There once was a man with two sons….and they ALL lose…”
My sermon this last Sunday based on the Prodigal Son story in Luke 15 began on this note. A story that shows what life looks like when we allow ourselves to defined by what we have lost. It’s truly the story of all stories. Where does a preacher even begin? I consulted my friend, who is sharing preaching duties with me at this congregation, and I explained my temptation to preach one minute of each of the dozen sermons swimming in my brain. She tactfully hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, they’ll be lost! And being lost is a theme but…”
To recap, the Prodigal (Lost) Son is a story of a father with two sons, the younger of whom requests his share of the inheritance long before its due, leaves home and loses all his money in dissolute living. The older brother remains at home, earning his inheritance through daily work in the fields and by caring for his father as he ages, as is expected. The father loses the story he might have told about his younger son, and even presumes he is dead. The younger son eventually must lose the story he has told himself concerning what is of value in this world, including his pride. And by the end, even the older brother is left contemplating what he must lose in order to remain in relationship with his family: will he lose the story of self-righteousness and fairness he has been telling? Loss permeates every phrase.
I was tempted to share the insights from Marquardt’s Between Two Worlds data where adult children of divorce were asked to reflect on this story of loss. They expanded our perspective of parental loss by sharing that they tend to relate to the father in the story and not the sons. When children of divorce lose the story of living in one home and begin telling a story defined by moving between two worlds/two homes, they tell a story not of prodigal sons but of prodigal parents. Like the father, they have spent much of their lives waiting, searching the horizon for the other parent who is lost at that moment.
My thoughts on loss continued as I listened to Krista Tippett’s recent On Being interview with Minnesota storyteller and poet, Kevin Kling. He was born without the use of his left arm, withered, and in his forties he was in a motorcycle accident that left him without the use of his right arm. He speaks most powerfully about the role that loss plays in life. He says:
“When you are born with loss you grow from it, and when you experience loss later in life, you must grow towards it. After a loss, you are now a person you haven’t become yet and we use story to become the person we are.”
We may not all be born with distinguishable losses such as a withered arm, but our common mortal path, by definition, will include loss. So, how do humans respond to loss? He talks at length about the power of story to help us reframe and make sense of the losses we experience in life. He shares that for him, storytelling is empowering:
“by telling a story, things don’t control me anymore, it’s in my vernacular, it’s how I see the world and I think that’s why our stories ask our questions, our big questions, like, where do we come from, before life and after life, what’s funny or what’s sacred, and even more importantly by the asking in front of people and with people, even if we don’t find the answers, by the asking, we know we’re not alone, and I have often found that that is even more important than the answering.”
He reflects on how loss can leave us defined by the word: disabled. He wrestles with this word and reclaims it by defining disability not as un-ability, but as ability learned through shadow and reflection. Through loss, all in the Prodigal Son become dis-abled and are faced with what they learn through shadow and reflection. Some come to their senses, some learn to celebrate, and some remain faced with the eternal choice of finding a home in the world that lies before us.
These thoughts on loss reminded me of past conversations had here concerning forgiveness. I recently read Dr. Fred Luskin’s Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. He is the Co-director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project (part two of the book addresses the different studies conducted and their outcomes) and right away in the Introduction he lays out how forgiveness always begins with a grievance. He explains that a grievance arises when an undesirable occurrence happens to us and then we think and talk about it in a certain way. He defines a grievance as:
1) the exaggerated taking of personal offense
2) the blaming of the offender for how you feel
3) the creation of a grievance story
As I’m sure you can imagine, he then defines the steps in forgiveness to be the reverse: learn to take reasonable offense at what has happened, take responsibility for your feelings, and create a forgiveness story. The rest of the book talks about the interventions he uses to help train people in forgiveness (guided meditation and breathing play a large part), but I was especially drawn to the storytelling aspect. He shows how the story we tell can have powerful implications not only for how we feel emotionally, but for long term cardiac health and overall well-being. In other words, if we always tell a story of loss, eventually we will be lost.
I closed my sermon with this beautiful story from Kevin Kling’s collection, The Dog Says How:
“When Pots and Pans Could Talk”
There once was a man with two pots. In order to have water, he had to walk down the hill, fill the two pots, and walk them home. One day, it was discovered that one of the pots developed a crack. As time wore on, the crack widened. Finally, the pot turned to the man, “Every day you take me down to the river, and by the time you get home half the water has leaked out. Please replace me with a better pot.”
The man said, “You don’t understand, as you spill, you water the wildflowers by the side of the path.” Sure enough, by the side of the path where the cracked pot was carried beautiful flowers grew while the other side was barren.
“I think I’ll keep you,” said the man.
In life, we are all losers, but through story new life can grow from loss.