On Friday afternoon I arrived at the wedding venue a little early and I found myself in conversation with the family friend who had come to do hair and make-up for the women and girls in the wedding party. Realizing I was a pastor, she made the connection between me and the recently retired pastors at her congregation which is just a few blocks away from ours. She spoke of having missed them, especially, when her mother recently died. I asked her to tell me about her mom and I found myself nodding in empathy as she described her decline in health and her death at the age of 92. “Yes,” I said, “I understand.” For my journey had been much the same. Indeed, her eyes lit up when she realized that I knew some of what she had navigated first hand. She went on to talk about the struggles of being a caregiver, for her siblings lived at a distance and much of the time it fell to her. I could especially understand her lament as she spoke of the experience of being so tied down. Of not being able to just go when she wanted or even needed to go.
I have not written of it here as my mother always read this blog and in no way at no time did I want her to feel as though she was a burden, although at times it was burdensome and became increasingly so. For over time as she was able to do less and less for herself, I became more concerned about what would happen should she be alone. For the last 18 months of her life, we hired a caregiver who was with her in the mornings and helped with basic personal care. However, the rest was up to me and to my sisters when they could travel in for a day or a weekend or the occasional week so that I could get away. And yes, at times, it felt like ‘losing one’s life’ as I planned and made all the meals, paid the bills, tended the house, got her to appointments, watched over her medications, and through it all looked on and grieved as she steadily lost her ability to be and do what and who she had long taken for granted.
It may not sound like much until you find yourself doing it and continuing to work full time and trying to maintain some measure of health for yourself. Indeed, it may not sound like much and it may or may not be included in the call which Jesus places before us now, but I expect it is all part of it in the end.
I had my mother with me for eight years until we finally had to put her into skilled care for those last several months. Many, many times over those many months I wondered at the meaning of the words which Jesus speaks today, a journey of understanding I am still on.
This much I believe I know for now:
- It seems to me that Jesus does not intend for us to become ‘martyrs’ in the worst (self-pitying or self-aggrandizing) sense of the word.
- I know that there are countless ones who would not and could not and should not make the decisions which led to me navigating what I did. It turns out that I was able, but surely many are not. I expect, however, that everyone encounters this particular challenge in a way unique to them. Perhaps my thoughts here can still serve as a window to them/you.
- And I have to say this, that with it all being so recent still, I have not yet come to any sure understanding of what was ‘found’ in the time when it seemed so much was lost. Except for this. We did, I did, what could be done to ensure that to her last breath she would know love. And I believe that she did.
And so I find myself standing still in all that Jesus teaches today and I am wondering at all that we are called to ‘lose’ along the way in order to come to the point of being even a little bit able to ‘lose one’s life for the sake of Jesus.’ And I expect it is all right here in the words Jesus offers now.
- In the reminder right at the start that what we do, whatever we do as we follow this call, is done in the manner of the one who went before us. We have a teacher in Jesus whose example and wisdom walks before us and beside us as we find our way. Perhaps, in this we are called to lose our sense of thinking we are all on our own or that we do it alone, for we do not.
- In the certainty that truth will come out and that nothing that matters can ever be taken from us. Certainly, in this we are called to lose our fear, especially as we let go of our fear of losing things that do not and never really did matter.
- In the promise that God’s love is great and it is particular and it is for you, right down to knowing the number of hairs on your head. In this, surely we are called to lose all the messages the world would offer which tell us we are less than wholly beloved, especially in times which challenge and threaten.
- And in the growing realization that while God’s gifts do often come to us in those closest to us, particularly in our families, none of these relationships are ultimate. Indeed, perhaps even caring for one’s aging parent is not in itself ultimate, but merely another step along the way, calling us into deeper relationship with the One who gave us into one another’s care in the first place. Surely, we are called to lose our sense of what the world tells us is ‘ultimate’ and to more fully claim what Jesus offers now.
So, no, not in this last phase of my journey and not in others which came before, have I come to a full understanding of what it is to ‘lose one’s life for the sake of Jesus and so then to find it.’ I expect it will be the growing edge of my own faith journey for the rest of my life. I also expect, or at least hope, that as time and attention heal what I have experienced as woundedness, that some of that will become more clear. Indeed, now that I am free from concern about hurting the one who so needed my care, I will be more free to explore it, even here. And I am grateful for your kind and open hearts as I find my way alongside all of you.
- How have you come to understand Jesus’ words about losing our lives for Jesus’ sake and then finding those very lives?
- What in your life has brought you to a deeper understanding of this? What in your life has challenged your understanding of this?
- I find it helpful to take all of Jesus’ words together today and to hear the invitation to ‘lose’ all kinds of things along the way, many of which are less than truth and are even harmful. Do you also find this to be so?