When Losing is Gaining (Those Necessary Endings)

Have you ever lost something or someone precious that you felt could never be replaced and it was like a part of you just disappeared?

Have you ever had plans or dreams but through unforeseen setbacks, those plans and dreams were turned completely upside down and you felt like a part of your reason for living was taken away?

Have you ever been forced to make some hard decisions because of workplace issues or health issues or relational issues or financial issues and it put your life into a season of transition and into a time of losing your emotional and spiritual bearings?

When I reflect about ‘endings’ I realize they are a normal part of every life on earth.  We don’t always like them though. In the book of Ecclesiastes it tells us there is a time for everything under the sun. It says there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… it continues on for a whole paragraph. Look it up in chapter 3. He continues eloquently in opening our mind to see that there is a time to search and a time to give up searching, a time to keep and a time to throw away and so on. The wisdom of the writer of Ecclesiastes says “On this earth there are beginnings and there are endings.” Sometimes the endings are forced upon us by circumstances outside of our control. At other times we need to be the ones to intentionally end something.

Ending things conjures up the image of uprooting in order to make way for a new crop of uprootbeauty. I know the back-breaking investment of time and energy in preparing the soil for new life. It is just necessary to pull out a lot of the old and unlovely to make room for the new. The idea of uprooting is not contained simply to a garden. It’s about eyes to see new beauty in our own future. In order for that to happen there is a time “to uproot” things, positions, locations and even relationships that have been nurtured for a long time. Does that sound hard? I think it does. I have literally “uprooted” my family  almost a dozen times living as a missionary, both in Canada and Thailand. I know what it is to drive off after a farewell party given by people whom you have invested in for years. Driving off to waving people and then cry so hard that you can hardly see the road ahead is a fairly familiar scenario in my life. However,  the teared-blurred vision will eventually clear up to the opening curtains of new fresh scene for our lives to be played out to.

So there are endings that we must play a part in. There are life situations when ‘goodbye’ is the best thing you can do. There are phases in our lives that need to be shaken off to enter a new phase. There are habits and behavioral patterns that need to be cut off. Yet when we are put face to face with a possible ending, what makes it so difficult for us is the question of perspective. We think (we worry, we predict) that the outcome will be negative or too difficult, so we avoid, postpone, runaway from endings. It could be that most of our endings have proved so painful that we willingly stay in a less than preferred situation for fear of another painful ending.

I think life experience tells us that we can become best friends to things that are not in our best interest. There are things that should have ended a long time ago in our lives but because of uncertainty, or an unhealthy dependency or fear of losing our position or security in the future, we have remained in the same state of mind for far too long. Yet, and I repeat, endings are sometimes what the good Lord has prescribed and brings to us health and wholeness. It’s a positive thing.

ImageWhen you have a tooth that is throbbing in your nerve center so hard that you can’t even think a coherent thought, it’s a good thing to get allow a wise dentist to prick and prod and finally pull that wisdom tooth. Yes it is painful. But it is what we call ‘pain with a purpose.’  As Dr. Henry Cloud states in his book, Necessary Endings, pain with a purpose is a whole lot better than pain for no good reason!

Losing can be gain.

John 12:24

Good News Translation

24 I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.

So understand well that the words,  “The End” is not necessarily the worst thing that could happen to us, but often it is exactly what you need to have happen in order to experience the words: “A new beginning!” “A new freedom” “A new level of understanding” “A new sense of purpose and destiny.”

The cry of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished!” wasn’t a cry of despair that meant, “It’s all over with.”

The disciples thought it was over and done with, it was time to go back to the old job of catching fish.

Pilate and the Roman soldiers thought it was over and done with, no more craziness from the Jews for awhile.

Everybody else in the story thought it was over and done with, Jesus was finished.

But God and Jesus had the inside scoop, they knew something that none of them could fathom. This was no whimper on the cross, it was a victory shout! One more stage towards a new heaven and a new earth was accomplished. Soon there would be a new beginning, a new season, a new day, a new dawn. Yes, a new humanity was about to be birthed!!!!

I can remember a period of 12 months of my life that I had to make some difficult life choices. I laid down leadership of a community that I loved dearly, Newsong. Soon after I agonized over the decision to resign my role, after 12 years, as the Field Director with my Mission agency. After that last decision I was cleaning out the Field Rep office I loved and worked in and was feeling really lost. I had been identified by these roles for so long that it defined me and gave me influence, respect and to a degree, control. While filling up yet another cardboard box of books I felt like a powerless nobody. It was like falling off the ladder and restarting the climb from the bottom rung. Yes, I knew well that Patricia and I were going to start something new (Verge@50) out of our house, but even that seemed to be so insignificant in comparison to what I was doing all these years.

Then the Lord began to teach me all over about following. While packing a few remaining decorative items that graced my office, my friend Dave Gibbon’s came on-line and asked if I wanted to chat. At first I ignored him because I was in no mood to be cheered up. I was feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, let alone allow Dave to see me in this sad-sack state. Then Dave sent me this link of Ed Dobson’s story of losing his ability to lead a vibrant congregation because of ALS, a terminal illness. I stopped what I was doing and watched. I watched and sobbed should be a better description. The truth of Ed’s life mirrored exactly what I was feeling. It was a reminder that losing a position or a platform is not the end of the world. Ed’s life began to take on new meaning and new opportunities opened to him to influence.

Now I am re-learning that my main job as a leader is following His, (Jesus) lead. Perhaps that is the greatest task of all of us, to learn how to follow Jesus personally and daily. Maybe the word ‘leader’ in our communities of faith  should be used sparingly and the words ‘follower’ should be used consistently? It more completely describes our true identity.

For me this losing is slowly being understood as becoming gain. Yes, I have lost my title as ‘field leader’ but I have gained new freedom too and I have relearned the posture of a disciple. I haven’t thrown out my leadership books yet, but some are making their way to other people’s libraries and some may stay in their cardboard boxes for awhile yet!