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   This article was published in Family Perspectives Journal,
(The Journal of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers),
Summer 2002, Volume 19, Issue 2.

Five Spiritual Lessons of Loss
Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.

     Many of the spiritual lessons that loss teaches us are not recognized while we are in the midst of them. Only later do we see the profound teachings these experiences offered to us. These lessons can help immensely when future loss enters our lives. They will not eliminate the pain but they can give us greater strength and deeper hope. They can give us courage to stay in the turmoil, to trust that we will survive our struggles and not be destroyed by them. There are numerous lessons learned through loss. The following five are central ones.

1. We Have an Inner Resiliency

When we are caught in the devastating grips of significant loss such as death of a loved one, divorce, critical illness or job termination, it is difficult to believe that we have enough inner strength to cope with what is asked of us. It is at this precise time, however, that we can draw on the power and strength planted in our spirit by the Creator. We do have an immense inner reservoir of goodness and strength to get us through what seems impossible at the time. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor4). We most need to believe and trust in our ability to bounce back when we are beaten down by the horrific blows of loss.

Flower growing out of rock

2. We Need The Gift of Others

No matter how independent we might be, painful loss can push us off balance. When we find ourselves losing control and discovering that it is impossible to cope by ourselves, it is then that we learn how to receive. We slowly realize and acknowledge that we need others, that we cannot go it alone and be healed without help. The gift of others in the form of wise, listening friends, skilled medical persons, providers of child care and prepared meals, professionals who help with needed information and guidance into the future, all these can be essential for us to lean on in our time of desolation.

It is not always easy to open our empty lives and accept help from others. Yet, it of often through these very human sources that the Holy One gives us what we secretly long for in our loss: someone to lean on, someone to entrust our confusion and doubt, someone to hold us up when the limbs of our daily existence are wobbly and weak, someone to nourish our famished spirit until we are able to feed ourselves again.

3. Our Faith Can Sustain Us.

It is not unusual for our emotions of grief to extend into our relationship with God. In the pain and loneliness inherent in our loss, it may seem that God is far away. Past comforting and faith-filled feelings give way to the bereft emotions of emptiness, anxiety, and sadness. We have to go into the emptiness with bare faith, simply hanging on and trusting that the promises of God are true and enduring: When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not burn... because you are precious in my sight... and I love you. (Is43:2-5)

Faith does not take the pain of loss away or diminish our grief but it does help us to live with the difficult emotional process as we move slowly toward healing. Faith encourages us to trust that we are held in divine care during our time of loss. Faith kindles our waning hope and assures us that God will never abandon us. Faith continually invites us to trust that God is close, surrounding us with immense compassion even though our human emotions of grief are such that we cannot sense this abiding presence embracing us with love.

4. Forgiveness Is Essential For Healing

Unwanted loss often brings with it the need for forgiveness. We may blame ourselves for things we did or did not do. We might harbor and continually hash over old wounds from hostile relationships, or be angry at life or at God because things did not turn out as we had hoped.

From the cross, Jesus cried out in his pain, looked at those who caused his excruciating demise and forgave them. Our forgiveness is rarely this quick and complete. It usually takes a long time to be able to extend this kind of forgiveness to others and ourselves but eventually we must move beyond our non-forgiveness and leave the old causes of our pain behind. The energy we have put into the harsh emotions of our loss must be redirected into life-giving sources of new beginnings and continued healing. We cannot move on if the leaden chains of guilt, blame, hatred, anger, and resentment keep us bound to the past.

5. Painful Loss Holds the Seeds of Transformation.

As we look back we will see, perhaps with much surprise, that the days (possibly years) of turmoil and heartache were holding the seeds of new growth. Spiritual transformation is always a process of birth-death-rebirth, life through struggle to new life. Loss is a part of this journey. We cannot avoid it. What we can do is open ourselves to this unfolding process. We can trust that something new will follow our time of death and destruction. This truth is at the heart of spiritual growth and development. The poet, Rumi, described it well when he wrote:


From a worm's cocoon, silk.
Be patient if you can, and from sour grapes will come something sweet.




Sunlight through trees


     Joyce Rupp, O.S.M. has authored numerous books related to loss and spiritual growth. Among these are:

                Praying Our Goodbyes
                May I Walk You Home
                Your Sorrow is My Sorrow,
                Dear Heart, Come Home.

HomeOrder | Circle of Life | Cosmic Dance | Cup | Dear Heart  | Fresh Bread | God's Enduring Presence | Goodbyes | Inviting God | Open the Door | Ordinary |
Rest Your Dreams | Sophia | Sorrow
| Star | Walk Home |
Walk Relaxed | Articles | Poems | Interview | Reviews | Audio | Schedule | Response | About This Site