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08 May 2019

The worst thing to lose and the best thing to have

“To spare oneself from grief at all costs can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness” – Erich Fromm, German-American psychologist and philosopher.

The other day, as I was trying to pluck a topic for this column out of thin air, I found myself reading the words above, penned by Erich Fromm, at the exact moment that I Am a Rock by Simon and Garfunkel started playing on my stereo.

It’s a song that describes, somewhat ironically, the detachment that Fromm was writing about, with lyrics like, “Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”

As Paul Simon suggests, someone completely detached might feel no pain, but as Fromm argues, neither can they know happiness.

I wasn’t planning to write about grief this month, but seeing as one of the wisest people I know recently said to me, “I don’t believe in coincidences,” I thought that the convergence scholarship and the musical art form – along with my own prayers for inspiration – were as good a reason as any for writing (again) about grief.

Yes, it was only in November last year that I wrote about grief, but as I say to my children when they grumble about the dinner served up to them, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” I, with great warmth, say that to you, my dear readers.

Speaking of my children, it was in late March that our fourth child, Hugo was born, and about a week later, his five-year-old brother, Theodore, in the midst of the emotional rollercoaster that is the expansion of a family, spoke something of the truth that the cost of love – of attachment – is grief.

I was sitting down, holding baby Hugo, and Theodore walked in and started stroking Hugo on the head as he gazed into his eyes. Without looking up from Hugo, Theodore said, “The worst thing to lose is love and family, isn’t it?” To which I quietly replied, “Yes.”

Theodore then looked up at me, smiled, and said, “But the best thing to have is love and family!” I pulled him close with my free arm, gave him a big hug and a kiss, and again, said, “Yes.”

Having family, or loved ones of some description, can be a great source of joy and happiness. But it does cost us grief. Grief is love’s price, but it’s a price worth paying. And I believe opening ourselves to love in spite of its expensive price is made easier when we view it with the bigger picture of God’s love in the periphery.

We’re presently in the joyous Easter season of the Christian calendar. It’s a season during which we’re invited to revel in the revelations of the resurrection. One such revelation is given when Mary Magdalene recognises the risen Jesus as he addresses her by name.

He then says to her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God.”

Mary couldn’t hold on to the lord and saviour she adored, she would lose him again, in that earthly sense, and have to grieve. But through that grief a new kind of love and family would materialise. She would be received into an eternal family – be made a daughter of the eternal God who is the very essence of love itself!

It can be the same for all of us too. We will experience grief. It is the price of love. But in the faith communities of the Christian church, we believe that because of the ultimate attachment that God seeks to have with us, we need not fear the cost of attachment in this life. We can and should love boldly, without fear, knowing that finally, every tear shed from lost love will be wiped from our eyes in heaven.

Tom Hoffmann - Pastor

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