From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

Joy, Pain and Grace

Our Stephen Ministry group has been reading Jerry Sittser’s book, A Grace Disguised. I’ve found it to be a sweet, very painful, rather powerful book that reveals his spiritual journey after the sudden auto accident which killed his wife, daughter and mother – all at once. There are lots of books out there that deal with grief and loss. I think it’s a growth industry these days – a far cry from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross! I don’t think the author is a Calvinist, but the way he expresses things often captures the paradoxicality of faith.

For example, even after his three-year journey of healing, he still holds the day of the accident as a terrible, evil thing. Yet he also holds (now, on this side of his journey) that God has skewed and twisted that evil experience into something sweet and good. There’s a paradoxicality to it that I find refreshing. He isn’t locked into victim mode (“the accident was evil and I’ll never get over it”) nor is he in ubervictor-as-long-as-I-don’t-look-at-it mode (“it was bad but I’m OK, really, I SAID I’M OK NOW STOP ASKING ABOUT IT!). Here’s a quote from page 198-199 that gives the flavor:

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; 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.

In our discussion, I thought about what my high school history teacher said about communism and fascism – that while they’re diametrically opposed in one sense (far left and far right), in another sense they are nearly identical (totalitarian government). Rather than seeing them as ends of a long spectrum, you might see them as ends of a horseshoe. The extremes are actually quite close to each other.

So now I’m wondering if brokenness and wholeness are like that – on one level, opposite, but on another level quite close. Weakness and contentment. Joy and suffering. Living and dying. I dunno, I guess it’s like having to let go of your life in order to have it. Very few of us have the courage, or the humility, to experience that.

The book is available at Amazon for about $10. If you’ve been grieving, or know someone who is, I think it’s probably the best $10 you’ll spend.

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