“I will restore the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never be put to shame.” Joel 2:25-26 Revised Standard Version
In the first district I pastored, I had the privilege of serving as a Chaplain for the Sheriff’s Department. One of my classmates from high school was the Head Chaplain and there was a need for a chaplain to serve in the portion of the county that was my district.
It proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated or could have even dreamed. I first had to be sworn in as a member of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department. It is a vow I still feel bound to as I still carry the training and experience with me every day. The next step in my chaplain process was the training. This was done through the International Conference of Police Chaplains (ICPC).
Five Chaplains covered the county, and each of us carried a pager with us at all times. I was on duty 24/7 since I was the only chaplain on the mountain. We each knew that when our pager went off we would be dealing with the death of someone in our area of responsibility. Our responsibilities were to offer assistance to the officer in charge and to check in on how we might serve the family who had just lost someone they loved. We were never sure what we would find with each call we received, other than people who were hurting, people who were struggling with the reality of the loss they were not only facing now but loss that would challenge them for the rest of their lives.
So many times I felt as useless as a banana peel during the difficult circumstances I faced. To be of some comfort to the family, a help to the officers, and meet the needs of others impacted by the loss, whether it was sudden or expected, was a virtually impossible challenge. As most of us know, words are nearly useless when it comes to comforting anyone who has experienced loss.
What we often forget is that loss can’t be quantified. There is no way to measure loss or its impact on the hearts and minds of others. We often find ourselves pulled back into the losses of our own lives. There we place on ourselves a responsibility which we are not able to carry. And we struggle with how to respond to those before us who are in pain no one can know except the one in the midst of the pain. As a law enforcement chaplain, I met with experiences I never knew were possible.
One day that will stay with me for the rest of my life saw me leaving a classroom of children aged 9 – 11 years where I was teaching a bible lesson, and arriving on an accident scene. There I was called to do the work of an assistant coroner. I made it to the scene of the accident at 5:00 p.m. We didn’t finish with our responsibilities until 3:00 a.m. the following morning. That was one of the most difficult encounters in my service as a Sheriff’s Chaplain.
Our Head Chaplain had instituted a monthly meeting for all the chaplains to attend. It was our “de-griefing” time. We had the opportunity to talk out what we had faced during the previous month. It was a time of shared mourning as we recalled what we had seen, heard, and felt as we faced death in many of its revelations. It was during one of our monthly meetings I endeavored to purge the pain of that summer encounter.
About a month later, I was attending a training in Spokane, WA. While attending a barbecue, I was talking to a chaplain I had met at an earlier training. As I was relating my experience, I completely lost it, I was in tears and unable to stop crying. Now as men, we know this is very humiliating because all men know big boys never cry. Even worse, I was talking to a woman chaplain, and women also realize big boys never cry! She immediately led me to a quiet corner of the park and took me once more through the process of purging the pain I thought I had already accomplished.
Why share this story? I am not sure. Most of us, if not all of us, have what I call the caverns of our hearts and minds. They are places where we attempt to bury, hide or circumvent those hidden emotions we find too painful to address. We even convince ourselves we have met the “enemy that is our emotional pain” and we have dealt it a death blow, therefore, conquering the dragon that lurks in those caverns breathing fire into every relationship we cherish. I think we come to believe that if the caverns are deep enough and dark enough, the Dragon of Loss will never emerge to cause us pain. This simply is not true and has never had any essence of truth in it, except in our own minds.
I will hazard to say the majority of us have losses we have never even considered confronting as they didn’t seem to be all that important. This is also not true. Loss, no matter what it may encompass, cannot be (as I wrote earlier) quantified. And if not faced, our losses will only fester and poison everything in us causing us to struggle in even our most intimate relationships.
I find it interesting that God calls us to reason, to discuss, all things with Him. I believe this reasoning includes the pain of loss we face here on this planet that is steeped in loss we were never created to know. However, even God knew we needed others, especially when facing the pain of losses no matter what they may be. Jesus, as He walked through His Valley of the Shadow of Death, needed His closest friends to be with Him.
If the Creator who walked here as a man needed to have those relationships where He could unburden the pain of His heart, mind, and soul, where do we get the idea we are able to ignore that same need? Whether we call them our demons, our ghosts of the past, or whatever the labels we have chosen, the losses and pain of our lives must be faced! And who better to hold us as we walk down this path than those who love us the most?
However, even those who love us most have caused us grief and loss in ways apparent and hidden. And if not faced sooner, they will make themselves known later. This is, too often, how we deal with our losses; we hide them thinking we will never be haunted by them again. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. There will be a day of reckoning if we are unwilling to help each other (or allow help from others) in love, mercy, and grace to face the very things the enemy uses to destroy all our relationships.
Those losses hide in the depths of our caverns where we believe we have them safely chained to the walls of those secret places. For some of us or some of the losses, the processing takes more than a momentary acknowledgment they exist. I personally believe the process of loss and pain is the process of a lifetime tied to the process of Grace God exercises in our lives daily.
Please do not expect someone you love to know your pain or even the depth of the loss you are feeling. This also works in the reverse. Everyone grieves, mourns, and processes loss and pain differently. There is no possible way for anyone to know another’s pain, shame, guilt, or the burden they carry concerning the losses in their lives. We can never know the story of another no matter how long you may have known them or even how intimately you have known them. However, if not processed, losses only cause increasing pain and separation from those we love.
Remember this. God never leaves anyone to cope with their pain on their own. He promises to restore what has been destroyed and to never leave us to face anything on our own. He brings healing through His ministry and the ministry of those He places in our lives as safe places where we can process through the pain and losses experienced in our lives.
“So I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten…
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied
and praise the name of the Lord your God
who has dealt wondrously with you;
and My people shall never be put to shame…
I am in the midst… I am the Lord your God
And there is no other.”