By Michael Lee Cook, Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care
I recently received the news of the tragic death of a dear friend of mine. At age 52, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack. By all measures, he was a faithful, wholesome, and wonderful person, but this was not enough to keep him among us. Without the slightest warning, death came upon him like a thief in the night. His death leaves me with a deep sense of loss, and quietly reminds me of the inevitable presence of suffering within the rhythm of life.
To live is to experience loss. No one escapes its grasp. It reaches out and taps on shoulders and calls out to the old and young; wise and illiterate; rich and poor; and faithful and unbeliever alike. At some point, we will all feel the coldness of loss. Loss is simply, but confusingly, a dynamic factor of the human condition. Loss stings in every way. Yet, there is always more at work in this mystery.
Jesus’ resurrection to new life, after a brutal death, reminds us that there is something deep at work within the human spirit that refuses to give loss the last word. That is to say, while loss is an inevitable aspect of human life, it is not the end of the story. We can surely learn and grow from our losses and transform these painful experiences into new possibilities and wellsprings of hope. This is what I understand as opening our hearts to something new.
Working as a pastoral counselor and bearing witness to the deep suffering induced by the experiences of loss in the lives of my clients, I have learned that it is not so much what we lose in life, but rather what we choose to do with our losses. In this sense, losses can remain only burdens for us to endure or opportunities to reinvent ourselves and flourish. Loss can lead to new and refreshing stories.
Without a doubt, loss can teach us to be gentler to ourselves and others. Loss can perhaps instruct us to take more chances and dream bigger dreams. Loss can possibly train us to be more grateful for the simple things along the way. Whatever the lessons of loss, something new always awaits, if we remain open to be transformed.
The journey of life, by design or chance, will be filled with many victories and losses. Truly, to appreciate both experiences can be a significant step toward spiritual growth and maturity. Life is never finished, but ever unfolding. Thus, loss is never the last voice, but an invitation to life anew. As the mystic Howard Thurman stated so well in Disciplines of the Spirit, “ when life is attacked, it tends to rally all its forces to the defense.”
Michael Lee Cook is pastoral theologian and licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in marriage and family care and counseling. He is also a clinical fellow and approved supervisor candidate in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and serves as the president of the South-Metro chapter of the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (GAMFT).
Michael also serves as an adjunct professor of pastoral care at Columbia Theological Seminary and Candler School of Theology. His research interests include the psychology of religion, adoption, fatherhood, and the integration of theology and psychology. He is a member of the Society for Pastoral Theology (SPT), American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). His forthcoming book, Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology: A Contextual Analysis and Response (Peter Lang Publishing) is due out next month.
He is an ordained Baptist Minister and is affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Michael is an avid runner, golfer and Army veteran. He spends his free time with his beautiful wife Crystal and two wonderful children, Myles and Lauren.