Something big has been here, what it was, I do not know,
for I did not see it coming, and I did not see it go,
but I hope I never meet it, if I do, I’m in a fix,
for it left behind its footprints, they are size nine-fifty-six.
Jack Prelutsky~Something Big Has Been Here
Is it possible that I’ve been teaching myself to miss you a little at a time so that when you’re gone, it might not hurt so much? As in the poem above, I’ve been ambushed by loss before. In response, it appears that I’ve been doing this thing where I distance myself from the people I care about so that if I lose them, the loss won’t be quite so painful. Funny, how we convince ourselves that this kind of thing will work. By not letting ourselves get close to people, we eliminate the potential for damage…right? Well, no. Not really. By moving ourselves out of what looks like harm’s way, we actually create a different type of pain for ourselves. We create this sense of longing that only grows more and more overwhelming as the days pass. And one day, we look around and find that we’re out here all by ourselves and the people we didn’t want to lose have somehow already lost us. Does that make sense? I’ll share a few things with you to try and illustrate the point.
I felt like my life started ending in 2006. We lost my aunt suddenly and none of us were prepared for it. Although I didn’t see her much at that point in my life, she had made such an impact in my life that I felt as though a significant piece of my heart had been taken out. The family went through a major shift. You could feel the loss ripping through us as we struggled to make sense. This source of light was gone and we were left behind to deal with it. I was also dealing with some other issues at the time, so I pulled the curtains around me and retreated into the pain I was feeling.
A few years later, the family took another major hit. My grandfather, who had lived with us for a major portion of my life, became very sick and we watched his health deteriorate. Many of us were clinging to the hope that he was too strong to actually pass away, but the day came when we had to say goodbye to him and there went another big piece of my heart. I felt myself shutting down just a little more. By this point, I’d had five miscarriages and my marriage was failing as well, so I went further into my “safe place” or into what I believed to be safe. I figured that if I stopped caring about people, then losing them couldn’t possibly hurt.
Two years later, we found out that my uncle was very sick and in fact, had terminal cancer. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye. It felt like he was gone within days. And again, the pain began to envelope me. And then a few months later, another uncle who had been sick for a while passed away. How can someone be in your life and then just be gone? I hadn’t been as close to him, but I know that when I was growing up he had always been there with my family and now, he too, was gone.
I hadn’t really thought it could get worse; surely God was finished taking people away from us. Nope. Not even close. He seemed to be systematically eliminating anyone and anything that had meant anything to me and I didn’t understand it. I’d distanced myself and I had braced for impact. If I proved to God that I didn’t need them, surely they would be left alone and I wouldn’t have to worry that they might one day disappear. Turns out that this isn’t at all accurate. My aunt, whom I loved dearly, passed away just months after her brother. I went to see her in the hospital and I thought she would be fine. I kept telling myself, “She looks good. She’ll be okay in no time.” And then one day, she was gone. My heart was broken. How could this be?
I was still dealing with this loss when my grandmother’s health began to decline significantly. I hadn’t meant to allow myself to get close to her after all that had happened, but I ended up going with my mom to visit her on a fairly regular basis. After weeks of watching her become weaker and weaker, she left us. And I felt another piece of me being ripped away. What made these losses even worse was that I not only felt them deeply, but I watched my mother and father deal with losing family members who had played a huge part in their lives. These were the foundations that had been holding us up all those years and it felt as though the stones were being removed one by one.
About a month later, I lost a good friend. On top of everything else that had happened over the last twelve months, this person had died suddenly and there was little to no explanation. I was numb by that point and I had no idea why these things had piled up in the way that they had. People I cared about were gone. My life would no longer include visits and conversations with them. I couldn’t hug them again. All I could do was remember that they had been here.
Today, I am thinking about how much of my heart is left. I’m not sure it grows back after all of that. I’m not sure the pieces can be repaired, though God tells me that they can. My reluctance to believe Him has been the source of much pain over the years and though I don’t want to feel pain, I keep creating a perfect environment for it. How do you allow yourself to be close to people again when you’re scared of losing them? This is the question I ask Him every day when I pray. Is there some way that I can love a person without worrying that one day, they’ll be gone?
His answer is this, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away,” Revelation 21:4 NIV. I know that this life is temporary and that we are here to fulfill a purpose. My reluctance to put myself out there again has been keeping me from doing His will. My fear of losing the people I love has been keeping me from loving them. And that was not my intention. To love someone is to accept that there will be times when you feel pain because of that love. It isn’t always going to be about making you feel good or proving that you have value. Yes, our relationships can do both of those things, but the point of it all is to show us how to use our hearts in the way God intended.
We were made to love Him, but if we close ourselves off to loving those around us, we close ourselves off to loving Him as well. We cannot just channel all of our energy into self-preservation and believe that this is called loving ourselves. Self-love cannot exist where no other love is allowed to live. If it’s only about protecting ourselves, we forget that love is sacrifice. Love involves putting ourselves on the line for others and knowing that sometimes, this may backfire. Love has to include acceptance of injury as well as healing. And when it doesn’t, it’s not able to grow.
I’m not saying that we need to let others hurt us in order to know how to love. I’m saying that there is a natural component of pain attached to love and we cannot be afraid to confront it when it appears. All is not lost when we suffer. In fact, with every part of that suffering that we allow God to heal, we gain more than we will ever lose. I hope that if you’re suffering today, you will take the time to talk to God about it. Ask Him why. Tell Him how you feel about it. Share your feelings with Him about what’s going on in your life. He already knows your story; He’s just waiting for you to tell Him what you need. If you don’t understand what is happening, He wants to help you see the point of it all. If you’re in pain, He wants to give you healing. If you’re angry, He wants to hear you acknowledge that as well. Part of healing is admitting that you’re in pain. Once you tell Him everything, you’ve taken a big step toward letting Him guide you down a new path.
I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a bunch of women that I love dearly last night. We sat and talked and laughed and shared stories with each other about the things we remembered from that time before life scattered us to our separate corners. It hurt a little, but it also felt great to know that we are all still here and that we mean something to each other. I may not tell them all the time, but I do love these people dearly. Moving forward, I hope that instead of trying to cushion myself from the pain of losing them, I will instead try to let them know as often as possible that they are loved and that they have more value than they know.
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
~John 16:20-22 NIV~