A Grace Disguised

In the days ahead, you will be reading stories from our staff about their own difficult times and how they encountered the love and power of God. We want to tell stories, swap stories, receive stories, and grow from being a “storied” community.

And talk about stories … I have rarely found as much wisdom and grace about suffering as I found on the final pages of the magnificent, sorrowful, and full-of-hope book by Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss.

In a tragic car accident, as Jerry and his family were returning home from a day excursion, a drunk driver’s vehicle crossed the median strip and crashed headlong into the van Jerry was driving. In that crash, Jerry lost his wife, mother, and one of his daughters. He was left as a single dad to raise his surviving children.

As you can imagine, everything changed for Jerry and his family. EVERYTHING CHANGED!

Of the many books on suffering and evil, this may be my favorite (if I can use the word favorite to describe a book on suffering). How about redemptive? How about meaningful? How about wise? How about healing? All those words describe my experience of his story.

If you want to read one book, this is the one I’d recommend. I am going to fast forward to the end and share a few paragraphs that are the summary of his long journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

“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 …

The badness of the event and the goodness of the results are related, to be sure, but they are not the same … I do not believe 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 …

What I once considered mutually exclusive – sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life – have become parts of a greater whole. My soul has been stretched …”

[Now I resist writing another paragraph of his words that are even more powerful than what you just read. And I will conclude with these words Jerry writes.]

“Loss can diminish us, but it can also expand us. It depends once again, on the choices we make and the grace we receive. Loss can function as a catalyst to transform us. It can lead us to God, the only One who has the desire and power to give us life.”

We do come to green pastures and still waters, but we come to them with all the transformation of the long Valley.

If you need some inspiration and encouragement, check out this book (keep some tissues close by). It is a powerful story. Jerry is an extraordinary writer. He weaves together personal struggle with Christian spirituality and theological wisdom. I have read the book twice. For this series, I bought another copy (expanded and revised) to read it a third time.

This week’s sermon is The Answers That Don’t Satisfy (and One That Does). Grace disguised from a Giver of Grace is the answer that does satisfy.

Thinking about your journey and praying for you as you are living in your own difficult times,
Pastor Brian

Brian Rice

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