Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses (1986) is a book I have recommended many times to friends and clients over the years. If you are ready to meet an honest but encouraging guide as you move through the losses along your way toward development, she is a good one.
Inevitable loss and glory
Now that I think it is safe to say I am officially “old,” loss cannot be as easily denied as it used to be. My also-old friends are deteriorating with me. And I find it much harder to avoid the yet-unfinished griefs and fears of childhood. There are tender scars of betrayal and failure to bump into. There are unmet needs (and my complicity in keeping them unmet) to feel. And there is the mean old world lapping at the sinking shoreline beneath my feet.
Life is wonderful and difficult at the same time! For instance, we had such a wonderful Valentine’s Day! We rehearsed all the things we like about our relationship over dinner and then found so many reasons to laugh during Mrs. Doubtfire. But it was not long before I watched myself doubt my own fire and long for some intangible thing I felt was missing in me or my life. Difficulties arise daily. As Paul would say,
I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. — 1 Cor. 15:31
Yet in the next letter he says,
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. — 2 Cor. 4:16-17
Death and glory travel together.
Lessons from Judith Viorst
As I prayed about these things, I remembered I wanted to recommend Necessary Losses to a client. But then I thought my inspiration might really be God encouraging me to pick the book up for myself, which I did. I thumbed through to the final page and was encouraged all over again by Viorst’s frank and hopeful view of how we develop. Here’s some of it for you:
In thinking about development as a lifelong series of necessary losses—of necessary losses and subsequent gains—I am constantly struck by the fact that in human experience opposites frequently converge. I have found that little can be understood in terms of “eithers” and “ors.” I have found that the answer to the question “Is it this or that?” is often “Both.”
That we love and we hate the same person.
That the same person—us, for instance—is both good and bad.
That although we are driven by forces that are beyond our control and awareness, we are also the active authors of our fate.
And that, although the course of our life is marked with repetition and continuity, it also is remarkably open to change.
For yes, it is true that as long as we live we may keep repeating the patterns established in childhood. It is true that the present is powerfully shaped by the past. But it also is true that the circumstances of every stage of development can shake up and revise the old arrangements. And it’s true that insight at any age can free us from singing the same sad songs again.
Thus, although our early experiences are decisive, some of these decisions can be reversed. We can’t understand our history in terms of continuity or change. We must include both.
And we can’t understand our history unless we recognize that it is comprised of both outer and inner realities. For what we call our “experiences” include not only what happens to us out there, but how we interpret what happens to us out there. A kiss is not just a kiss—it may feel like sweet intimacy; it may feel like outrageous intrusion. It may even be only a fantasy in our mind. Each of us has an inner response to the outer events of our life. We must include both.
Another set of paired opposites which tend to merge in real life are nature and nurture. For what we come into the world with—our innate qualities, our “constitutional givens”—interacts with the nurture we receive. We cannot view development in terms of either environment or heredity. We must include both.
As for our losses and gains, we have seen how often they are inextricably mixed. There is plenty we have to give up in order to grow. For we cannot deeply love anything without becoming vulnerable to loss. And we cannot become separate people, responsible people, connected people, reflective people without some losing and leaving and letting go.
I may be old, but I am still developing. Letting go of my losses is not the only way I do it. But letting go is an essential skill if we don’t want to run into a psychological and spiritual wall every day. I know this personally. Letting go of some significant losses in the past few years has opened up many new avenues for growth and love for me. My spiritual direction group helped me let go of something just last week and the freedom is still taking shape! It feels great. None of us is finished yet.
Lent would be a great season for meditating through Judith Viorst’s book and letting go of the necessary losses that lead us to resurrection after resurrection.
Lent is another both/and. It is right now and quite deliberate, but it is also a window into the losses of the past and a view into the promises of the future. It is the turning season, a yearly invitation to move into the way of life after death: daily and eternal, out of the old self and into the new, out of the past and into the future. You may or may not feel the immediate results of your Lenten disciplines, but, come Easter, you may come to recognize you feel inwardly renewed, and you will likely come to feel the delight of sensing the glory of God unveiling your true glory.
Today is Xi Shengmo Day! Meet one of the first modern Chinese church leaders who renamed himself “Overcomer of Demons” @ The Transhistorical Body.