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When God Takes Away: Living with Loss and Surrender

When God Takes Away Cover

Celebration of Surrender

As I hold my new book, When God Takes Away: Living With Loss and Surrender in my hands, I feel my son’s presence. It's as if I'm hugging him. Though Neal is not here physically, we are still connected in spirit, memory, and the growth he's provided me as a parent.

This was a difficult and painful book to write. What began as a mournful expression and attempt at closure evolved into a discovery of my own relationship with the processes of attachment, loss, the healing of trauma, and surrender to and acceptance of God's will for me. When God Takes Away allowed me to explore the universal aspects of loss that affect all people. We may have individually different losses, but the impact of loss touches everyone. The last few years have made me even more sensitive to the brevity of life, the sovereignty of God, and the sanctity of human relationships. Writing this book also allowed me to reach out with help and hope to those suffering with the privacy and loneliness of loss–not only loss of people, but loss of many things, such as: marriage, health, opportunity, possessions, and innocence.

Being alone is far less problematic than being lonely; for loneliness drapes a heavy curtain that limits connectedness and intimacy. Loss can leave a burden of lacking connectedness and intimacy; in its wake is a path that leads to surrender.

It's time to celebrate the release of surrender to what God has in mind and in store. I wish Neal could be with me still on this earth. Yet he accompanies me through his life and individuality in ways that overcome loneliness and sorrow with humor and enlightenment.

Neal was intense and imperfect. He came from me, and yet this chip off the old block was different in many ways. My mind’s eye can see him soaring on a snowboard and tracking a too steep hill on a skateboard. (I have never done either of these feats.)

We had long discussions and arguments over the nature of consciousness, religion, authority, mathematics, and physics. I can still hear him lecturing me about the differences between quantum theory and the Standard Model in physics. On these topics, he was superior, and he taught me and piqued my interest. Neal used to say that the role of physicists is to ask the important questions that engineers must answer with practical inventions.

I would punctuate these discussions paternally with reminders to him not to spend too much money and to get his car fixed. And he would seek my help and direction for sleep, anxiety, and a life that overwhelmed him.

How stressful it is being a parent!

Lately, I've been reading the works and ideas of physicists and rabbis—Rovelli, Telushkin, Schneerson, among others. I spend time trying to wrap my limited mind around space/time/gravity as a basis for our universe, along with the integration and cohesion between the Old and New Testaments. I write, reflect, and pray, and have intimate discussions with my wife about art, music, love, and emotion. She predicts that 300 years from now, no one will care about Michael Jackson's sexual proclivities and unorthodox behaviors, but will enjoy and celebrate his music. She reminds me of civilizations that flourished and achieved hundreds of years before America existed. (She’s younger than I am, but she has keen perspective.) She misses Neal, too. Just knowing that provides immense comfort and closeness.

I don't have answers to important questions, like why God takes away and how the earth can be eons old, but the Bible yields 5000 years of recorded history and insists that the world was created in a handful of 24-hour days. I'm fascinated by the revelations from physics that time passes more quickly as one moves farther away from earth. I wonder if somehow this science could account for God’s perspective on time and creation: since God created and supervises the whole universe, maybe this space/time phenomenon could bridge the gap between earth’s 24-hour rotational days and the eons of evolution that could have occurred from a celestial perspective—if one moves far enough away from earth so that the accelerated passage of time could account for trillions of years, perhaps that could reconcile scientific measurements with biblical accounts.

I cannot begin to estimate those calculations. If Neal were here, he might set up the appropriate formulas and equations. He would also argue about it and try to find fault with God's variances. And he would leave his dirty dishes in the living room.

The lofty and unanswerable thoughts are with me, along with many things that remind me of my late son: dirty dishes, music that's too loud, aggressive motorcyclists, the environmental movement (he wanted to innovate in green technology), and cooking "dirty rice" (brown rice with carrots, onions, nuts, spices, and barbecue sauce)—one of his favorite dishes by Dad.

Dear Lord, I thank you for giving me a son—your son, really, as everything belongs to you. I surrender and relinquish and accept your taking him back. I look forward to seeing him again with you.

In the meantime, may When God Takes Away: Living With Loss and Surrender memorialize Neal's important life and link our relationship with the acknowledgment and celebration of surrender.

Mark Steinberg, Ph.D.