Monday, August 16, 2010

From Jerry Sittser on Growing in Loss

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, by Jerry Sittser. Zondervan, 2004, 224 pages.

Probably the best book I've ever read about responding to loss. Have a taste. Then, get yourself a copy.

Loss is universal:

“Loss is as much a part of normal life as birth, for as sure as we are born into the world we suffer loss before we leave it.” (p. 9)

“Pain… is the flip side of pleasure… the eye that blinks under the glare of a bright light also gazes in wonder at a mountain peak or meadow of wildflowers. The nose that signals the scent of a dead animal under the crawlspace of our house also draws us into the kitchen where bread is baking. The mouth that makes us spit out spoiled food also relishes the taste of our favorite flavor of ice cream. Ears that cringe at the wail of a siren also listen with pleasure to a Beethoven symphony.” (p. 45)

“What is true of the body is also true in the soul. The pain of loss is severe because the pleasure of life is so great.” (p. 46)

“[Whether it is sudden or builds up gradually], catastrophic loss wreaks destruction like a massive flood. It is unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncontrollable, brutally erosive to body, mind, and spirit… [It leaves] the landscape of one’s life changed forever.” (p. 16)

“People in denial refuse to see loss for what it is, something terrible that cannot be reversed. But their unwillingness to face pain comes at a price… in the end denial leads to a greater loss.” (p. 47)

On loss and comparison:

“Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways. No two losses are ever the same. Each loss stands on its own and inflicts a unique kind of pain… what value is there to quantifying and comparing losses?” (p. 25)

“In the light of global experience… ‘Why me?’ seems the wrong question to ask. ‘Why not me?’ is closer to the mark… I realized soon after the accident that I had just been initiated into a fellowship of suffering that spans the world.” (p. 109)

“Though suffering itself is universal, each experience of suffering is unique because each person who goes through it is unique… that is why suffering loss is a solitary experience… We must enter the darkness of loss alone, but once there we will find others with whom we can share life together.” (p. 154)

On attempts to get through / get over loss:

“This book is not intended to help anyone get over or even through the experience of catastrophic loss, for I believe that ‘recovery’ from such loss is an unrealistic and even harmful expectation, if by recovery we mean resuming the way we lived and felt prior to the loss. Instead, the book is intended to show how it is possible to live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it.” (p. 10)

“Darkness comes, no matter how hard we try to hold it off. (p. 32). I decided to walk in the darkness rather than try to outrun it. (p. 24) It was the first step I took toward growth, but it was also the first step I took toward pain (p. 35). I did not get over the loss… rather, I absorbed the loss into my life… sorrow took up a permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” (p. 37).

“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… that is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people.” (p. 63)

“Tragedy can increase the soul’s capacity for darkness and light, for pleasure as well as pain, for hope as well as dejection… the soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time. (p. 39). Even if we really do overcome our own pain (which is doubtful in my mind) we nevertheless find ourselves more sensitive to the pain of others and more aware of the darkness that envelopes the world (p. 41).

“Later, my sister Diane told me that the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.” (p. 33)

On some of the personal implications of loss:

“...I felt that I had lost my most important link to the past, as if whole chapters of my life story had been suddenly torn out.” (p. 58)

“It is impossible not to imagine the future, and it is equally impossible to imagine the future without using the present as material for the imagination… the problem with those who have suffered loss is that they are deprived of familiar material from the present in order to envision the future… Much of what I imagined for my future became impossible.” (p. 60)

“Our sense of personal identity depends largely on the roles we play and the relationships we have. What we do and who we know contributes significantly to how we understand ourselves. Catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity… I sometimes feel like I am a stranger to myself.” (p. 70)

“Loss freezes life into a snapshot. We are stuck with what was instead of what could have been. This sudden halt… forces us to recognize the incompleteness of life and to admit our failures… it is too late.” (p. 84)

“Our feelings do not determine what is real, through the feelings themselves are real… we should acknowledge them without treating them as if they were ultimate truth.” (p. 88)

“Regret can also lead to transformation if we view loss as an opportunity to take inventory of our lives.” (p. 89)

"A widow told me recently that the death of her husband caused her to reconsider her view of friendship. She said that she and her husband had always been best friends. She therefore had little time and interest to build friendships with others.” (pp. 90-91)

“We are forced to face the ugliness, selfishness, and meanness of our own lives… But God promises to forgive those of us who confess our guilt, and to make right what we are sorry for doing wrong. The gift of divine forgiveness will help us to forgive ourselves.” (p. 91)

On finding God in our loss:

“No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there. He is not aloof from my suffering but draws near to me when I suffer. He is vulnerable to pain, quick to shed tears, and acquainted with grief.” (p. 143)

“I have come to realize that the greatest enemy we face is death itself, which claims everyone and everything. No miracle can ultimately save us from it. A miracle is therefore only a temporary solution. We really need more than a miracle – we need a resurrection to make life eternally new. We long for a life in which death is finally and ultimately defeated.” (p. 148)

On the coexistence of grief and joy:

“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; yet 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.” (pp. 179-180)

Note: Page numbers refer to the first edition, 1995, and may be different in the expanded version.

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