THE BOTTOM LINE – Loss is an unavoidable part of life, especially life as a first responder. But when loss occurs, I will look for God's sovereign plans, trust that He is in control, and engage my emotional responses through a healthy grieving process.
You are called a “first responder” because you are the first.
The first one called to help. The first one to do something about the attack, the accident, the emergency, the injury, or the destruction. The first one to arrive. The first line of defense against chaos that seeks to destroy individuals and societies. But being first all the time can come at a cost. It can wound you. You often absorb the traumas that were meant for other people. You give and give, sometimes more than you’ve got, and you suffer loss.
Throughout your life and career, you may have suffered many different kinds of losses – lost friends, a lost marriage, lost promotions, lost reputation, lost abilities, lost faith, lost health, lost self-identity, lost optimism, lost innocence, lost dreams. Perhaps if you had known ahead of time that being a first responder held the possibility of so much personal collateral damage, you may never have signed up! But these losses aren’t exclusive to first responders. Suffering loss is a common component of the human condition. Nobody gets off this planet without experiencing loss.
How you choose to deal with loss will determine how you bounce back from stress and trauma. Did you catch that? The way you deal with loss is the linchpin of your resilience after a traumatic incident. In this session, we’re going to look at the importance of how you deal with losses you experience. A shift in perspective can empower you to respond to those losses in ways that facilitate healing.
DEALING WITH LOSS
There are three different ways that people deal with loss:
- Denial – One way is to try to minimize and stuff down the emotional reactions to a traumatic experience.
- Anger – A second way is to get mad and look for someone to blame, demanding explanations and becoming consumed with a quest for justice and retribution.
- Trust – The third way is to recognize God’s sovereignty, to acknowledge feelings of loss, and to engage them realistically through the process of grieving.
You may be familiar with the Biblical story of Job, a clear example of a man who responded to his adversity in all three of these ways. Job lived an exemplary life, but he went through a period where his faith was tested on almost every level imaginable. Over the course of just one day, he received the news that he had lost all of his 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and most of his servants. Then he learned that his seven sons and three daughters had all been killed in a terrible accident. How would you respond to that kind of news? What if you lost nearly everything and everyone you held dear? Most people would be annihilated by it. But Job’s response was different. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Most people assume this is a righteous response from a very righteous man. And they may be right.
But if we observed that kind of response to that kind of trauma in most people, wouldn’t we say that they were in deep denial? That they were stuffing down the normal reactions to some truly catastrophic losses? To lose all of that and just say, “Oh, well, God is in control,” certainly isn’t normal. However, as Job’s afflictions deepened, he moved into the second type of response: “anger.” “I wish I’d never been born! (3:3-20) . . . I wish I could die right now! (3:20-26) . . . This is all God’s doing! (6:2-4) . . . Why doesn’t He just kill me and get it over with?” (6:8-9) Then came the accusations. “Why are You targeting me, God? (7:20) . . . Where’s Your so-called forgiveness? (7:21) . . . Why shouldn’t I be ticked off with You? (21:4) . . . Why are You so unjust – to me and to everyone else on this planet?” (24:1-25)
In short, Job was asking “Why is all this happening to me? Where are You, God?” It’s interesting to note that God never answered Job’s questions directly. Instead, God redirects Job’s attention to His sovereignty and His incredible creative power. He didn’t want Job to focus on the why; rather, He wanted him to focus on the Who – on Himself. In effect, God was saying, “Stop telling Me how big your problems are, and start telling your problems how big your God is.” Finally, Job shifted his perspective, dove deep into the comforting presence and power of God, and willingly decided to trust Him with all of his losses. He told God, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” (42:2,5) He had experienced God at a deeper level than any of us can even imagine.
That’s not the end of the story. After Job had gotten the right perspective regarding God’s plans and power, God doubled all that Job had lost and even gave him seven more sons and three more daughters. Now that’s sovereignty!
BIG PROBLEMS SPIN OFF BIG MIRACLES
We’re probably never going to completely get away from asking God the why questions. But if we can gain the eternal perspective that God is bigger than it may reduce the period of time that we struggle. God wants each of us to develop in our faith. But faith is seldom developed unless there is some kind of challenge or trial. So when we encounter adversity and loss, we can ask God to help develop the optimistic mindset in us that says, “The bigger the problem, the bigger the miracle needed to solve it, the bigger my faith grows.”
This kind of attitude is how stress leads to eustress rather than distress. Do you remember discussing this two weeks ago? With this mindset, our trials become challenges rather than threats.
Consider the miracles that God used to teach lessons to the disciples who walked with Jesus. They were always tied to some sort of a problem and potential loss.
- 5,000 people need to be fed. Big problem! So Jesus miraculously multiplies five loaves and two fish and feeds them.
- Disciples are about to drown in a storm. Big problem! So Jesus walks out on the water and calms the storm.
- Jesus’ good friend Lazarus dies. Big problem! On top of that, Jesus lets him rot in the tomb for four days. Even bigger problem! Finally, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. In each case, the bigger the problem, the bigger the miracle that God could spin off it.
Now, we’re not saying that every time a problem comes along, God will pull off some kind of extraordinary miracle to solve it. But if we maintain an attitude of faith, knowing that He can perform miracles in response to our stress, we’ll endure adversity more easily and experience God at a deeper level.
LOSS NATURALLY LEADS TO GRIEF
In this session, we’re also going to be looking into a practice that is pretty foreign to most people – the practice of grieving. our problems, When we lose something that was truly important to us, the normal and natural response is to grieve. We feel miserable, depressed, and distressed. This is a foundational characteristic of all humans. It’s built into us. God invented it. God even experienced it.
But our society often tries to gloss over this process, give it a time limit, minimize it, pasteurize it, anesthetize it – especially when it comes to heroes like first responders. Have you ever heard any of the following “pick-me-ups” in the midst of a tough situation? “Big boys don’t cry.” “Put it behind you.” “Think happy thoughts!” “It’s not so bad.” “You’ll feel better tomorrow.” “Don’t you know God works everything out for good?” Instead, we need to be willing to look our losses square in the eye and say, “Yeah, I am really upset about this. It cost me. It hurts.
And I’m not going to deny it.” When we grieve, we are authentically engaging with the emotions that come with loss rather than trying to stuff them or deny them. We are protesting the injustice of it rather than acting like it’s all okay. We are expressing at a soul level that we deeply wish the loss had never occurred, but we’re going to face the impact of it head on, absorbing it and eventually mastering it rather than running from it, deflecting it, or pretending it didn’t happen, only to have its effects hit us again and again. When we avoid or refuse grieving, it can lead to a wide range of psychological and medical problems. Beyond this, when we don’t recognize and grieve our losses, we are at odds with God’s spiritual intentions to meet us in the midst of the fire of our trauma, and we miss out on His plans to deepen our faith and strengthen our relationship with Him.
When we avoid grieving, we are denying the God-given process designed to help us heal. Remember what God says in Psalm 34:18. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Because of your soul wound, you hold a special attractiveness to God. He is extraattentive to your difficulties and wants nothing more than to comfort you, heal you, and strengthen you when your losses mount and your spirit feels crushed. It’s time to let go and let Him do what He does best.
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