Jan 1, 2012

A Grace Disguised Assemblage

I'm reading A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss on my new Kindle Fire (thank you Dad!).  This is my first e-book, and it's a tear-mongering, tough-talking, wonder-imparting doozy.  The author, Jerry Sittser, wrote it after losing his wife, his mom, and his daughter in a car accident.  I don't think that one could possibly write a book like this, full of such pain, beauty, and hope, without the type of soul expansion that is triggered by catastrophic loss.

I'm assembling below the e-highlights I've made in my e-book so far (I'm about halfway e-through).  I hope to disassemble and unpack many of these points in future posts...

Living means changing, and change requires that we lose one thing before we gain something else.  Thus we lose our youth but gain adulthood.  We lose the security of home but gain the independence of being on our own.  We lose the freedom of singleness but gain the intimacy of marriage.  We lose a daughter but gain a son-in-law.  Life is a constant succession of losses and gains.  There is continuity and even security in this process.  We remember the losses that lie behind us, and we look forward to the gains that lie ahead.  The soul is elastic, like a balloon.  It can grow larger through suffering.  Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss.  Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace, and love.  What we consider opposites—east and west, night and light, sorrow and joy, weakness and strength, anger and love, despair and hope, death and life—are no more mutually exclusive than winter and sunlight.  The soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time. The pain of loss is severe because the pleasure of life is so great; it demonstrates the supreme value of what is lost.  Recovery is a misleading and empty expectation.  We recover from broken limbs, not amputations.  Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery.  It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same.  There is no going back to the past, which is gone forever, only going ahead to the future, which has yet to be discovered.  Whatever that future is, it will, and must, include the pain of the past with it.  Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered a severe loss.  If anything, it may keep going deeper.  But this depth of sorrow is the sign of a healthy soul, not a sick soul.  It does not have to be morbid and fatalistic. It is not something to escape but something to embrace.  Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."  Sorrow indicates that people who have suffered loss are living authentically in a world of misery, and it expresses the emotional anguish of people who feel pain for themselves or for others.  Sorrow is noble and gracious.  It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, of feeling the world's pain and hoping for the world's healing at the same time.  However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.  The self I once was cannot find its old place to land.  It is homeless now.  Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness.  Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being.  It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs...  In coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God.  Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening...  It often begins when we face our own weaknesses and realize how much we take favorable circumstances for granted.  When loss deprives us of those circumstances, our anger, depression, and ingratitude expose the true state of our souls, showing us how small we really are.  We see that our identity is largely external, not internal.  Finally, we reach the point where we begin to search for a new life, one that depends less on circumstances and more on the depth of our souls...  We feel the need for something beyond ourselves and it begins to dawn on us that reality may be more than we once thought it was.  We begin to perceive hints of the divine, and our longing grows.  I met a woman recently whose presence made me weep even before we exchanged one word.  She communicated profound depth, compassion, and grace to me.  Something about her broke down my defenses.  Later I found out why.  She had lost two children at birth and an eleven-year-old daughter to cancer.  She had suffered loss but had chosen nevertheless to embrace life.  She became an extraordinary human being.  I memorized [Romans 8:38-39] many years ago, and it came back to me after the accident.  For months I felt shattered as a human being.  I could do nothing for God and had little desire to obey him.  Night after night I sat in my living room, unable to say anything, pray anything, or do anything.  I was empty of energy and desire.  All I could do was let god love me, even though I hardly believed that heloved anyone, least of all me.  I had no idea how I could really believe or whether I even wanted to.  I had no will or desire for it.  But somehow I believed that not even my weakness of faith bothered God much.  God loved me in my misery; God loved me because I was miserable.  I learned through that experience that nothing can separate us from his love—not even our inability to love him in return!  That was the first time in my life that I experienced the unconditional love of God.  I have often imagined my own story fitting into some greater scheme, the half of which I may never fathom.  I simply do not see the bigger picture, but I choose to believe that there is a bigger picture and that my loss is part of some wonderful story authored by God himself.  I dread experiencing undeserved pain, but it is worth it to me if I can also experience undeserved grace.  Unforgiveness uses victimization as an excuse.  Unforgiving people become obsessed with the wrong done to them and are quick to say, "You don't know how unbearable my suffering has been!  You don't know how much that person hurt me!"  They are, of course, right.  No one can know.  But I wonder sometimes if being right is worth all that much.  Is it worth the misery it causes?  Is it worth living in bondage to unforgiveness?  Is it worth the cycle of destruction it perpetrates?  The process of forgiveness begins when victims realize that nothing—not justice or revenge or anything else—can reverse the wrong done.  Forgiveness cannot spare victims the consequences of the loss, nor can it recover the life they once had.  Victims have no power to change the past...  Forgiveness is simply choosing to do the right thing.  It heals instead of hurts, restores broken relationships, and substitutes love where there was hate.  Though forgiveness appears to contradict what seems fair and right, forgiving people decide that they would rather live in a merciful universe than in a fair one, for their sake as much as for anyone else's.  Unforgiveness makes a person sick by projecting the same scene of pain into the soul day after day, as if it were a videotape that never stops.  Every time the scene is replayed, he or she relives the pain and becomes angry and bitter all over again. That repetition pollutes the soul.  Forgiveness requires that we refuse to play the videotape and choose to put it on the shelf.  We remember the painful loss; we are aware of who is responsible.  But we do not play it over and over again.  Instead, we play other tapes that bring healing to us.  Forgiveness not only relieves an offender from guilt; it also heals us from our sickness of soul.  The experience of loss does not have to leave us with the memory of a painful event that stands alone, like a towering monument that dominates the landscape of our lives.  Loss can also leave us with the memory of a wonderful story.  It can function as a catalyst that pushes us in a new direction, like a closed road that forces us to turn around and find another way to our destination.  Who knows what we will discover and see along the way?  In the end, I wonder whether it is really possible to forgive wrongdoers if we do not trust God first.  Faith enables us to face wrongdoing in the light of God's sovereignty.  Though unforgiveness was once a temptation to me (as it may be again in the future), it was not an insurmountable one.  I knew that God was somehow in control.  If I had anyone to turn to for help, it was God.  Then again, if I had anyone to blame, it was also God.  My belief in his sovereignty was not always a comfort to me...  But it did focus my attention less on people, however terrible their wrongdoing, and more on God.  I held God responsible for my circumstances.  I placed my confidence in him; I also argued with him.  God played the key role.


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  2. Beautiful. Poignant. Thought provoking. I look forward to your future posts.