Grief… Loss… Something that we as humans try to stay as far away from as possible. We would love the idea of being able to walk this journey on earth without having to experience pain. But then, would we have any need for a Savior? We would never need to call out to Him when our strength isn’t enough.
This past year I have walked a journey of significant loss. Those looking on or that do not know me well would never have been able to tell that 2019 was a year of much grieving. Grieving is hard and exhausting. So often we give our grief a time limit and don’t allow ourselves the grace to grieve completely, because we are ready to move on and feel normal.
I feel that I have lost my best and dearest friend, although she is still on this earth. She decided to walk away from her faith and all that she was raised to believe so that she could find “freedom” in what the world has to offer. I thought about possibly dropping her as a friend because I was living in a very secular environment myself and was worried about the influence she has upon my life. I felt that God wanted me to continue the relationship because I was the one person that had a right to voice my opinion and concerns in her life.
I grappled with the severe loss I felt when we would talk on the phone and mostly disagree about everything, especially subjects that we once agreed upon. After one particular phone conversation with this friend, I fell onto the floor, my heart flooded with grief and my eyes filling with tears, my heart breaking with the pain of her flippancy at sin and her ignorance at the value of her soul. I ran to the one person who completely understands this agony, My Heavenly Father.
So often what happens when people decide to leave the church or their faith, those of us that remain stand there judging their every move and questioning the safety of their souls. Instead, we should love them well and show them the compassion and grace that they may desperately need to see from the church. We give them gossip, a cold welcome because we don’t know what to do with them, we drop them, or we ignore their departure completely. So often when someone chooses to leave the Mennonites specifically, it is due to the deep-seated pain they have experienced within the body of Christ, and upon them leaving we only add to that pain in the way we choose to treat them.
What if we as a whole recognize that it goes far deeper than them leaving behind the Mennonite traditions, the life they have always known and that they grieve when leaving as well. What if we rallied around them, letting them know that we feel their pain. The way to reach someone that has lost their way and is hurting deeply is not by gossiping about them behind their backs, it is by walking beside them in the journey and being willing to sit with them in that pain. If we are concerned about their souls, that is not the time to walk away, that is when we get on our knees and plead with them and God to help them see the error of their ways. I am talking about open and honest conversation.
I believe that if we as humans could see other humans as souls and the value that they hold in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, we would respond to those leaving behind their faith in a completely different light. In the light of eternity will you wish that you cared more, spoke more, or will you be glad that you kept silent?
This became even more real to me at the close of the year as I watched my mentor pass away, leaving behind a legacy of caring for others and giving so much of his life so that others could have freedom in Christ. There was testimony after testimony given of how those he cared for were so thankful he had never given up on them.
There are so many lost and dying souls in this world, I am not saying you have to cross the ocean to reach them because they are sometimes sitting next to you on the pew on Sunday morning. What are we doing with Jesus today and the responsibility he has given us as Christians?
How to begin? Prayer. Oh, how we underestimate the power of prayer. Ask God to open your eyes to the pain and lostness of those around you. Ask Him to give you the wisdom, words, and perseverance to come alongside them and just be there for them through the thick and thin, no matter what. Ask Him to give you grief for your sin and theirs. Ask Him to build your conviction and a solid foundation. But be ready and surrendered, for He will answer.
Something like this does not happen overnight. Something I have learned on my short journey here on this earth is that the most painful times in our lives are when God is able to work the most. When we are the most broken is when we are the most useful to the Kingdom of God.