the older we get, regardless of how hard we try to grip life, we are seemingly forever becoming less in control. We are perpetually in a state of losing - losing loved ones, losing heath, losing money, losing personal property, and so on. It doesn't make sense at first but, in thinking further, it gradually dawns on us that maybe we cannot fully gain anything of lasting value in life until we know what it's like to lose. Perhaps one of the hidden truths of why we are behind the door is because we are afraid to lose. We fear the prospect of letting go. And yet, this could be the secret to uncovering our deepest longings. 
 In so many ways, the journey to finding the secret of losing is one of blind discovery: blind because we are unable to see the reasons behind our losses but discovery because, in time, we are able to watch the unfolding of a bigger plan, a larger story wrapped in the pain we hold at the present moment. It's amazing how this works: someone's death saves another life down the road; one person's reckless behavior and rejection of the faith leads their own loved one to later commit to living a life of following God. Every disaster, every tragedy has a larger purpose to than just our personal hurt or inconvenience. It is the silver lining in every cloud. 
 But, in order for us to fully know and understand the blind discovery, one thing must be paramount: faith. The belief and trust that the grim reality we now experience as the present will result ultimately in our own benefit and that of others. 
 I began the journey of blind discovery several years ago. It started back in the fall of 2006 when I received the sad news that one of the Marines I had met through our family's military outreach had died in combat, leaving a young widow and a one-year-old daughter. It continued with my dad's extended illness in 2007, then was followed by the deaths of both my step-grandfather and a friend at our church in the spring of 2008. Not long after that, a childhood friend of mine almost lost his life in a serious car accident. Sometime later, all of this was capped by my grandmother's brief battle with cancer and her subsequent passing. For me, each situation was one of blind discovery...and loss. Each one had its own emotions, its own trauma. And each one seemed to strike hard at some aspect in my life that I thought to be stable. With me already far behind the door at this point, it would be an especially long time before the "discovery" part of the story became evident...partly because selfish me was standing in the way. More than just gaining understanding about my circumstances, however, I soon found out that I was being taught the secret of losing in every experience I had. 
 No one chooses to be on this journey. Life just puts us there. I am reminded of this as I think of people I know who are battling aggressive forms of cancer. Or of the tragic shootings we've heard of in the news and the many families and friends affected by them. None of these people knew life would end this way. None of these people would've chosen to be placed in these difficult and harsh situations. Part of living in a fallen world is the fact that bad things happen...even to good people. All of us are on the road to the secret of losing, all the while having our moments of blind discovery when perspective is given, and we can see the big picture. And yet, such belief in "the bigger plan" doesn't reach us until we have been on the journey for some time - rather, our present often blocks us from arriving there.