Posted by: ritagone | October 5, 2011

Loss and Joy

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In Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts,” she writes the following profound little section that I wanted to share with you today:

What will I lose?  Health?  Comfort? Hope?  Eventually, I am guaranteed to lose every earthly thing I have ever possessed.

When will I lose?  Today?  In a few weeks?  How much time have I got before the next loss?

Who will I lose?  And that’s definite: I will lose every single person I have ever loved.  Either abruptly or eventually.  All human relationships end in loss.  Am I prepared for that?

Every step I take forward in my life is a loss of something in my life and I live the waiting: How and of what will I be emptied today?”


Given that she is right (and I believe she is), how do I cope with those losses?  If all of life is eventually loss, how do I move through the day with the emotion that God tells me is supposed to be supreme in my life: JOY?

Sometimes I don’t get it.  How can I lose everything and at the same time be joyful?  Isn’t that a contradiction?  Isn’t that an impossibility?  Isn’t that something that as a frail human being I just can’t do?


Like so many other things in the mysterious Christian life, I’m learning little by little that there are extreme tensions we have to balance.  We have to learn that loss is all around us, and that this is the normal way of life.  I lost my father when I was married a little over a year.  One night, suddenly, we got a harried phone call from my mother, and we rushed to their apartment to find my father in the throes of a heart attack from which he did not recover.  I didn’t have a chance to tell him good-bye or that I loved him, although I know that he knew.  It was a great loss, and almost 40 years later, I still feel the absence of my daddy as if I were a little girl, although I am now more than 10 years older than he was when he died.  How strange.  But loss is like that.  It is hard to define and even harder to pin down.

And where’s the joy in that particular loss?  He didn’t live to discover that I was pregnant with my first child.  He died in January; I discovered I was pregnant in March.  My father loved children, and they loved him.  He never knew my own two children, whom he would have adored.  Loss.  But the joy is that I believe one day they will meet him in heaven, and there will be a lot of catching up to do.  But that’s okay, because there will be a lot of time to do so.

So there is loss, but there is also joy.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I haven’t lost many other close family members, but I have lost dear friends over the years.  Friends who have brought me great joy while they were around.  Friends who are missed.  And there again, the greater joy is that there will be a reunion one day which no loss will ever again destroy.

I’ve seen friends and loved ones lose health and stamina; it goes with the territory of aging, and it is indeed a great loss.  I’ve seen people lose hope, the greater loss, the light of life going out of their eyes forever, and that is like watching a fire being put out that can never be relit.  You are frustrated, you are helpless, you are useless in the face of such loss.  Selfishly, I don’t ever want to witness that kind of loss again, but I know I will.  It’s inevitable.  It’s part of life, and so I must learn to balance it along with the joy, the joy of a new grandchild, an old friend reunited with me after many years, a walk in a park with my husband, a great book, a time with my daughter or son.

Sometimes there is an equal number of joys with losses; sometimes not.

Life isn’t fair.

But heaven is.

And that’s what I look forward to.

I always liked school, even as a young child, but there were around me those kids who hated being there.  And for them, when the bell went off at 3 p.m., it made the whole morning and afternoon somewhat worth waiting for.  That bell, signaling the end of “torture” and the beginning of freedom, was like a clarion call to come and play, be free, run, throw down your books and the stultifying inhibition of sitting at a desk and catch a ball, hit with a bat, do a somersault.

That’s what heaven will be like, when all the losses we have suffered will be as nothing compared to the joy we will experience forever and ever.

I can’t wait!


  1. Part of the answer for me is doing what Ignatius called a daily “examen.” To recount where you have encountered God…in the Creation and in others every day. There is both (his words, not mine) “Desolation” and “Consolation” in our lives where we have the privilege of encounter Him and joy. At least that is helpful for me in the now part of eternity.

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