People tend to think of loss in terms of the big things—loss of job, money, love. There are also the dreams we once brushed against, as if with fingertips, but never fully grasped before they faded into the distance. Most poignant of all, of course, are the friends and family who have disappeared behind death’s veil, and especially those who departed this life too early, before we had the chance to say goodbye.
It’s these larger losses that occupy the majority of our grief over the past and our dread of the future. Yet lately, I confess it’s the small things that have my attention, down to the slightest fleeting moments: that split-second look my wife gives as we watch our children run and laugh in the garden; the instant a sonata’s melody breaks through the numbness of a busy week and my soul aches, once again awake to beauty; the way my little girl says “I love you” in her broken toddler English, her small arms wrapped around my neck; her serene face as she sleeps in my arms, and I carry her through the dark from car seat to bed.
These and so many other experiences come in abundance, at times too fast and subtle to capture or, quite tragically, to have noticed at all. These are the kinds of losses that have been weighing on me. Because just as soon as a moment appears to be mine, seemingly provided as a gift, it is gone forever. Which is to say nothing of every instance I’d like to take and do over—when I should have put down the iPhone, turned off the screen, taken a break, not said those words, not slammed that door or walked away. Those are losses of a different kind—a sort of thankless squandering of riches, a lack of vision for the gracious provision at hand.
What will I do when the money is gone; when my career has ended; when memory begins to fail me; or when death leaves me alone in this world?
It occurs to me that life is a varied thing, and among its chief attributes is a cycle of loss and gain repeated endlessly until all we have left is ourselves. We’ll stand at the end of time stripped of excess and façade, pared down to the essence of who we are—with only God, the source of our being, there to testify and judge how we used what He had given.
We may not be able to escape thinking about the big things, as the future calls out its seductive song from the broad country of a time we cannot yet inhabit. We might feel oppressed by questions we cannot answer: What will I do when the money is gone; when my career has ended; when memory begins to fail me; or when death leaves me alone in this world? We might feel as though we stand in the shadows of answers we desire, as they stretch across the landscape but are still too far away to know what form they take.
But rather than set our sights on the horizon, maybe we should be thinking more about what stands in the fore-ground, here and now—the ordinary abundance happening all around us. Most likely, it won’t be glamorous or adventure-filled, or part of some radical lifestyle change, but will be found in the mundane gifts of the everyday. We should pray for the eyes to see what we may otherwise miss. What we fail to notice is that every moment—no matter how insignificant it appears—builds, increment by increment, the life of what will one day be. They were not meant to last so much as to move us onward.
The truth is, the future doesn’t exist. There is no mysterious song calling out from a long distance, no answers blocking the sun. There is only now, the present moment—the life we have been given—full of sorrows and joys, gains and losses.
I pray for the grace to embrace it all with thanksgiving—to stay attentive to the life I have been given not for the sake of itself, but for the sake of the One who loves me and calls me to love. Because in the end, it is love alone that endures.
I’m reminded of the passage from Job that says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (1:21 ESV). On that final day, in that final moment, when all is laid bare and the truth of who we are is revealed, those who love Him will be satisfied. They’ll walk in a land where there is nothing to lose.