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Monday, October 1, 2012

A Class of Seniors Reflects on "Living Losses"

On Sunday I got to speak to a delightful group of some sixty seniors who are a members of the Altruistic Sunday School class at the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren. Our theme was on dealing with the inevitable losses as well as the invaluable blessings associated with changes we go through at various life stages.

On one side of the marker board we noted some of the many stresses and adjustments we deal with in the autumn stage of our lives, like losses of health, energy, careers, and loved ones, to name a few. On the other side of the ledger we listed the cumulative assets and blessings we can celebrate, like more free time to pursue new interests and friendships, increased wisdom and experience, and more time for learning, solitude and for spiritual reflection and growth.

We then noted that the secret to emotional, mental and spiritual health--as opposed to feeling depleted and living in a state of constant grief--is to live with the sense of the "deposits" in our mental bank accounts always exceeding our withdrawals. There will always be plenty of these, we agreed, even with supposedly positive events, like finally reaching retirement, a state that brings both major benefits and unforeseen challenges.

We also discussed how our emotional and spiritual balance sheets can be affected by the kind of mental bookkeeping we do, whether we spend adequate time actually “counting our blessings” and depositing these to our mental account, or whether we focus more of our time on counting our grievances and losses. Both are necessary to name and grow from, but in truth, as children of God and members of a caring family of faith, there will always be more of the former (assets) than the latter (liabilities).

Chief among our assets, we concluded, was our faith in God and the love and support available to us in a wealth of friends, family, and congregational family. With these, we can avoid having overdrawn accounts, and can operate from a sense of spiritual and emotional abundance rather than of scarcity.

In the Psalms, many of which include some form of lament, we also have the richest litanies of praise. The two go together. We lament our losses, then celebrate our blessings.

And always realize that that when all is said and done, we’ll forever end up blessed and in the black.

Thou that hast given so much to me
give me one thing more, a grateful heart:
not thankful when it pleaseth me,
as if Thy blessings had spare days,
but such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.

― George Herbert
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