The Good In Sorrow (!?!)

I certainly don’t know all the thoughts and feelings of other Christians as they’ve suffered hard through trial and affliction. But I do know that some Christians have remarked that God blessed them greatly during their suffering. Sometimes when we suffer we experience the comforting presence of God in an unexplicable way. Other times God’s people step up and surround us with tender love when we suffer. David said that it was good for him to be afflicted because then he learned God’s rules (Ps. 119:71). When Paul was weak under affliction, he learned more of God’s strength and grace (2 Cor. 12:9-12).

While God has spared me from many trials and hardships, I know what it’s like to plow through a hard, heartbreaking, and somewhat lengthy affliction. I can say for sure that for Christians, there is some sweetness in suffering. I don’t mean suffering itself is sweet. I mean what Paul said when he explained how suffering was productive (Rom. 5:3-5). In God’s mysterious providence, suffering is not a waste. Here’s one helpful angle on this topic written by a Christian man who lost his daughter, wife, and mother in the same car accident:

[Sorrow] enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, or feeling the world’s pain and hoping for the world’s healing at the same time. However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.

Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste. It forces us to ask basic questions about what is most important in life. Suffering can lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with nonessentials. It is wonderfully clarifying. That is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people. They spend more time with their children or spouses, express more affection and appreciation to their friends, show more concern for other wounded people, give more time to a worthy cause, or enjoy more of the ordinariness of life.”

These words were written by Jerry Sittser in his excellent book, A Grace Disguised. It’s a tough book to read because Sittser’s story contains such deep sorrow. But it also explains in a God-centered way how to press on through sorrow and find the sweetness God often provides in and through sorrow.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Sweet Bitterness of Grief

Product DetailsI mentioned this excellent book awhile back: A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser.  He wrote it after he lost his mother, wife, and daughter in a car accident.  On the topic of grief this book is one of the best.  Here’s a quote that got my attention in a big way:

“The accident itself bewilders me as much today as it did three years ago.  Much good has come from it, but all the good in the world will never make the accident itself good.  It remains a horrible, tragic, and evil event to me.  A million people could be helped as a result of the tragedy, but that would not be enough to explain and justify it.  The badness of the event and the goodness of the results are related, to be sure, but they are not the same.  The latter is a consequence of the former, but the latter does not make the former legitimate or right or good.  I do not believe that I lost three members of my family in order that I might change for the better, raise three healthy children, or write a book.  I still want them back, and I always will, no matter what happens as a result of their deaths.”

“Yet the grief I feel is sweet as well as bitter.  I still have a sorrowful soul; yet I wake up every morning joyful, eager for what the new day will bring.  Never have I felt as much pain as I have in the last three years; never have I experienced as much pleasure in simply being alive and living an ordinary life.  Never have I felt so broken; yet never have I been so whole.  Never have I been so aware of my weakness and vulnerability; yet never have I been so content and felt so strong.  Never has my soul been more dead; yet never has my soul been more alive.  What I once considered mutually exclusive – sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life – have become parts of a greater whole.  My soul has been stretched.”

“Above all, I have become aware of the power of God’s grace and my need for it.  My soul has grown because it has been awakened to the goodness and love of God.  God has been present in my life these past three years, even mysteriously in the accident.  God will continue to be present to the end of my life and through all eternity.  God is growing my soul, making it bigger, and filling it with himself.  My life is being transformed.  Though I have endured pain, I believe that the outcome is going to be wonderful” (198-199).

Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised.

rev shane lems

Grief, Grace, and Growing

Product Details A friend from church recently told me about this book that has to do with grief: Jerry Sittser’s A Grace Disguised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 2004). This book is the outcome of Sittser’s deep, dark, emotional, and faith-filled fight with grief after he lost his mother, young daughter, and wife in a single car accident.  He had to continue with life after the tragedy, however, because three of his children survived the accident.  A Grace Disguised is definitely not a macho “suck-it-up-and-drive-on” self-help book, nor is it feminine “get-in-touch-with-your-inner-feelings” fluff; rather, it is more like a modern-day psalm of lament with bright glimmers of Christian hope dispersed throughout.

It did hurt me to read this book.  Even to think of losing my little girl, my wife, or my mother in such a tragic manner brings me to tears.  I had to set the book down from time to time because I didn’t like the pain.  When you read this book you go through the grief with Sittser.  However, he doesn’t really talk about his experience in order to put himself or his family front and center.  In fact, over and over he says how many times he failed to deal with grief and its effects in a proper way.  Sittser doesn’t make himself out to be a saint in this book!  But he does explain his experience and brokenness in order to put the focus on God’s grace which penetrates through grief to cause growth.

Here are a few lines from the book that I highlighted.

“…I lost all hope, collapsed to the ground, and fell into despair.  I thought at that moment that I would live in darkness forever.  I felt absolute terror in my soul” (p. 41).

“Sorrow is noble and gracious.  It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously…however painful, sorrow is good for the soul” (p. 74).

“Catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity” (p. 81).

“What is bad will always be bad.  But grace will bring good out of a bad situation; it will take an evil and somehow turn it into something that results in good.  That is what God accomplished through the crucifixion.  He turned the evil of an unjust murder into the good of salvation.  God can do the same for us as well” (p. 105).

“The sorrow I feel has not disappeared, but it has been integrated into my life as a painful part of a healthy whole” (p. 51).

I cannot recommend this book enough.  If I were a rich man, I’d purchase a few cases of these and give them out to any of our readers who have faced grief in the past or are facing it now.  And I’d send a copy to many pastors and elders (and others) who minister to those in sorrow.  I’m confident most of our readers would benefit from this book. It is short, clear, vivid, and full of grace.  Please, get this book: A Grace Disguised.  It will hurt, but it will open your eyes to see hope amidst the hurt.

rev shane lems