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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Compounding misery

When pain and losses add up, we sometimes don't know how we'll ever live again — until we see God's light

The idea of compound interest is fascinating. Say you are 20 years old and want to retire when you are 65 — as a millionaire. How to accomplish this? How much to save?

According to those "in the know" — and you can find many versions of this calculation on the Internet — all you have to do is make one deposit of $13,729.21 at 10 percent interest at age 20. By the time you turn 65, your one-time investment, through the magic of compounding interest, will become $1 million.

designpicsWhile I can't comprehend the magic of compounding as it relates to money, I can understand it as it relates to pain or loss. Grief is the price we often pay for love. You lose a child, parent, spouse — and you grieve. Even "lesser" losses can plunge us into profound sadness, perhaps even situational depression. Your lover says goodbye, you lose your job, a friend is diagnosed with a serious disease. It all ads up.

As I've gotten older, losses seem to have this cumulative effect on me. I first discovered this at my aunt's funeral when I found myself fighting back body-racking, heartrending sobs. Intellectually I knew this was irrational. My aunt had lived a long life and died peacefully in her sleep. I had not seen her in years.

But losing her reminded me of my mother's death the previous year. And seeing my cousins again, especially my first cousin's grandchild, reminded me that we've all gotten so much older. Which reminded me that things hadn't exactly turned out like we all had dreamed of and talked about at gatherings when we were children. Divorce, illness, financial problems, loneliness had visited us all. Hence, the sobs and misery that I gave into while driving away from the cemetery after my aunt's funeral. Ahh, the "magic" of compounding.


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