A Grace Disguised

Following Sunday’s sermon, several people asked me about Jerry Sittser’s book,
A Grace Disguised.  Here is a further excerpt, one which has lodged itself in my mind because of its truthful ring.  We will have copies of the book available for purchase this coming Sunday. 

“We tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss.  We talk about the numbers killed, the length of time spent in the hospital, the severity of abuse, the degree of family dysfunction, the difficulty and inconvenience of illness, the complexity of details during a divorce, or the strings of bad luck.  I have done so myself.  After the accident I found myself for the first time on the receiving end of this process.  The newspapers covered the story for several days running.  I received hundreds of telephone calls, thousands of cards and letters.  I became an instant celebrity – someone whose loss could not be imagined or surpassed.  Consequently, I often heard comments like, ‘Three generations killed in one accident!’ Or, ‘All the important women in your life gone, except for poor Catherine!’ And most frequently, ‘I know people who have suffered, but nothing compared to you.  Yours is the worst loss I have ever heard about.’

But I question whether experiences of such severe loss can be quantified and compared.  Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances.  All losses are bad, only bad in different ways.  No two losses are ever the same.  Each loss stands on its own and inflicts a unique kind of pain.  What makes each loss so catastrophic is its devastating, cumulative, and irreversible nature.

I lost three people whom I loved deeply and who loved me as well.  Though the relationships were imperfect, as all relationships are, they were nevertheless vital and growing…

My divorced friends face an entirely different kind of loss.  They have lost relationships they never had but wanted, or had but gradually lost.  Though they may feel relieved by the divorce, they still wish things had been different.  They look back on lost years, on bitter conflicts and betrayal, on the death of marriage.  Anger, guilt, and regret well up when they remember a disappointing past that they will never be able to forget or escape…   

Whose loss is worse?  The question begs the point.  Each experience of human loss is unique, each painful in its own way, each as bad as everyone else’s but also different.  No one will ever know the pain I have experienced because it is my own, just as I will never know the pain you may have experienced.  What good is quantifying the loss?  What good is comparing?  The right question to ask is not, ‘Whose is worse?’  It is to ask, ‘What meaning can be gained from suffering, and how can we grow through suffering?’  That is the question I want to explore in the rest of this book.”

(Sittser, Jerry; A Grace Disguised, Zondervan, 33, 34, 38 excerpted. Zondervan also has an interview with Sittser you can listen to here)