Loss in the Time of COVID-19

I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus, the stay-at-home order, or the social distancing. I’ve been pondering the effects of this pandemic in my heart, talking it over with close family and friends, and reading others’ observations online. But as Month One drags into Month Two of this unique and difficult season in all our lives, I find myself returning again and again to the word that is beginning to define the spring of 2020 for me. The word is loss.

Loss is not the same as missing people or things. Missing people, places, and familiar activities is a very real (and often daily) part of this experience, for sure. We all miss these things—some people more than others, depending on our life situations and our own God-given personalities. And we know that one day, sooner rather than later, we hope, we’ll reunite with people, return to our activities, and go back to church, among other longed-for places.

But the experience of loss is different.

Loss feels deep down and final, a sort of “permanent missing” of events, ceremonies, celebrations, and milestones that won’t come around again in the expected way—or maybe not at all. Loss is the feeling you get when you look at all the scratch-outs on your planner, when you open email after email of what school, church, and family events are cancelled. When you find yourself having to “break the news” over and over to family members of what highly anticipated event or activity they won’t be doing in upcoming weeks. The losses build up, from (in my family) a small pile of loss in March to a larger accumulation of loss by April to a mountainous heap of loss by May—and the summer is something I haven’t dared to think about yet.

The losses experienced by my family include plans related to graduations and education, pregnancy and newborns, work opportunities and cultural events, and more. Many people’s lists would also include weddings, sports, funerals, or vacations. And these losses, for all of us, are being lived out in somewhat of a vacuum, each of us in our own homes. Because I haven’t been directly affected by the virus itself, I sometimes have to remind myself why we stay home, why everything is cancelled, why the world has seemingly ground to a halt.

As my feeling of loss grows greater and deeper in this strange season, I’ve been asking myself what God would have me learn during this time. My feelings, for better or for worse, aren’t a secret to him; he knows that I’m struggling with everything that is slipping away in my life, entirely out of my control. I soon found myself thinking about the word itself—what was God teaching me about loss? What could I learn from this?

Two synonyms for “loss” are forfeit and sacrifice. We are indeed forfeiting many events and celebrations, and sacrificing our expectations of what we thought our lives would look like in 2020.

On the other hand, some antonyms for loss are: Control. Ownership. Possession. And here’s where I saw that God was leading me down the path of loss right to the source of the ache and sadness in my heart. Sometimes when God takes you to the source of your problem, it’s not a place you necessarily want to go. It’s painful to realize that often, the ache you’re feeling is a result of your own sinful nature and what you are prone to idolize in your heart. For some of us, myself included, control of our lives, ownership of our time, and possession of our schedules is a given—even a point of pride. But that grasping, holding-onto gesture is exactly what we have to let go of now.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, confesses his own pride (or his gain), what he calls “confidence in the flesh.” He concludes (emphasis is mine):

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . .”

Paul suffered the loss of all his gain (his control, his ownership, his possession) in order that he might gain Christ—which leads to:

“. . . not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

These promises of Christ, that our righteousness comes not by our own power or control, but by what we gain by sharing in his sufferings (however paltry our sufferings may be, they are still real)—this is God’s reminder to us in the midst of disappointment and heartache.

If you are struggling with a profound sense of loss right now, God is asking you to take that loss, mourn it, and leave it at the cross. To offer up to him your expectations, your plans, and your feeling of control. He reminds us in Luke 17:33 that “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Trust his promises. He sees your loss and reminds you of infinitely greater things to come.

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