Sunday, December 22, 2013

top ten posts: Bonhoeffer on loss

It was a year of many highs and lows in our family. This post, on the anniversary of my mother's death, had many readers. We will all lose someone close to us at some point. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote eloquently on loss.

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us,
and one should not even attempt to do so.
One must simply hold out and endure it.
At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort.
For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person through it.
It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness.
God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve - even in pain - the authentic relationship.
Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances,
the more difficult the separation.
But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy.
One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ten days ago, a young husband in our church lost his vibrant wife Kala. Her unexpected death left three young girls without their mother.

As I sat through Kala's service on Saturday, I was inspired by her deep and abiding faith in God. Kala was, in the words of one close friend, "mildly inappropriate" in her zeal for living and loving, for her family, and for pointing others to God.  

Yesterday I came across this Bonhoeffer quote on another blog. It struck me as deeply profound  in light of Kala's recent death, and in the death of my own mother, who slipped away 34 years ago today.  

I think Bonhoeffer is saying we should not struggle and shake our fist at God at the loss of someone we love. God certainly comforts. But to ask God to fill our empty longing is to diminish the beauty and authenticity of our relationship. God leaves us intentionally and "precisely unfilled" to preserve the memories, love, and joy. In time, this emptiness becomes a deep, unshakable and precious gift.

God is, after all, a god of relationships. It's what He wants most of all with us. And so God redeems and transforms the pain of loss into a gift. The gift of a hidden, preserved relationship.

Make no mistake: losing my mother was devastating. The pain of it reared its ugly head as I brought my babies home from the hospital, rocked them, and raised them with only stories of their grandmother. For years I couldn't stand to pass the Mother's Day cards at the store in early May.

Like everyone, I wouldn't be the person I am without my mother's influence. But I'm also a different person by having lost her so young. I am stronger in spirit, with a more compassionate heart, at least I like to think so. And best of all, I've learned to rely on God, not my mother, not anyone really. Her spirit, her kindness, her crazy ways live on because God allowed me to be "precisely unfilled" for a very long time.

For that I am grateful and now experience a silent joy.

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