David Wilcox wrote those lyrics years ago. I fell in love with his songs my freshman year of college. He sang about taking risks in life and letting go of love that wounds and feeling alone and finding yourself again, all of which resonated with me. But one of his songs I didn’t understand: it described the pain of a friend whose world had been shattered by grief. “There’s a hole in the middle of a pretty good life,” he sang, and at that point in my life, I just had to take his word for it. All of my family members were still alive and kicking, and even my cat was living a long and healthy life. I had not yet faced the darkness of loss.
20 years of living later, those words have new meaning. The grief seems to be stacking up, with one loss not quite healed before another one comes along. I have lost mentors from school, faithful saints from my home church, friends from seminary, parishioners in my own congregation. All of these deaths I grieved and kept moving. And then my mom died. And my world stopped. And I understood those lyrics for the first time. “There’s a hole in the middle of a pretty good life.”
I do have a pretty good life. A joyous life, in fact – a blessed life. I have an amazing son who adores me. I have a job that enables me to a make a real difference in the world. I have a body that can move in ways that continue to surprise me. I am surrounded by friends and family, near and far, who love me. But there’s a grief-sized hole in the middle of my life. And I’m reminded of it every time I lose another friend, another colleague, another saint of God.
This past week I was honored to vest and process in the funeral of my friend and colleague Adrienne. She was a vibrant woman, a compassionate pastor, and an ambitious leader of the Church. She had a passion for campus ministry and for young people’s faith development that I admired. And she had an adventurous spirit that I shared. At one point we were making plans to cruise the Mediterranean as part of our Continuing Education requirement as pastors – learning more about Paul’s journeys should be fun, she thought! Losing Adrienne put some extra strain on that hole in the middle of my life.
Just 2 days after Adrienne’s funeral, I lost a dear man from my congregation. Bud was one of the first people I met when I moved to Flagstaff to be pastor at Living Christ Lutheran. He and his wife Susan helped us get settled in and offered their babysitting services for my then-3-year-old son. Bud loved to make jokes with Ethan and always pretended to get his colors mixed up so Ethan would have to correct him. “I’ll miss how funny he was to me,” Ethan told me this week. I’ll miss that too.
It’s Friday morning here in Flagstaff. For the last 2 years, I have spent my Friday mornings with Bud and Susan. His declining health meant that he was home-bound and couldn’t come to church. So every Friday, I brought the church to them. It was my job to remind them of God’s love and Christ’s promises, but it was always Bud who reminded me. No matter how he was feeling, no matter how he was declining, he always rallied for my visits. When I asked how he was doing, he was always “fine” and then he immediately turned the conversation to me, asking how I was, how Ethan was, how things were at the church. He always had a joke to make, a laugh to share, a good story to tell. And to the end, he was a man of patience, hope, and peace.
It’s Friday morning and I don’t know what to do with myself. That hole in the middle of my life is a little bit bigger because I won’t be seeing Bud’s sweet smile this morning. But I will remember it. And I’ll remember the lessons he taught me. God’s love is real. Christ’s promises are true. Peace is a choice. And hope will never disappoint.