Job. The biblical synonym for loss. Suffering. Anguish. And tears. Lots of tears.
None of us wants to walk in Job’s footsteps. Because to tread in Job’s sandals means pain. Soul-searing, cloth-tearing, head-shaving, ash-rolling, heart-wrenching pain that accompanies the loss of everything … everything you hold dear.
So I won’t say I’ve been following in Job’s footprints for the past three weeks – and for that I am immensely grateful – I still have so many things (and folks) to cherish. But I will say Job’s experience of massive loss casts a long shadow. A shadow of fear. A shadow that each of us will walk through at some time in our lives.
A shadow that has been closing in on me loss by hurtful loss.
Let me pause here and apologize if I’m coming across as a whiner. That is absolutely not my intention. Although I’m generally a positive thinker, I always try to keep it real and I hope that you’ll understand that the pain I’m pouring out to you here, my trusted BFFs, is as real as it gets. Unfiltered. Unabridged.
The only way to express what I’ve been going through is to flat out say it. Bad stuff happens. And it happens to Christ-followers all the time. I love the way the Bible puts it: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NASB).
Yep, we all go through hard times. Maybe if Christians were more honest about our doubts and screams and hair-ripping, we could help each other through those times. So here goes. And warning: it’s pretty raw and ugly.
If the unexpected passing of my beloved daddy had been my only loss, it would have been hard enough. But it was only the beginning. During the three weeks following his death, the losses – and grief – compounded:
- Daddy was unexpectedly called home on Christmas Day. We didn’t see it coming. His gifts were still under the tree. I’ve lost the first love of my life. I rejoice that he’s in heaven but my “Daddy’s girl” heart has shattered. Hey, I’m wrapped in his gray flannel shirt as I write this. It smells faintly of his aftershave.
- After Daddy’s funeral, Mama began having daily panic attacks, something she’d never had in her life. My sister and I are her primary caregivers and have to drop everything and run to help her through each attack. She can’t remember how to check her answering machine or turn on her alarm clock. Daddy always did those things. I feel that I’ve lost the strong, independent mama I’ve always known. Our mother-daughter roles are now reversed.
- I had knee surgery from a tennis injury on New Year’s Eve. OUCH. Afterward follows 3 months of painful rehab. Dang. I worked so hard to attain my current USTA rating; now I’ll have to miss playing in my favorite spring league. My tennis buds were counting on me; I hate to disappoint them. Now I’ll have to work extra hard to regain court coverage. I’m losing too much precious playing time here.
- On my surgical follow-up a week later, my ortho shocked my socks off when he stated my knees were so far gone that I would have to give up tennis. Permanently. What???? No way! Tennis, my sanity-therapy; the recreation I dearly love and have considered a vital part of my personal identity for FOUR decades. I can’t lose that too! Please. Just. Noooooooo.
- The next day, we buried Fenway, my faithful companion for nearly 16 years. I can still hear his excited bark every time I come home. He loved me like no other. I’ve lost my little furry buddy. I can’t seem to stop crying.
- Then my daughter (who lives next door) had surgery; it did not go well. She became completely (temporarily) incapacitated and I must assume responsibility and care of her three young children while she is bedbound and her husband is working. I’ve lost my time to mourn. Pain or no pain, it’s time to pitch in.
- A precious baby girl (friend of the family) we’ve been diligently praying for didn’t make it through her liver transplant. Another longtime friend unexpectedly passed. Counting Daddy’s service, three funerals in one week. I’ve lost my perspective. Loss seems to be the norm, not the exception. So hard.
- The day after I was thrilled to learn that one of my Too Blessed to be Stressed books made two bestseller lists (THANK YOU, PAPA GOD, FOR SOME GOOD NEWS!) I received word that my proposal for one final book in the Too Blessed to be Stressed series was turned down. Really? After the other books have done so well? A dagger to my heart. Just like that, my writing career could be over. But that’s the publishing bizz – unpredictable and often ruthless.
So now, in addition to no physical outlet with tennis, I’ll have no intellectual or spiritual outlet – no more books to work on. I’ve lost my vocation and my avocation. My must-be-productive instincts are screeching. I feel myself deflate like a punctured balloon. The external components of who I’ve always perceived that I am have been stripped away. Who am I now? What is my purpose? What will I do with myself? How can God possibly use me now?
And then … quiet.
No one is home. Just me. The windows are open, letting the beautiful sunny day inside. I turn in my pain and confusion to Papa God. And He turns His face to me. I know it. I can feel His presence. His gaze. His concern. He doesn’t like it when His daughter is falling apart. He is gentle but firm as His still, small voice speaks distinctly into my mind:
Is it enough?
Is what enough? I ask.
Is it enough to simply be alive if that’s My will?
My sobs begin suddenly, unbidden, building momentum like a waterfall from nowhere. I know He is addressing the very core of my worst fear – that I will no longer be productive, someone to be respected for her hard work and accomplishments – an author, a tennis player, a … whatever every single peripheral thing is that has provided my self-identity and self-worth all these years. All those external things that made me who I think I am.
Can I go on if I lose them? Can I actually find peace and joy and meaning as a stripped-down, bottom-line version of Debora Ruth Mitchell Coty who has been brought to life through her faith in Christ? Is it enough?
I knew He was really asking: Am I enough for you?
I sobbed my heart out for twenty solid minutes. I didn’t know it would be so hard to answer the question. To recognize each and every layer of my self-identity and willingly release it until all that was left is my stark answer. The answer to His most important question to every believer in the midst of devastating loss.
My will for you: Is it enough?
My final answer? Whatever – whatever – Your will is for me, Lord, it’s enough. I can and I will submissively live without everything else.
And suddenly, that peace that passes all comprehension – the peace that the world cannot give but only HE can give – poured over me like warm fudge. I mean totally – physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I’m not exaggerating, my friend. I felt it completely envelop me. It was like the olden days when I crawled up in my earthly Daddy’s lap and he wrapped his big arms around me and cuddled all my cares away. Only this time it was my Papa God reassuring me.
I felt peace. Inside and out. And then to my surprise, joy. Joy butting blobs of sorrow out of the way and popping its sweet little head up to grin at me.
And days later, I continue to feel His supernatural peace and joy. Even though the losses are still there and hurt like a boil on your behunkus. I’m okay with that. I am. Because behunkus boils eventually go away. I know this for a fact. (You gotta try not to sit on them when they come to a head.)
In the meantime, I’m very, very thankful that the shadow of fear has lost its power over me. I’m currently doing a personal study of the book of Job and I aspire to echo Job’s words in the wake of debilitating loss, “But it is still my consolation, and I rejoice in unsparing pain, that I have not denied the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10 NASB). Amen, bro.
Honestly, I’ll miss tennis more than I can tell you, and I surely will miss writing if it comes to that. But I know that it’s enough being Papa’s girl right here on this patch of earth He plunked me on, taking pleasure in His creation, and pleasing Him as I grow and mature in His love. Yep. It’s enough.
Tell me, BBFF (Blessed Blog Friend Forever), when did you last walk in Job’s shadow? You can bet someone in our awesome community of BBFFs needs to hear about it.