Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Grace Disguised... How the Soul Grows Through Loss

A Grace Disguised... How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Gerald L. Sittser is a book that has been changing my life.  A friend recommended it after I miscarried, and for some reason I went on Amazon and bought it... despite the bookcase I already have of books I want to read.  I probably bought it because it was something I could tangibly do which is my default.  I need to "do" something, and when there is nothing that can be "done" to make things okay, I'm really at a loss.

Fine, not so fine

Upon receiving the book in the mail, I promptly tucked in under my bed and left it there for months.  Maybe it was the title that put me off... Grace disguised... I didn't think that loss and grace belong in the same sentence let alone the basis for an entire book.  I didn't want to read about going through the steps of grieving or Bible verses about suffering because I'd already done both of those, and I still wasn't fine.
I mean I was fine...
for awhile...
and spent all my energy convincing me and those around me that I would be okay...
until I was not, and then I spent my energy trying to hide how "not right" I was.

Learning to grieve

After embracing my grief over the loss of our baby, I discovered how I had not grieved in other areas of loss in my life either. I felt overwhelmed by the thought of grieving more and promptly buried it all under a growing heap of despair. 

My life has changed in so many ways, yet I expend so much energy fighting for "what was" rather than for "what is". I knew I had to embrace a "new normal" but didn't know that meant first grieving the loss of what I'd lost.  I somehow felt that admitting the struggle made me less. Maybe because I didn't trust HIM enough or maybe God wasn't big enough for me? Or maybe I didn't want to face the fact I wasn't as strong as I wanted to be?

The Book

The basis of the book is embracing the pain can allow a soul to grow. This growth not only helps with the pain but also makes more room for joy.  It's because I allow myself to feel that pain so deeply that I can feel others pain as well and better minister to others in their pain.

Some quotes from the book...
  • "Regret is therefore an unavoidable result of any loss, for in loss we lose the tomorrow that we needed to make right our yesterday or today."
  • "Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead." -Frederick Buechner
  • "...unsure how to find a new identity on the other side of loss but it is not simply the loss of identity that causes a problem... it is also the difficult conditions under which a new identity must be formed."
  • "I lost the world I loved, but 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."
  •  "...John of the Cross, wrote about something he calls 'the dark night of the soul.' ...it is a depressd spiritual state into which one slips and, turning to traditional remedies-emotional fervor, spiritual discipline, rational analysis, worship, service-finds in them absolutely no help and comfort.  All props are stripped away.  One is left utterly alone and helpless."
  • "... in choosing to face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunshine." 
Community of Brokenness

I was completely undone with the chapter on "A Community of Brokenness".  We know how to "rally around" someone who experiences loss of a loved one or a tragic accident, but after a short period of time we expect that person to pull it together and "return to normal" in order to be healthy and allow us to be comfortable again with the person we once knew.  The sad part of these expectations is that they will never be that person again.  Their soul  will either grow to accommodate the loss or become despondent in a slow and painful death of who they once were and can no longer be.  The loss won't go away because... it happened.  The effects of it will forever be part of who he is.  We want to help but few are willing to pay the price to stand in the gap and allow themselves to be changed by someone else's loss.  Sittser says it so well,  "Good comfort requires empathy, forces adjustments, and sometimes mandates huge sacrifices.  Comforters must be prepared to let the pain of another become their own and so let it transform them.  They will never be the same after that decision. Their own world will be permanently altered by the presence of one who suffers."  To think that I must allow myself to change as a result of someone else's loss makes me smile and squirm in my chair all at the same time.

Changed by my pain

Today in the quiet moments I let it sink in and the tears started to fall.  There are a few people in my life who have let my losses change them.  They've shouldered my pains in person and/or on their knees.  My family, for one, has allowed my life to change theirs.  They do life differently because of us... because of Abby.  My sister kept me lucid after the miscarriage by faithfully calling and making sure I rose to care for the beautiful girls I do have.  She did nothing seemingly heroic, yet her consistency saved me.  She absorbed my pain and mourned with me. Even though she didn't understand my brand of pain, she chose to be present.  Not just in the moment or the moments that followed but daily. 

She's not the only one who has chosen to be present with my life with Abby.   My family and a couple close friends don't expect us to be normal  and they give us grace to be who we need to be.  They don't wait for our trials to end, but find ways to hold our hand or carry.  Sometimes is a meal or a gift, but more often it's a knowing hug resulting in a tear stained sleeve or a timely phone call.  They know no matter how many doctor visits or hospital stays we may have, they are never easy or uneventful physically and emotionally.  One doesn't master these events and escape unscathed.  Each day/event leaves its mark and we feel it as if it were in isolation rather than a common occurrence.  We could only get better at expecting less and enduring more alone, but it is those who accompany us down those roads each day that give us a lifeline of hope in the midst of unbearable times that could result in despair.

Pretending normal

I don't know how to express the daily challenges in a way that doesn't overwhelm or put people off.  We've spent too many years pretending we were normal, but we are not.  We cannot work harder or smarter to change our circumstances, nor do we desire to do so.  We're caught in a chasm of who we are and who we want to be. But then again, aren't we all?  We don't know how to live in our world.  After over a decade at this disability parenting we're still not experts in this field and likely never will be.  Just as we think we've got a handle on our purpose in this "Life with Abby," something changes and we fall flat on our faces... again.

The challenge

So... one question remains... will you allow yourself to be affected by our losses or the losses of someone around you?  Will you absorb our pains or someone else's and allow them to grow and change you?  Will we all embrace a community of brokenness as a place we all will visit... in time, or will we turn our heads to shield ourselves from the pain around us?  Will we "...remain distant, wanting to help but fearing vulnerability... or avoid the pain (altogether)... because it threatens to dismantle our well-built defenses against our own losses...?" (Sittser)


3 comments:

  1. Good thoughts, hard realities, beautifully written. The Sittsers are good family friends and I remember his beautiful wife and daughter that passed. This was a book he resisted writing because it was so hard (and imaginably so) but has helped so many. Pain can run deeper than we ever imagined. And grieving can be a choice; something to embrace or to run from. Jerry performed part of our wedding ceremony and we still visit him whenever we go home. I helped him do research for his book, Water from a Deep Well. There's also a sequel to Grace Disquised, but I can't remember what it's called. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I miss you!

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  2. oops...that was me, Shelby. Hope to see you soon.

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  3. Oh my word...you just rocked me. i need to get that book.pondering...

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