Anyone who knows me well knows my propensity towards losing things. I set things down and forget where I’ve put them all the time, and my particular brand of distractedness lends itself to placing a higher value on keeping track of facts rather than items.
I’ve spent years mastering this art, losing everything from driver’s licenses and debit cards to coffee mugs and my birth certificate (I still have no idea how that happened. Or where it is.). I even once lost my car for a 24 hour period because I walked home after forgetting that I’d driven to school that day.
When I was in high school, I read a poem called “The Art of Losing” by Elizabeth Bishop, and in it she writes about the evolution of loss—how it starts small, losing things (keys, in her case) that are frustrating but without real lasting consequence, and then progresses to losing memories of names and hopes and then possessions and places and communities and relationships. It’s not a particularly joy-filled piece of writing, but it strikes something deep within me every time I read it.
As I make yet another life transition, I keep thinking about this poem. One reason is that I have loads of experience losing small things, but right now I’m in the process of losing those other things that she waxes eloquent about. Accepting a new job in a new city means that I’m losing proximity to some of my closest friends, I’m losing a job on a campus that I grew to deeply love, and I’m losing a city that I finally(!) learned my way around.
But, like Bishop notes towards the end of her poem, losing those things isn’t a disaster. I had some really good years being near those people in that city—and I’m thankful that I even have them to lose. Sometimes things need to be lost for the sake of finding others.
And I’m not actually losing the people, I know that (Let me reiterate this to those of you who I consider to be my people and are now freaked out: I know I’m not losing you.). I’m just farther away. I know, too, that I’m stepping into something great—I’m pretty confident that I’m going to love the new campus I’ll be working on, and that I’ll eventually learn my way around that city and even that I’ll meet people who will let me hang out with them occasionally.
Here’s where I get philosophical (you had to have known this was coming): I think the other reason I love this poem so much is because it reminds me that in order to miss something, you have to know that you’ve lost it, that you’re missing it. And those of us who follow Jesus know…it’s kind of our whole job to show people that they’re missing something, to say to them, hey, there’s actually something bigger than you out there, let me help you figure out what it is.
I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 about the lost sheep (yes, yes, I know it’s also in Matthew. Chapter 18.), where he asks this rhetorical question about shepherds: “Which of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doesn’t leave the other 99, and go looking for the lost one until he finds it?” One of the points here is that the shepherd who’s serious about their job keeps track of all of their sheep, not just the ones that stay close and safe.
Being a missionary on a community college campus means being a shepherd, and I want to be serious about that job. It’s often easy for me to just pay attention to the students who are interested in what I have to tell them about Jesus, the ones who come to our Bible studies or services or whatever and then stick around and ask questions.
But as I get ready for another campus and a new wave of students, I want to be aware of the students who will slink in with their unasked questions, thinking that they’ll need to keep their doubts to themselves, and then will slink back out when we don’t address all of those unspoken thoughts right away. The truth is that I know all about the art of losing things, about letting things and people wander away, but I want to get better at knowing how to find them and recognizing that they need to be found.