5 Ways to Deal With Your Thousand Little Deaths

“If you’re suffering, it means you have a heart. Suffering is evidence of your capacity to love, and only those who understand suffering can understand life and help others.”
– Cuong Lu

A Thousand Deaths

I’m weary from the losses.

And all the things that go with it. Sleepless nights. Lots of crying. Multiple prayers. Endless questions.

In my circle, no one has died or moved far away lately (those are big deaths). We understand the grief left behind with big deaths. Intense pain is normal. It can last a long time.

But smaller changes can leave big holes, too. They also are painful. And these smaller deaths come more frequently. They add up.

It’s painful to let go of things we want to keep. But deaths keep coming. Change keeps happening.

My latest small death is a crushed dream. Like many small deaths (and sometimes large ones), it’s cloaked in uncertainty, especially in these early stages.

Some cuts are minor and heal quickly. But others slice deep and leave scars.

New pain can also trigger old pain. It mixes and mingles and we have trouble sorting it out. The small death I’m handling now is sending me back to past big deaths. The suffering in increased by the memories.

I don’t know yet if this cut will be resolved quickly and heal. Or if it will dig in and last a long time. I’m praying for the former. 

5 Ways to Deal with Your Thousand Little Deaths

5 Ways to Deal With Small Deaths

So what do we do with these thousand small deaths we experience? 

Here are 5 ways to handle small deaths before they squeeze the life out of you. 

1. EXPECT DEATH

Isn’t the worst thing about loving a pet knowing it will likely die in a short span? It sounds gruesome, but just as we understand every living being will die a physical death, we also should expect other small deaths along the way.

It helps to accept death. With the uncertainty of life, we can never predict exactly which deaths we’ll experience. But it’s guaranteed they will happen. They all come: Good losses (sometimes we WANT things to die, such as a negative circumstance), bad losses, and neutral losses.

Change is a constant. Expect it. Experience it. Grieve it. Go to its funerals. 

And know that another change will soon take its place.

We can understand life better when we understand death better.

2. LET THINGS DIE

I have a hard time deciding when to clean up my flower beds at the end of the summer. As long as there’s one sickly bud hanging onto one sickly stem, I hold on to hope.

But sometimes it’s healthier to let things die in their appropriate season and be done with it. People drift away; circumstances change; seasons shift. It helps no one to hold on to dead things. If nothing died, what a mess we would be in. 

When a natural life cycle is complete, let it die. Something new is waiting to grow in its place.

3. GIVE THINGS AWAY

Other times, things may need to change, but we refuse to let them go. I’ve developed a bad habit of putting clothes I no longer wear into the spare bedroom closet. But do I ever return and wear any of those clothes again? Not yet. I need to just give them away to start with.

We often hang on too long to a toxic work situation or an unhealthy church or an abusive relationship because it’s painful to imagine life without it. But isn’t it more painful to stay?

Making an intentional decision to walk away feels like a death. But until we do, we continue to die ourselves. Giving up on a bad situation allows breathing room for new life.

4. HOLD THINGS LOOSELY

Researchers says we hold tightly to a possession once we own it, even if it’s just a free tote bag we were handed from a job fair. Because it’s now “mine,” I need to keep it.

But maybe life would be easier—and thus death easier, too—if we’d hold things loosely to start with, instead of clinging so tightly from the beginning.

Don’t grab hold and claim complete ownership of children, of money, of beauty. Keep an open hand. We can still love strong, but hold on loosely.

Recognizing we’re just temporary stewards of God’s good gifts, not permanent entitled owners, is a healthier way to pass through this world.

5. BE WILLING TO START OVER

Don’t outrun your grief. Give it its holy time.

But eventually after every death, start again. Return to life. As Sharon Salzberg says,

“The healing is in the return.”

Salzberg says not only can we learn how to start over, but we can do it with more compassion for ourselves and for others, with less judging and harsh treatment. (Listen to Sharon Salzberg’s amazing interview here with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast.)

We can make a course correction to begin again after every death, when the time is right. And begin again and again and again. 

A Thousand + One Lives

I’m still in the middle of uncertainty with my newest small death. As I mourn, I’m trusting God with my grief. I throw myself on his mercy and goodness.

I cry the tears out; God pours fresh grace in. I fall apart; he puts me back together. (And he often uses my husband and others as his instrument; thank you, Jeff and others). 

I’m not happy about it. But I have to accept death, even the smaller ones, as they come. The uncertainty of death is a given.

Don’t underestimate death. But don’t let it dominate you either. Grief is often the beginning of transformation. Release things as they die in preparation to receive new things as they rise up.

Resurrection is as guaranteed as death. We see resurrections every day, too.

God always empties the tomb.

Resurrection might not look like we expect. Or come when we want it. Most things rarely do. But that’s okay. Each resurrection is beautiful in its time. Watch for it.

“Resurrection will always take care of itself, whenever death is trusted.”
– Richard Rohr

Accept the inevitability of a thousand little deaths. It opens into a thousand and one new lives . . . if we’re willing to start over, receiving each new life slightly different than the one before.

Somehow God is with us in each individual death. And in each new life that follows. Show up for both.

Love is always stronger than death. Love is forever.


I sometimes regret choosing UNCERTAINTY as my One Word this year. It’s been uncomfortable. (Maybe IMPERMANENCE would have been more palatable?) But it is reality. I’m processing it here today.

How are you coping with the large and small deaths around you this past year? What are you afraid of losing? Share in the comments.


2 RECOMMENDATIONS

1. I realize this is an odd recommendation. This free app, WeCroak, sends you five short quotes per day related to death.

WeCroak app

It’s inspired by a Bhutanese folk saying: to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily. You’d think it would be depressing, but it’s actually a great way to refocus on what’s important. I’m testing it out this month. 

2. A second recommendation: Feel deeply to know deeply. Richard Rohr sent beautiful daily emails last week on “Everybody Grieves.” See all the devotionals here. “All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain.”

36 thoughts on “5 Ways to Deal With Your Thousand Little Deaths

  1. blankBarbara Harper

    I had not thought of losses and “nos” as deaths, but I can see they are. That reminds me of something Elisabeth Elliot wrote somewhere–I think it was in connection with the verse about a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying and the bringing forth much fruit (John 12:24). She was speaking of dying to self and surrendering to God, and she said something like “You can’t be resurrected until you die first.” I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but what a great way to look at losses–they make way for whatever is supposed to come in their place.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for sharing the Elisabeth Elliot insight. I need to be looking for the resurrection that can come from my latest small death. I’m glad that God is so faithful to promise us a resurrection in both large and small ways. I need both.

  2. blankMartha J Orlando

    You have certainly touched deeply on a topic that we should all be more aware of, Lisa. Yes, I’ve gone through many deaths this past year, large and small. It’s right and healthy to grieve, but also to move on, knowing there will be new dreams and possibilities on the horizon.
    Blessings!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You have been through so much the past 18 months, Martha. Losing your mother was certainly a huge death. I appreciate how you’ve shared that part of your journey on your blog. It’s been helpful to watch how gracefully you have dealt with such a big loss.

  3. blankLynn

    This hit my heart, Lisa, thank you. I’m sorry to hear about your loss of a dream. A counsellor once told me we need to grieve the dream and then we can start making a new one. I’m in grieving over a long-time job I left recently, and allowing the breathing room for new life. The uncertainty is tough and uncomfortable but as you write, God is with us in each individual death!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Praying for your new life in your work to be bright and beautiful as you grieve the loss of your long-time job, Lynn. My husband hopes to retire next year after working at one company most of his career. He is very much looking forward to it (as am I) but I also know it will bring many little deaths with it, things he will be giving up that he enjoys now. I’ll be watching for the new resurrections that will come on the heels of the deaths.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Paula. This is a lesson I have to relearn again and again. It’s easier to see the resurrections when I look back over time; harder when I’m in the middle of the deaths. I have to remember God’s promises.

  4. blankJoanne Viola

    Lisa, this is such a powerful post. I think many of us have had small deaths, especially over the last 18 months that we probably didn’t even realize fully. This here is the wisdom I hope to remember >> “Release things as they die in preparation to receive new things as they rise up.” Praying for you as you navigate this in your life.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for your prayers, Joanne. I agree with you; there have been so many small deaths over the past 18 months, some we may not have even been aware of at the time. We’ve experienced a lot of change in a short amount of time. This has been a strange time in history. So thankful we’re not going through it without God.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Great point, Michele. We’ve somehow come to expect less trouble if we’re living the Christian life, but Jesus never said that. He actually said quite plainly that in this world we will have trouble. Everyone experiences hard times. Our advantage is we can lean on Jesus to get through them.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it is grief, Lauren. With death comes grief, even though we sometimes want to skip right over it. Grief is uncomfortable, but the older I get, the more I understand its value in our healing.

  5. blankTammy Kennington

    Oh, Lisa, this penetrates deep. Thank you for pouring your heart out in black and white for me to read.

    I love this–“God always empties the tomb.” Thank you, Jesus!

    Your article blessed me today.

    Peace and grace,
    Tammy

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Tammy. This is a topic that was rolling around in my mind (and in my life) and I just had to write it all down to begin my own healing. I always want to be on watch for that empty tomb too!

  6. blankDonna B Reidland

    Lisa, I had never thought of it that way, the idea of small deaths. But we do all have them, don’t we?! I guess I’m experiencing one now as my mother ages and becomes more confused. Of course, there have been many others. And like you said, some healed rather quickly but some seem to linger waiting for something to happen or be said to bring the disappointment back up. Thanks for sharing and giving me a new way to consider life’s disappointment.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’m sorry you’re experiencing those small deaths with your mother as she ages, Donna. I did the same with my mother. It was painful. An older friend told me at the time that as her own mother slipped into dementia, she felt that her mother had died and was being replaced with this new woman, but that she learned to love the new woman too. It brought me comfort to think of it that way. Praying for you as you watch your mother decline. I know if we live long enough, we will all decline as well. I pray others will be patient with me when it’s my turn.

  7. blankTea With Jennifer

    Great post Lisa!
    Oh, I truly relate to this today for I am not a stranger to grief & loss.
    I resonate with your following statement;
    “Don’t grab hold and claim complete ownership of children, of money, of beauty. Keep an open hand. We can still love strong, but hold on loosely.”

    And dare I say our dreams too, that don’t come to fruition…💐
    Bless you,
    Jennifer

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I know you have experienced major losses along your journey, Tammy. I appreciate that you share about those periodically on your blog; I learn from you. I had a tight grip on the current dream that I’m now grieving. I want to learn to hold the replacement dream more loosely, yet still experience the joy that comes from dreaming. It’s sometimes a tricky thing to do.

  8. blankLisa Blair

    I’m sad to hear of this new uncertainty, “I’m still in the middle of uncertainty with my newest small death. As I mourn, I’m trusting God with my grief. I throw myself on his mercy and goodness.” Thank you for the reminder to trust Him and to throw ourselves upon His mercy.

    This is definitely a nugget of wisdom, “Recognizing we’re just temporary stewards of God’s good gifts, not permanent entitled owners, is a healthier way to pass through this world.”

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Lisa. I suppose losses don’t come easy to anyone, at any age or stage of life. As I get older, they still hurt just as much; I just want to run quicker to God’s mercy in the pain (even with my arthritic joints, ha).

  9. blankJean Wise

    I am so sorry you are going through this difficult time. I loved what you wrote tho:
    Change is a constant. Expect it. Experience it. Grieve it. Go to its funerals

    We do need to allow ourselves time to mourn, rest and move on. Holding things lightly is one of my mantras and has gotten me through many tough spots. May God use this small death to resurrect new life within you!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “Hold things lightly” is a wonderful mantra that I need to remember too, Jean, especially in this season. As I work on replacing my recent loss with something different, I need to hold the new dream looser instead of gripping it just as tightly. I want to live and learn, but it’s hard to break our old patterns. Thank God for his grace and patience as we go!

  10. blankDonna

    Lisa, a post that really hits home for me. Between working around death and my own “little deaths”, sometimes I feel like my life is spent wandering among the tombs. But I have learned death is beautiful for it makes way for life. My heart both understands and grieves with you over your lost dream. But nothing we surrender to God is ever really lost; for He wastes nothing and redeems everything. The beauty is in the sacrifice, as you say “God empties the tombs”, but He can only empty that which was placed there in the first place.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for your wise encouragement, Donna. I appreciate your words. I’m thankful for godly women like you who have the strength, faith, and gifts to “wander among the tombs” as a tour guide of sorts for the rest of us. Keep up your good work, friend! I pray that the Lord blesses you with your own comfort as you help guide others to comfort.

  11. blankLois Flowers

    Oh Lisa … this is where the limitations of the comment section really frustrate me! I wish we could have a nice long conversation about all this. I’m so sorry for the crushed dream that you are mourning … intense disappointment is the emotion that comes to my mind, and that is such a tough one. I so appreciate your five points … such practical wisdom in all of them. Hugs, friend.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit down in person and talk, Lois! I know we could sit for hours and discuss this topic and so many more. You have phrased my feeling perfectly: intense disappointment. I’ve seen God moving through it already in a week’s time, but the initial loss remains constant. I’m just more able now to notice the flowers he’s planted along the way for me as I walk back and forth to the tomb. He hasn’t left me without hope. But even with that, I want to hold on to him more than I’m holding on to the hope. I still have so much to learn. Thanks for your virtual hugs!

  12. blankNancy Ruegg

    Your second statement resonated deeply with me: “Let things die.” Too often I’ve allowed self-pity and what-ifs to wreak havoc in my mind when the wisest course of action would have been to take such thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and recognize God wanted to teach me new lessons or it was time for a new direction. Thank you, Lisa, for your wise insights!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You’re speaking to me, Nancy: I can sink pretty quickly into self-pity and a long trail of what-ifs. 😉 I’m thankful for people in my life who help me not sit there for too long at a time. But I still have to be the one to make the decision to get up and “take those thoughts captive.” I find myself drifting back and forth to the spot. God is showing me a new path forward; it’s just not the one I had planned on taking. Trusting his ways we better than my own….

  13. blankKim

    Thank you for this. It’s very helpful to me right now. I have had so many changes in my life the last couple of years. I told my husband it’s like starting over. Actually, it’s worse because there isn’t the excitement that comes with some changes.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      That sounds very hard, Kim. 🙁 I agree that some changes are harder than others. I’m going through a difficult change in my life at the moment as well; I don’t know how long it will last, but hopefully not forever. I’m grieving my losses and trying to accept what the Lord has in store next. Blessings to you, friend, as you deal with your changes.

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