When things go away, makes you appreciate what you had. – Gabby
Loss is a recurring theme in Nicholas Sparks’ stories, and this one is no different. When it works well, it helps make up a little for the saccharine sweetness of the romances—a balance, of sorts. Other times, it works more like convenient plot manipulation, enabling someone’s affair to end with sweet memories rather than turning into messy reality (this is when I get angry at a Sparks’ flick). Fortunately, this time it acts more like the former. Not only do grief and loss take what may seem like a fairy tale romance and put some more realistic skin on it, but they also serve to challenge our perspective on things. As Gabby pointed out, “When things go away, makes you appreciate what you had.” In many ways, that sums up the movie.
The movie begins with Travis going to see his beloved wife, Gabby, in the hospital. She’s in a coma and he has to decide to pull the plug or not. Facing her loss makes him reflect on their relationship, how they met, fell in love, etc. He also reflects on how she ended up in a coma—they had a date planned, but he was late due to work. She assumed he wasn’t going to make it (this had happened plenty before), so she headed home, alone…and ended up in a car wreck. In some ways, you could say her accident was because he didn’t really appreciate what he had. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but to be sure, he blamed himself. To be sure, in hindsight, he would have made that date (and many others) with his wife more of a priority.
It’s easy to take things for granted—time, people, our abilities, our senses…. Sadly, it does at times take a loss, or at least the threat of one, to make us really appreciate things. So often, when we do realize what we had, it’s too late and it’s gone…so then loss is compounded by grief. Lucky are those who have a wake-up call before it’s too late. Perhaps luckier still are those who practice gratefulness, who are aware of what they have without needing a wake-up call in the first place.
So here are a few thoughts for the road: First, we don’t need a wake-up call to learn to be grateful. Gratitude is something we can practice. It’s a choice, a discipline…one we can develop. The Psalmist often practices this discipline throughout the Psalms, but Psalm 118:24 comes to mind first. “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” He doesn’t say that his life is peachy and wonderful, in fact, as you read the Psalm, you see that he was enduring some fairly serious trials, but he chose to be grateful anyway. He committed to God and to man that he would be grateful for the day God had given him. He understood that it was a gift not given to everyone.
A second thought for the road—when we have a wake-up call, we shouldn’t waste it. Maybe the wake-up call is a movie or a story about someone else’s loss, or maybe it’s a health scare that turns out to be nothing, or a close call in the car that you walk away from… Close calls threaten us with loss and/or remind us that loss is possible, without our having to actually lose anything in the end. When they happen, we can let our fear make us angry, we can choose to insulate ourselves and shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we can even laugh about our close call and forget it and move on. The best response, however, is to let it wake us up and remind us of just how precious the things are in our lives…and to stop taking them for granted.
Third, how we respond to loss itself is a choice—we either live in the past, dwelling on what we lost, grieving, bitter, lost… Or we turn that loss into a wake-up call and practice gratitude for what we had and lost and turn our attention to practicing gratitude for all that we still do have. Loss can either get us stuck or propel us forward—which it does it somewhat up to us. I believe gratitude is the key that unlocks the forward motion.
Finally, I’m reminded of Jesus saying that He came “that we might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). And then he died. It’s through HIS loss that we are able to have that abundant life, a life which we live to the full, rather than taking it for granted. His teachings definitely help us to do that, but also His loss. As we look to his life and death, as we remember all that He and the Father gave up for us that we might we live, we are encouraged not to waste it—not to waste His sacrifice and not to waste the gift of life that He gave us.
It’s true that when things go away we appreciate what we had, and that is a good that comes from loss. But, there is another way. We don’t have to wait till things are gone to appreciate them. Wouldn’t it be better to spend your life appreciating what you have while you have it? It can be hard, granted. But thankfully we have Jesus’ helper, the Holy Spirit who wants to help us have what Jesus came to give us – that abundant life. So, ask him. I’ve done it many times. “Lord, help me to appreciate what I have now. Don’t let me only appreciate what I have after it’s gone, let me appreciate these things now, while I have them. Help me have eyes to see now what I’ll love and miss later. I don’t want to criticize or take things for granted…I want to be grateful, to value and appreciate all that you’ve given me.”
Questions for Discussion:
- How can you practice being grateful for all things in your life?
- What things have you learned to appreciate after they went away?
- Think about some of the situations you aren’t grateful for right now in your life – if you knew they would be gone tomorrow, how might you think or feel differently about them today?
- How might your response to loss change if you saw it as a tool to help you be more appreciative and get more value/enjoyment out of things that are still in your life?
- Gabby said, “When things go away, makes you appreciate what you had.” The Bible says that Jesus died so that we could have abundant life. How are these statements similar? How are they different?
- How could loss either be something which gets you stuck or something which propels you? Which has it been in your life?
- Why would gratitude be an important key in turning loss into something which propels you forward?