This year, more than most, I’m hearing from people who have lost everything. They’re feeling hopeless and helpless. Defeated in life, or by life. Some have lost jobs and homes, some have lost their health, and some have lost loved ones. Some just feel lost and overwhelmed and now it’s the holidays and they’re surrounded by cheerful people and are fit to be tied—or worse, despondent. The holiday blues have set in and it’s sucking them into that downward death-spiral. But they don’t have to be stuck. You don’t have to be stuck. Being stuck is a choice. And we can all make other choices.
Look, all of these situations are hard. There’s no sugarcoating it. But when facing the “I’ve lost everything” demon (and it is a demon as you well know if you’ve been through it), you can’t let it drain all that is good out of you and give into despair. Well, you can. But if you do, you’re closing the door and window of opportunity. Actually, doors and windows of opportunities, because losing everything offers multiple doors and multiple windows. You just have to retain the clarity of mind and vision and the courage and heart to see them, recognize what you’re seeing, and then act on them.
That might seem difficult to believe. When you’re down so far you can’t see up with a stepladder and binoculars, it’s pretty hard to believe that anything good still exists in anything. But it does. And that’s not a platitude talking, it’s experience.
I’ve lost everything except my life, and have come close to losing it more times than you want to hear about or I care to recall. I’ve been left with nothing, left with nothing, and started over with nothing but the clothes on my back. I walked away (okay, maybe crawled away) from a successful career and started over with nothing—no home, no family, no friends, no money. When I say nothing, I mean nothing… almost.
I had me and I had faith. And so do you, if you claim it.
I’m reminded of Joseph. The Coat of Many Colors Joseph, who had been a favored son and whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He was falsely accused by a woman and thrown into prison where he stayed many years. He could have lost hope. Instead, he remained faithful. He knew God was with him. And he understood that the situations he endured were preparing him for the future God had planned for him. When God was ready, Joseph was summoned to interpret dreams and he ended up as to what would equate to being elevated to the Prime Minister of Egypt. He clung to faith during the times it had to be next to impossible, and because he did, he was tempered by his trials and entrusted with the insight to save his people—including the brothers who had betrayed him. God restored all he had lost and so much more. Joseph made wise choices. Regardless of circumstance, he remained strong in faith and believed with heart that God remained with him.
I was a teenager the first time I lost everything, and I didn’t possess Joseph’s wisdom. I despaired. I thought my life was over. At that tender age, I believed the best was behind me and the future that stretched and yawned in front of me was bleak and dark and ominous. I was not eager to face it, much less willing to embrace it.
Yet when you’re in this position, you discover who you really are. You can run, but not hide. Fact and circumstance follows you, and so long as you avoid responsibility, it haunts and torments you. If you believe you’re defeated, you will be. If you believe you’ve lost, you have.
One of the greatest secrets of life is that you become who you believe you are. I don’t mean superficial things, like I want to be rich. That’s an insult to life itself without becoming rich being for a purpose that holds value. I mean the kind of things that give you the tools you need to progress and move forward and rebuild and create the life you envision for yourself.
You know, we don’t do much in the way of soul work on ourselves when things are going great. But when we’ve lost everything, and we have to humble ourselves and make hard choices, and struggle and do without, we gain a lot of respect. For others, for the kindnesses and compassion they embrace. For things that we take for granted. We develop a real sense of gratitude for basic necessities, stop resenting others’ their luxuries—unless they’ve stolen them. We start respecting the effort required to build a life. The effort required to keep building the life we want even when we suffer setbacks and challenges and obstacles. We stay attuned, looking for those doors of opportunity, and we’re humble enough to knock on them. And when we can’t find the doors, we look for the windows.
We seek and we find because we’re seeking.
If we’d truly lost everything, we wouldn’t possess the wisdom to do that. Or the skills of recognition. We’d cruise right past those doors and windows.
Often what happens is we seek so hard we fail to see. We don’t see that if we weren’t in this position, then we wouldn’t be in the right place at the right time and within the reach of the right people to seize an opportunity to attain a desired goal we’d deemed out of reach.
We believe that what we’ve lost, and likely didn’t appreciate when we had it, is exactly what we must have to be happy or content and we have to get it back. We focus so intently on getting it back, we blow right past doors and windows that would take us to a better place. Often, a place we’ve longed to go but never saw a pathway to ever get there.
And way too often we fail to recognize that just when we’re about to make some sort of breakthrough. One that will do us and perhaps a lot of others spiritual or physical good. That’s when we get nailed. Anytime we’re on a mission or have a goal that has benefits that extend beyond our personal selves, we should expect a body slam. Sometimes we see them coming, sometimes we don’t. But the fact is they come. It’s spiritual warfare, pure and simple. Can’t have you doing something good for yourself and others. No way. Need to keep you all down, despairing and oppressed, and miserable.
It’s not easy to walk away or lose everything. It hurts. It makes us feel as if we’ve failed. It attacks us at core level; our sense of worth, of value, our self-esteem. What we’ve got to remember is that sometimes we have to close a door to open another one. That until we do, we’re stuck in an old room that we’ve outgrown or we’re pacing out in the hall unable to get to our best place because we can’t find the door.
I once had a t-shirt that read something like: “I know that for every door that closes a window opens. But, man, these hallways are the pits.”
Hallways are the pits. And the longer you linger in them, the deeper and wider they become. The more slick are the floors, the more slimy the walls. Use those hallways before they do a number on you and in your head. Maybe you see the doors lining that hallway. But none of those doors look like the right door for you. If so, from experience I say, if any doors are constructive and better your position, test them. Try them anyway. That door might not be THE door but it well might lead to THE door. If you don’t walk through the first one, you’ll never reach the second.
Trying any door requires two things: you and a leap of faith.
You don’t have to have all the answers, only the courage to take a step and try. The moment you do, you haven’t lost everything anymore. You’ve already started rebuilding from the inside out. And that’s where it matters.
You respected yourself enough to try, and you added a leap of faith. That took courage and wisdom and the insight to find dignity in what you’re trying to do. That recognizes honor in making the effort. There’s appreciation for the struggles, for being fearful and acting in spite of it not because of it. That’s bravery. Lots to admire in all that.
And if it works out, you’ve added a lot more.
If it doesn’t, you still don’t return to “S/he who has lost everything.” You retain all you’ve already rebuilt and add more wisdom. You know which door wasn’t right for you, which is just as important as knowing which door is right for you. And so you approach the next door or window wiser and smarter and with better insight and sharper judgment. And then, if need be, you keep building with the gains from the next door, and the next.
Eventually, as a result of your own efforts and honing your own judgments, gathering your own wisdom, you find yourself in a life that you’ve rebuilt.
It might look very different than the one you had. A few, those who miss the point, will mourn the loss of what they use to have. They’ll recall fondly and with angst their former glory days. And totally blow this new better day right in front of them.
One day, that path leads to regret.
But regret too can park your backside in a hallway full of doors. Ones you can choose to open or not from your wiser-for-having-made-the-journey position.
Before you put yourself in regret-mode, pause and take a long look around at the life you’ve rebuilt. Odds are good you’re going to find it much suited to you, and much more a content place that views value and worth far differently than the old life.
You might think you’ve lost it all. I did. But what I discovered was Joseph and the miracle of refinement. It takes a lot of heat to temper steel. It takes a lot of heat to temper people, too. I discovered that some losses are inevitable and we must cope with them or be destroyed by them. I’d lost some, but actually I’d misplaced some truly valuable things. Mostly the kind that are inside—character, courage, self-respect, a true knowledge of my own worth. The really valuable things in life. In losing, I sought and found a far greater treasure: The me I’d forgotten . . . and not yet come to know. God remained with me.
So too it will be with you.