Far too often I learn critical lessons too late to apply them.
Regrets seem to be my way of processing the ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ moments of my life.
I am grateful that God sends people into my life to shape my emotional and spiritual growth. Often they are people who stretch me either by their keen minds, beautiful lives or profound thoughts.
But sometimes it is the unusual influencers who press me to face and experience the biggest transformations. These not-too-wonderful teachers reform my character and reset my values.
A few have been what Joyce Landorf called the “irregular people” of my life. These are the designated irritants sent into my life to make me aware of an itch where I should be scratching.
Occasionally these instructors aren’t people at all. They are circumstances that lead to major seasons of self-discovery or personal awareness.
They are unwanted tutors.
My most recent such engagement has been with the menacing mentor called loss. This knuckle-slapping coach seems to have zeroed in on me (and my extended family) with tyrannical devotion.
Within two weeks I stood at a podium and gave the eulogy message for my 36-year-old nephew and my 89-year-old father. Even now, my wife’s sweet 98-year-old mother sleeps her last days under hospice care in our home. The depth and degree of loss I feel is quite indescribable.
Empty places now exist where once the warm presence of these men filled my life. I had no idea I would feel this way. I didn’t live near them; didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked. Yet, the gaping hole in my heart feels like a Grand Canyon of longing.
I am keenly aware in this season that we are a composite of influences, experiences and individuals that God knits together into what we dub “life”.
It is as if we are a puzzle in which the picture can only be clearly seen when the pieces have been removed…one-by-one.
I sense the old professor of pain, called Loss, standing over me with its bony finger tracing a map of the rest of my life while asking provocative questions about what I plan to do with it.
The voice of this tutor is impossible to ignore. The emptiness of soul caused by death’s pulling from my embrace those I have loved leaves me feeling like David, “My heart and flesh may fail…”
As I begin to review the missing pieces of my life-puzzle I am carefully listening for hints of hope in the waning echoes of these lessons of loss.
What has my unwanted tutor taught me so far?
Quit hoarding emotional currency you should be spending. It seems I am always saving my emotional currency for a rainy day. I am so afraid of running low on affection, empathy, kindness, understanding–the valuables of the heart–that I hold them in check with a “I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-can” flippancy. Loss is teaching me that the only time I can get to it is now.
Let go of the junk that is limiting your relationships. Loss has placed my grudges, guilts and grievances in the Petri dish of importance and revealed how these little germs of the soul have infected me. I held on to so much stuff that I thought mattered only to find that in the grand scheme of life and relationship, that stuff had no real meaning. Simply put, they were not worth what they cost.
Don’t waste another moment you should be living. How many moments of my life slipped by unlived because I was waiting for another moment, looking forward to another event, worrying about a future problem or pre-occupied by a petty distraction. Opportunities to breath in life and breath out love raced by unused because I simply wasn’t looking for them. That has to stop.
Start looking for any reason to love out loud. No more loving without letting the loved-one know! Too many times I felt it but didn’t say it; sensed it but didn’t show it. Then the moment comes where there is no more saying or showing…only sighing. People with whom my life has been graced deserve to know the gift they are to me. I want to become a leaky lover–dripping deep affection and caring attention on people all around me.
No. I didn’t invite Mr. Loss into my life to teach me. I do not welcome the emptiness that he leaves in his wake.
Honestly, I wish I could learn the lessons of love without the tutor of loss.
But if it awakens my heart, shifts my priorities, captures my attention or loosens my grip so that I can truly live my remaining days, then while his presence is intrusive, his lessons are invaluable.
I am left with much that enriches my life. Family members who fill my heart with joy each time I embrace them. Loved ones who flood my soul with meaning each time I think of them. Friends who complete the mosaic of my life each time I interact with them.
The only way to make it through the emptiness and ferret out significance from the lessons of loss is to be compelled to live a life of love. Spending the moments I am given in an extravagant expression of what we will one day, and forever after that, enjoy.
At my Dad’s memorial, the music we used was taken from an album he recorded in the 1990’s. His resonant bass voice poured over our hearts in cascades of comfort. We closed that service by having Dad sing himself home. It was a classic old hymn, “The Last Mile Of The Way.”
I have miles left in this journey I call life. I don’t know how many there will be or where they will take me. But I know this, loss has taught me the crucial lessons that if I listen, can make those miles full of vitality and meaning…
…to the very last mile of the way.