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Understanding Perceived Loss and Complicated Grief

Loss of different sorts and on different levels occur every day.  All of us either know someone who has had some loss, or we have experienced loss ourselves, or both. There is the loss that is inevitable, and that is losing a loved one to death. There is also loss of property, finances, memory, body parts, health, control, position, jobs, relationships, identity and dreams.  

There is a kind of loss, however, that does not get much attention.  It is called perceived loss.  According to H. Norman Wright in a lesson he teaches that is entitled “Grief, Loss, and Complicated Grief,” defines perceived loss as “something that we grieve for that we never had or never will have”. It can certainly be a dream, but more often than not, this involves a relationship that a person wanted to have with someone else, but they were not able to do so. This loss can occur, for example, due to the death of a sibling, or because of a failure to bond with a parent.

It is a very difficult circumstance when one desires the affections of a parent, but instead goes through life sensing that emotional deprivation. This unmet need may lead to withdrawal, sadness, irritability, feelings of insecurity, difficulties expressing emotions, trust issues, seeking comfort from others, and having difficulties developing and maintaining meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, if the issue is not examined and addressed thoroughly, one’s entire life can be significantly challenged because of this perceived loss.

The story of Job not only constitutes a material loss, but also a perceived loss. Not only did this well-known Bible character lose his possessions and his health, but also his 10 children. Any plans that Job had for his children were instantly aborted.  And to make matters worse while dealing with this undeserved suffering, his friends failed to comfort him.  Instead, he was implicated for all his loss and suffering, accused of some great sin.

Job had a lot to say about how he was feeling about his dilemma. He also had lengthy responses to his friends' suppositions and accusations. God also chimed in with His thoughts toward the end of the story, “and the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends.” (Job 42:10). God changed Job’s circumstances when “he prayed not only for himself, but for those who were opposing him.  When he felt earnestly desirous that the souls that had trespassed against him might be helped, he himself received help” (Letter 88, 1906).

Often those who have hurt us are the ones we don’t often consider mentioning in our prayers.  However, it was when Job humbled himself and prayed for his friends that the Lord changed his circumstances. On some level I can identify with certain aspects of this story.  I prayed for church members, friends, even strangers at times, but failed to pray for my dad who I had not seen for almost 20 years.  I was pained by the lack in our relationship, angered that he had never taken the time to know me.  When my heart was open to God in regard to Him, the Holy Spirit impressed me to pray for him.  So some time last year I began praying for his salvation, and last October before we ended a phone conversation, he asked, “When are you coming to see me?” My response to that question as well as the actions that followed led to something so beautiful that only God could have orchestrated — an eventful week spent with him in his home, selflessness on my dad’s part to clear his schedule and spend quality time with me, and the willingness to be open to listen to and respond to the painful experiences from my childhood that I shared.  Amazingly, God took away all my anger and bitterness and I felt a sense of joy I hadn’t experienced before. He also expressed positive vibes about our experience. It was a miracle.

The truth is that we don’t always know what the result will be when we pray, but there are definite steps we can take in the event there is loss.  It is always imperative for us to connect with God; He says, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8).  He encourages us to cast our cares upon Him.  In some instances, however, it may also be necessary to seek professional help to work through some issues.  In addition, seek to bless others, for in doing so we are clearly identifying with Jesus in showing love to our neighbors. Pray for those who have failed us emotionally or otherwise, and commit to praying for those who may even continue to hurt us today.  And be mindful of the transformation that happens in our hearts as we pray.

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