A Grace Disguised
by Elizabeth de Smaele
(Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser is quite simply profound.
The author experienced catastrophic loss when the family van was struck by a drunk driver. Sittser’s wife, daughter and mother all died at the crash site and he was plunged into the agony of dealing with his grief and raising his remaining three young children alone.
Gerald Sittser tells the story of coping with his loss in a way which becomes much bigger than his own story. The book’s strength comes from how he draws the reader in, acknowledging each person’s path of grief, affirming the pain, and never minimizing a loss through comparison with his own.
Right near the start he asks, “Is it really useful to decide whose losses are worse?” and answers, “Each experience of loss is unique, each painful in its own way, each as bad as everyone else’s but also different. The right question is rather, ‘What meaning can be gained from suffering, and how can we grow through suffering?’” These two questions set out the purpose of the book and also explain its subtitle: how the soul grows through loss. The author is convinced that loss can become a grace--disguised as it is--as it accomplishes the work of enlarging our hearts and enabling us to live life on a deeper level.
Sittser opens his life to us as he wrestles to come to terms with his grief and with life as he had never dreamt it could be. He articulates questions every sufferer asks in the quiet of their soul but perhaps doesn’t dare (or know how) to express. His thoughts are authentic and profound, ever respectful and theologically sound (as the seminary professor he is). He helped me to express my own questions and to wrestle them through to a place of peace.
Sailing on a Sea of Nothingness
I found Sittser’s “Sea of Nothingness” chapter to be particularly helpful. He describes how the experience of loss creates ‘a present of barren nothingness’ where we are suspended between a past that we long for and a future that we hope for. We long to be in one place or the other--anywhere but on this barren sea.
But we need to choose to live in the present because it is the only reality that is alive for us at the moment. When we act upon that choice it’s as if we dive beneath the barren surface to discover a world below that is teeming with life.
This became a vivid illustration for me as I grappled through multiple miscarriages. When all my joy had been swallowed up by pain, I took Gerald Sittser’s challenge. I imagined myself sailing on the surface of the Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef and missing the remarkable world below by neglecting to don some gear and dive in. Sittser helped me to determine to live today to the full, to embrace whatever gifts of grace it had to offer. As I did that, hope and joy once again began to be birthed in my soul.