On Pondering Loss

I read many books, a professional preoccupation, I suppose. I have books I read in the daytime (the ones that require more thinking) and those I read before sleep (books on travel, gardens, quilts…things that I can readily resume without wondering where slumber left off); there are some books I read several times before I feel I have gotten into the depths of what the author wants to explore. Today’s book post is one of these. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser is one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching, thoughtful books on the meaning of loss I have read. Sittser is a professor of religion at Whitworth College and writes that “no one suffers loss in the abstract. Loss is not simply a concept; it is an experience, one we would all like to avoid” (14).

Sittser’s loss was greater than what most of us are likely to know. In the flash of a horrific car accident, his wife of 20 years, his mother, and his daughter were killed by a drunk driver.

Whose loss is worse? The question begs the point. Each experience of loss is unique, each painful in its own way, each as bad as everyone else’s but also different. No one will ever know the pain I have experienced because it is my own, just as I will never know the pain you have experienced. What good is quantifying loss? What good is comparing? The right question to ask is not, “Whose is worse?” It is to ask, “What meaning can be gained from suffering, and how can we grow through suffering?” (38)

Sittser writes of the days and weeks following the accident. How he in turn despaired and grieved and reflected and in time, saw growth.

In other words, though I experienced death, I also experienced life in ways that I never thought possible before – not after the darkness, as we might suppose, but in the darkness. I did not go through pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.(45-46)

I cannot possibly do justice by this marvelous book with just a few quotations lifted out. In addition to looking at how one heals from great loss, Sittser also asks the questions “why?” And he addresses a wide-variety of loss – not just the ones he has experienced but recognizes that loss comes in many ways, yes, through death, but also through loss of relationship, of health, of community. And in this, I think most everyone would gain in reading the book, whether currently working through a difficult season or not.  In finding there is grace…and hope…and growth on the other side.

I have lost, but I have also gained. I lost the world I loved, but I gained a deeper awareness of grace. That grace has enabled me to clarify my purpose in life and rediscover the wonder of the present moment. (79)

Sittser, Jerry. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 2004.

Note: We also have copies of this book in Spanish and in Korean.

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