It was hot. Like really hot. The sweat dripped down my face as I looked up into the clear blue sky and over to the scoreboard. The game was ending and the score was not in our favor, yet again.
"Line up boys." I said encouragingly to our 8 and under team. One little boy who was always so upbeat looked at me and said excitedly "Did we win coach?"
"No," I said "we didn't win."
Not only did we not win, but we had lost 20-1 I think. It was the last game in a post-season tournament for our little league travel baseball team. And it was a familiar story. We had lost every single regular and post-season game. And most were by the run rule. We had some talent on our team, but we just were no match for teams with year round training, bigger kids, and better coaching (my guys were stuck with me!). And yet when I gathered that group of 8 year olds I was immensely proud. They had good attitudes all year long. They continued to show up even when they got beat badly. And they had learned a ton about baseball and life. Little league sports is ultimately about character and that's what we were building.
It seems easy to look back on this season with fond memories because let's be honest its just little league baseball. But what does it look like to lose all the time in other areas of life and take a positive attitude? What if we feel like we lose in academics, in our career, in our relationships, in our parenting, in our spiritual life? What if your life doesn't look like you wanted it to and according to the standards you set for yourself or others set for you, you seem to be losing? What if you are losing your health? What if you are losing your emotional stability? What if no matter how hard you try to get ahead in life, the powers of this society beat you down and you lose? What if you look up at the scoreboard in the heat of life's trials and you are down 20-1?
Over the course of this last year I feel like I have lost at a number of things. My own parenting, the goals I have for personal growth, ministry missteps and failures, and relationships that have been lost have brought a keen sense of my own inadequacies. Maybe you are in a similar place and the question is what do we do when we lose? How do we lose to the glory of God? Christians can very easily fall into a pattern of thinking that God only wants us to win at life. That he wants us to be healthy, wealthy and happy. That he wants us to band together to win in culture and to win in life. That success is just as defining for the Christian as it is for the rest of the world (we just call it blessings instead of our own hard work, but we expect it just the same). How do we change this approach?
The first thing to do in losing to the glory of God is to lament. In his book Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah defines lament this way:
"Laments are prayers of petition arising out of need. But lament is not simply the presentation of a list of complaints, nor merely the expression of sadness over difficult circumstances. Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble. The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering that is wholeheartedly communicated through lament."
In order for us to know how to deal with losing, we must first be honest. We cannot sugarcoat losses. We cannot deny feelings of pain and hurt. We cannot deny the reality of injustices. We must be honest. It is only in our honest approach to God in the midst of pain and loss that we can truly begin to find the pathway to hope.
Lamentations 3:29 says "Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last." It is when we lay our face in the dust, honestly crying out to the Lord in the midst of loss that we can find a pathway to hope. That pathway to hope is not that God will make it better. Last fall in preaching through the book of Lamentations I learned at least that much! The book doesn't end with all things being better. The loss is still a loss. So lament is not this way of tricking God into getting what we really want (an end to our suffering), so that as long as we express our pain well enough God will fix it. No, lament is our invitation for God to join us in our suffering. Actually, more accurately it is a realization that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. He hears. He sees. He knows. He cares. Which means we can be honest before him in lament. As Christopher Wright says in his commentary "God has broad enough shoulders to cry on and a big enough chest to beat against." This is why lament has such healing power for us. Not because it fixes things, but because it acknowledges the honest truth that losing hurts and that things in this world are not how they ought to be.
If we are to get better at losing, we must get more comfortable with lamenting.
We cannot just lament however if we are going to lose to the glory of God. We must also learn. The challenging, uncomfortable, and difficult losses in our lives have the greatest potential to grow and mature us. Proverbs 24:16 says "The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked." Why is it that when the Christian loses, they can have confidence that they will get back up again? How can this happen? Well, we have to take this proverb in context of the rest of the proverbs and how they teach wisdom. Proverbs 3:5 says "trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding." This means that the posture of the Christian in all of life is one of humble learning from the Lord. In particular, in times of losing, we need to take this posture. The book of James tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6, cf. Pro. 3:34).
So, when we lose, we ought to take this as an opportunity to learn. Some of our losses are due to forces outside of us. Systemic injustice and racism, structural poverty, abuse against us, lack of opportunities and things like this are not within our individual control. However, how we respond to those things is in our control. And not all of our losses are due solely to those things. Sometimes we lose because we made foolish choices. We rushed to judgement or jumped into a situation without the proper preparation, training and equipping. And sometimes when we lose because of problems outside of our control, we make matters worse through foolish actions and sins. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the loss, we can learn from the loss itself. If we take an approach that we in our pride have nothing to learn, we will likely lose again. But if we take a posture of humble learning, we will see that God may be at work in shaping our character in a brand new way. He may be at work in saving us from bigger losses later in life. And he may be using this trial as a refining process, making us look more and more like King Jesus. After our lament, we must take stock and see, can we learn from anything that happened here? Can we take away some lesson? Can we learn something?
In the face of any loss, we must lament, we must learn, and finally we must long. Lamentations 3:21-24 says:
"Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'"
The lamenter is able to dare for hope. Why? Because he is longing for the faithful love of the Lord. Because the Lord is his inheritance. Because he knows that though the darkness is dark, the morning light will come. Because he knows that this present world in all its pain and brokenness will one day give way to the new heavens and the new earth. The place in which Jesus has made all things new. If we are to understand how to lose to the glory of God, we must end with the hope of the future. The place in which all the tears we have shed because of losses will be wiped away by our savior. The place in which Jesus, because of his glorious death on the cross and resurrection, will welcome us into his Kingdom (Rev. 21-22).
We must in the midst of our losses cultivate a holy imagination for the life to come and all its glory. No more pain from job loss. No more pain from relational loss. No more pain from my own sin. No more pain from the sin of others. A place of joy, worship, work, play, relationships, and God. A place of glorious harmony. And because we are secure in Christ, we can suffer loss now. It is not the end and it does not have the final word over us. So as you lament and learn, be sure to long for the day in which our sorrow is turned to joy.
All of this is because Jesus took the loss we deserved. Because Jesus endured the cross for our sake. Because Jesus was wrongly accused for us. Because Jesus endured the wrath of God for our sins. Because of Jesus, we can long for a day with no more losing.