Excerpts from A Grace Disguised

I just read this book recently. And I typed up many things that stuck out to me as being nail-on-the-head for where I am in this journey. So if you choose to read this long collection of random quotes from this excellent book, keep in mind that I picked & chose what shouted from the page to me & my heart. Many of these things are things I could say myself — many of them are things I have experienced, still experience, have said, have wanted to say. Jerry Sittser is a professor at the university where I graduated, and although I never took one of his classes, I heard him speak a few times, spent countless hours in choir with his oldest son (we graduated together), and have cried buckets on the pages of this book. I highly suggest this book to anyone who is suffering immense grief, especially multiplied grief.

May God bless his words.

Excerpts from A Grace Disguised
by Jerry Sittser

I had learned early on that my definition of normality would have to change drastically. (p 13)

No one ever suffers loss in the abstract. Loss is not simply a concept; it is an experience, one we would all like to avoid. (p 14)

[My children] were my big “project.” As it turned out, they were also my redemption, though I did not know it at the time. (p 15)

Loss is as much a part of normal life as birth, for as surely as we are born into this world we suffer loss before we leave it. (p 17)

I believe that “recovery” from such loss is an unrealistic and even harmful expectation. (p 17)

I am not sure it is entirely possible to communicate the utterly devastating nature of one’s suffering. Some experiences are so terrible that they defy description. (p 19)

However inadequate my words… what has happened to me has pressed me to the limit. I have come face to face with the darker side of life and with the weakness of my own human nature. As vulnerable as I feel most of the time, I can hardly call myself a conqueror. (p 19)

For a time I think [my children] kept me alive; now they keep me going. (p 21)

Catastrophic loss wreaks destruction like a massive flood. It is unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncontrollable, brutally erosive to body, mind, and spirit. (p 24)

I remember the realization sweeping over me that I would soon plunge into a darkness from which I might never again emerge as a sane, normal, believing man. (p 26)

I felt dizzy with grief’s vertigo, cut off from family and friends, tormented by the loss, nauseous from the pain. (p 26)

All I wanted was to be dead. Only the sense of responsibility for my three surviving children and the habit of living for forty years kept me alive. (p 27)

That initial deluge of loss slowly gave way over the next months to the steady seepage of pain that comes when grief, like floodwaters refusing to subside, finds every crack and crevice of the human spirit to enter and erode. I thought that I was going to lose my mind. I was overwhelmed with depression. The foundation of my life was close to caving in. (p 27)

I felt punished by simply being alive and thought death would bring welcomed relief. (p 28)

I marveled at the genius of the ancient Hebrews, who set aside forty days for mourning, as if forty days were enough. I learned later how foolish I was. It was only after those forty days that my mourning became too deep for tears. So my tears turned to brine, to a bitter and burning sensation of loss that tears could no longer express. In the months that followed I actually longed for the time when the sorrow had been fresh and tears came easily. That emotional release would have lifted the burden, if only for a while. (p 28)

The results are permanent, the impact incalculable, the consequences cumulative. Each new day forces one to face some new and devastating dimension of the loss. (p 32)

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. (p 33)

At times I feel almost desperate to find just one part of my life that was not affected by her presence and does not therefore suffer from her absence. (p 36)

I am more sensitive to the pain now, not as oblivious and selfish as I used to be. (p 37)

Each experience of loss is unique, each painful in its own way, each as bad as everyone else’s but also different. (p 38)

Never have I experienced such anguish and emptiness. It was my first encounter with existential darkness, though it would not be my last. (p 41)

The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise. (p 42)

Giving myself to grief proved to be hard as well as necessary. It happened in both spontaneous and intentional ways. I could not always determine the proper time and setting for tears, which occasionally came at unexpected and inconvenient moments… the expression of sorrow [became] a normal and natural occurrence in daily life. (p 42)

I felt anguish in my soul and cried bitter tears. (p 43)

I wanted to pray but had no idea what to say, as if struck dumb by my own pain. Groans became the only language I could use, if even that, but I believed it was language enough for God to understand. (p 43)

I struggled with exhaustion, as I do now. (p 43)

My world was as fragile as the lives of the loved ones whom I had lost. (p 44)

I learned early on that I did not even have the luxury or convenience of mourning the loss of my loved ones as a group. Instead, I had to mourn them as separate individuals. As my grief over one loss would subside, grief over another would emerge. (p 44)

Darkness, it is true, had invaded my soul. But then again, so did light. Both contributed to my personal transformation. (p 45)

I did not go through pain and come out on the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. (p 45)

I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. (p 46)

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 water, 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. (p 48)

When we plunge into darkness, it is darkness we experience. (p 49)

Loss requires that we live in a delicate tension. We must mourn, but we must also go on living. (p 50)

I learned to live and mourn simultaneously. (p 51)

The sorrow I feel has not disappeared, but it has been integrated into my life as a painful part of a healthy whole. (p 51)

I was angry at God, too. At times I scoffed at the vain notion of praying to God or, conversely, of cursing God, as if one or the other would make any difference. At other times I cried out to God in utter anguish of soul. “How could you do this to innocent people? To my children? To me?” Sometimes I turned that anger toward my children, lashing out at them when they disobeyed. Or I turned it toward myself, feeling the guilt of having survived the accident while others, whom I considered more worthy of life than me, had died. (p 58)

I found comfort in many of the Psalms that express anguish and anger before God. I see now that my faith was becoming an ally rather than an enemy because I could vent anger freely, even toward God, without fearing retribution. (p 59)

The pain of loss is unrelenting. It stalks and chases until it catches us. It is as persistent as wind on the prairies, as constant as cold in the Antarctic, as erosive as a spring flood. It will not be denied and there is no escape from it. In the end denial, bargaining, binges, and anger are mere attempts to deflect what will eventually conquer us all. Pain will have its day because loss is undeniably, devastatingly real. (p 59)

I have more perspective now; I have more confidence in my ability to endure. (p 60)

Willing an end to depression is as difficult as healing a broken heart. Human strength alone is insufficient for the task. (p 61)

It took Herculean strength for me to get out of bed in the morning. I was fatigued all day long, yet at night I was sleepless. (p 61)

Friends and colleagues marveled at how well I was doing. But inside I was a living dead man. (p 61)

The accident set off a silent scream of pain inside my soul. That scream was so loud that I could hardly hear another sound, not for a long time, and I could not imagine that I would hear any sound but that scream of pain for the rest of my life. (p 64)

Loss creates a barren present, as if one were sailing on a vast sea of nothingness. (p 66)

These memories were, and are, beautiful to me. I cling to them as a man clings to a plank of wood while lost in the middle of the sea. But they are also troubling… I cannot live with the memories, and I cannot live without them. (p 70)

Much of what I had imagined for my future became impossible after the accident. (p 71)

Recovery is a misleading and empty expectation. We recover from broken limbs, not amputations. Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. (p 73)

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. (p 73)

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. (p 73)

Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste. (p 74)

Gifts of grace come to all of us. But we must be ready to see and willing to receive these gifts. It will require a kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of believing that, however painful our losses, life can still be good—good in a different way than  before, but nevertheless good. (p 79)

I will always want the ones I lost back again. I long for them with all my soul. (p 79)

I lost the world I loved, but I 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. (p 79)

I sometimes feel like I am a stranger to myself. I am not quite sure what to do with me. (p 81)

“I’m not the same person I used to be,” [a friend] confided in me. She wonders if she will ever be happy and energetic again. She knows she has lost her former identity, but she is unsure of how to find a new identity on the other side of her loss. (p 83)

Catastrophic loss cannot be mitigated by replacements. (p 83)

I have tried to help my children grieve—to make room for their anger, welcome their tears, listen to their complaints, create order out of chaos, and do this work of comfort in a way that is sensitive to timing and to the unique personality of each child. Yet this important task has not mitigated the demands of managing a normal household, which requires attention to an endless list of details. (p 84)

I have discovered that busyness and exhaustion can sabotage healing. (p 84)

Do I really want the kind of life I now have? Do I really want another life in the future? Is this the kind of life I will have to live forever? (p 85)

Loss creates a new set of circumstances in which we must live. (p 85)

Loss establishes a new context for life. (p 86)

With the background already sketched in by circumstances beyond my control, I picked up a paintbrush and began, with great hesitation and distress, to pain a new portrait of our lives. At first I was tempted to pain on a small canvas because I assumed that from that point on I would be living a small life. I wondered how I could keep the same expectations of having the good life I had before, considering the death of three people who had made it so good. Many people who suffer loss are tempted to do the same, lowering their expectations of what they will get out of life. Can any person look forward to a life that falls so far short of what he or she had planned, wanted, and expected? (p 87)

The scenery of my life is different now, as different as the desert is from the mountains. But it can still be beautiful, as beautiful as the desert at dusk. (p 88)

I prefer the way my life was before… and have therefore hesitated to believe my life can be good now. I have tried to embrace my circumstances, but more often than not I have been stopped short by the limitations of my own flawed nature. (p 89)

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 the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves. (p 89)

In coming to the end of ourselves, we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves. We have found the One whose love gives shape to our being. (p 90)

The tragedy pushed me toward God, even when I did not want Him. And in God I found grace, even when I was not looking for it. (p 90)

One of Jesus’ early and great followers, the apostle Paul, wrote once that it is not what we have achieved but what we are striving for that counts. (p 91)

We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns life into a snapshot. The movement stops; everything freezes. (p 93)

Their death has forced me to grow; I wish now that they could benefit from the growth that has resulted from their death. (p 99)

It is natural, of course, for those who suffer catastrophic loss to feel destructive emotions like hatred, bitterness, despair, and cynicism. These emotions may threaten to dominate anyone who suffers tragedy and lives with regret. We may have to struggle against them for a long time, and that will not be easy. Few people who suffer loss are spared the temptation of taking revenge, wallowing in self-pity, or scoffing at life. (p 100)

I once performed as a parent; now I am a parent. (p 103)

The gift of divine forgiveness will help us to forgive ourselves. (p 104)

God’s forgiveness will show us that he wants to take our losses and somehow bring them back upon us in the form of a blessing. This work of grace will not erase the loss or alter its consequences. Grace cannot change the moral order. What is bad will always be bad. But grace will bring good out of a bad situation; it will take an evil and somehow turn it into something that results in good. (p 105)

God loved me in my misery; God loved me because I was miserable. (p 105)

I wondered if I could trust a God who allowed, or caused, suffering in the first place. My loss made God seem distant and unfriendly, as if He lacked the power or the desire to prevent or deliver me from suffering. (p 106)

Loss makes the universe seem like a cold and unfriendly place. (p 110)

Suffering may be at its fiercest when it is random, for we are then stripped of even the cold comfort that comes when events, however cruel, occur for a reason. (p 111)

Better to give up my quest for control and live in hope. (p 113)

It is a wonder, considering the suffering that awaits us all, how few of us live in constant dread, utterly immobilized by what may happen to us. (p 113)

We are remarkably resilient creatures. When knocked down, most of us get up, like weeds bouncing back after being trampled. We love again, work again, and hope again. We think it is worth the risk and trouble to live in the world, though terrors surely await us, and we take our chances that, all things considered, life is still worth living. (p 113)

Job’s story became more understandable and meaningful to me when I tried to stand inside his experience, which is possible for anyone who has suffered severe loss. (p 116)

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. (p 118)

Loss has little to do with our notions of fairness. Some people live long and happily, though they deserve to suffer. Others endure one loss after another, though they deserve to be blessed. (p 121)

To many people I am even heroic, which is ironic to me, since I have only done what people around the world have been doing for centuries—make the most of a bad situation. (p 124)

I had to work to fight off cynicism. (p 126)

Perhaps I did not deserve their deaths; but I did not deserve their presence in my life either. (p 126)

In the face of life, living in a perfectly fair world appeals to me. But deeper reflection makes me wonder. In such a world I might never experience tragedy; but neither would I experience grace, especially the grace God gave me in the form of the three wonderful people whom I lost. (p 126)

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. (p 147)

I held God responsible for my circumstances. I placed my confidence in Him; I also argued with Him. In any case, God played the key role. (p 147)

If God really was God, where was He when the tragedy occurred? Why did He do nothing? How could God allow such a terrible thing to happen? My suffering, in short, forced me to address the problem of God’s sovereignty. (p 147)

God’s sovereignty may follow logically from who God is by definition. It may even reflect our experience of God as the One who spares and blesses us. But this positive inclination toward God’s sovereignty may come to a sudden stop in the face of severe loss. How, in such circumstances, can we reconcile God’s sovereignty with human suffering, or God’s control with our pain, especially if we believe that God is both good and powerful? (p 150)

My loss made God seem terrifying and inscrutable. For a long time I saw His sovereignty as a towering cliff in winter—icy, cold, and windswept. I stood in my misery at the base of this cliff and looked up at its forbidding, unscalable wall. I felt overwhelmed, intimidated, and crushed by its hugeness. There was nothing inviting or comforting about it. It loomed over me, completely oblivious to my presence and pain. It defied climbing; it mocked my puniness. I yelled at God to acknowledge my suffering and to take responsibility for it, but all I heard was the lonely echo of my own voice. (p 151)

Suffering forces us to think about God’s essential nature. Is God sovereign? Is God good? Can we trust Him? (p 152)

“My earthly father would never do such a thing to me, but my heavenly Father has.” (p 153)

Sorrow itself needs the existence of God to validate it as a healthy and legitimate emotion. (p 154)

There is too much mystery to make God’s ways easy to explain. (p 156)

God’s sovereignty allows us to believe that He is bigger than our circumstances and will make our lives better through those circumstances. (p 157)

The Incarnation means that God cares so much that He chose to become human and suffer loss, though He never had to. I have grieved long and hard and intensely. But I have found comfort knowing that the sovereign God, who is in control of everything, is the same God who has experienced the pain I live with very day. (p 158)

God understands suffering because God suffered. (p 159)

I learned the painful truth that I could not protect my children from suffering but could only go through it with them. (p 163)

Loss leads to unrelenting pain, the kind of pain that forces us to acknowledge our moral fate. (p 165)

Shock wears over time. Then comes denial, bargaining, binges, and anger, which emerge and recede with various degrees of intensity. These methods of fighting pain may work for a time, but in the end they too, like shock, must yield to the greater power of death. Finally only deep sorrow and depression remain. The loss becomes what it really is, a reminder that death of some kind has conquered again. Death is always the victor. (p 165)

Death does not have the final word; life does. Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible. (p 167)

Suffering engenders a certain degree of ambivalence in those of us who believe in the resurrection. We feel the pain of our present circumstances, which reminds us of what we have lost; yet we hope for future release and victory. We doubt, yet try to believe; we suffer, yet long for real healing; we inch hesitantly toward death, yet see death as the door to resurrection. (p 168)

My despondent mood casts a shadow over everything, even over my faith. On those occasions I find it hard to believe anything at all. (p 169)

I find reason and courage to keep going and to continue believing. Once again my soul increases its capacity for hope as well as for sadness. I end up believing with greater depth and joy than I had before, even in my sorrow. (p 169)

Loss is a universal experience. Like physical pain, we know it is real because sooner or later all of us experience it. But loss is also a solitary experience. Again, like physical pain, we know it is real only because we experience it uniquely within ourselves. When a person says, “You just don’t know what I have gone through and how much I have suffered,” we must acknowledge that he or she is entirely correct. We do not know and cannot know. (p 171)

Though suffering itself is universal, each experience of suffering is unique because each person who goes through it is unique. (p 171)

We must enter the darkness of loss alone, but once there we will find others with whom we can share life together. (p 171)

Questions confused them; answers eluded them. They decided in that moment simply to be present with me in spite of their helplessness and brokenness. Throwing caution to the wind, they walked into the house and embraced me in tears, though they had no idea what to say to comfort me and the children. They chose to make themselves available, vulnerable, and present to our suffering. They became a part of our community of brokenness. (p 172)

We should not necessarily fault friends for the brevity or superficiality of their support. I have been prone to do the same myself. On many occasions I have sent a note to someone who suffered loss, visited that person once or twice, prayed sporadically over the course of a few weeks or months, and then have largely forgotten about it. I wanted to express concern, which I did. But I did not choose to embrace the suffering and did not allow it to change my life. In most cases I lacked the time and energy; in a few cases I also lacked the willingness and heart. (p 173)

Trite answers were a poor replacement for compassion. (p 174)

They made noise, but silence would have been more helpful and wise. (p 174)

Community does not simply happen spontaneously, except in rare occurrences when conditions are right. Not even the unique circumstances of catastrophic loss are sufficient to create community. When people suffering loss do find community, it comes as a result of conscious choices they and other people make. (p 176)

It requires a choice on the part of those who want to provide community for suffering friends. They must be willing to be changed by someone else’s loss, though they might not have been directly affected by it. (p 176)

Comforters must be prepared to let the pain of another become their own and so let is transform them. (p 176)

Since they knew life would not be the same for me, they decided that it would not be the same for them either. (p 177)

I grieved with these friends. I grieved because of these friends, for their presence in my life reminded me of the past I had lost. (p 179)

Sometimes I could hardly breathe, I felt so oppressed by the sadness. (p 180)

Not only must people who want to comfort someone in pain make a decision to do so, but people who need the comfort must also decide to receive it. (p 180)

Friends wanted to listen and empathize; but they also wanted to learn, to reflect on the universal nature of suffering, and to make meaning for their own lives. (p 182)

My experience taught me that loss reduces people to a state of almost total brokenness and vulnerability. I did not simply feel raw pain; I was raw pain. (p 182)

Who in his or her right mind would ever want to feel such pain more than once? Is love worth it if it is that risky? Is it even possible to love after loss, knowing that other losses will follow? I have thought many times how devastating it would be for me if I lost another of my children, especially now that I have invested so much of myself into them. I am terrified by that possibility. Yet I cannot imagine not loving them either, which is even more abhorrent to me than losing them. (p 183)

It takes tremendous courage to love when we are broken. (p 185)

My appreciation for people has grown immeasurably since the accident, though I have never felt more fragile and inadequate. (p 185)

Whenever Bach finished a composition, he signed it, “To the glory of God.” (p 187)

These biblical characters [in the great cloud of witnesses] obviously play the key role in showing us who God is and how God can be trusted, even in suffering. (p 188)

In one paragraph [Thomas] Shepherd stated what his faith required him to believe—that life on earth is transitory and full of sorrow and that true life awaits the faithful in heaven. He recognized that sometimes saints suffer because they need God’s discipline and grace. In the end, however, he concluded, “I am the Lord’s, and He may do with me what He will. He did teach me to prize a little grace gained by a cross as a sufficient recompense for all outward losses.” (p 190)

“Now life will be a little less sweet, death a little less bitter.” (p 191)

It is not surprising that loss often inspires people to sacrifice themselves for some greater purpose. They know how painful loss is. When they see other people suffer, they act out of compassion to alleviate their pain and work for change. (p 191)

Often the most helpful people have endured suffering themselves and turned their pain into a motivation to serve others. (p 192)

They remind us that life is bigger than loss because God is bigger than loss. They bear witness to the truth that pain and death do not have the final word; God does. That final word involves more than life on earth; it involves life in heaven as well. The final destination of this great cloud of witnesses. (p 193)

But life here is not the end. Reality is more than we think it to be. There is another and greater reality that envelops this earthly one. Earth is not outside heaven, as the philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb. (p 193)

My story is part of a much larger story that I did not choose. I was assigned a role for which I did not audition. (p 195)

These expressions of sadness surface regularly in our home. They are as natural as noise, fun, and fights. Loss is a part of who we are as a family. (p 196)

The consequences of tragedy never really end, not after two years or ten years or a hundred years. (p 197)

I will bear the mark of the tragedy for the rest of my life, though it will fade over time. (p 197)

I will be forever discovering and experiencing new dimensions of the tragedy. The loss will continue to influence my life. I can only hope it will be for the better. (p 197)

The passage of time has mitigated the feeling of pain, panic, and chaos. But it has also increased my awareness of how complex and far-reaching the loss has been. I am still not “over” it; I have still not “recovered.” I still wish my life were different and they were alive. (p 198)

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. (p 198)

The badness of the event and the goodness of the results are related, to be sure, but they are not the same. The latter is a consequence of the former, but the latter does not make the former legitimate or right or good. (p 199)

My soul has been stretched. (p 199)

God is growing my soul, making it bigger, and filling it with Himself. My life is being transformed. Though I have endured pain, I believe that the outcome is going to be wonderful. (p 199)

The supreme challenge to anyone facing catastrophic loss involves facing the darkness of the loss on the one hand, and learning to live with renewed vitality and gratitude on the other. (p 200)

Sometimes loss leaves permanent damage in its wake, which forever blocks the way back to the good life we once had hoped for. (p 202)

Somewhere along the line I realized I would have to change my idea of what the “good life” meant and promised. (p 204)

I have this sense that the story God has begun to write He will finish. That story will be good. The accident remains now, as it always has been, a horrible experience that did great damage to us and to so many others. It was and will remain a very bad chapter. But the whole of my life is becoming what appears to be a very good book. (p 212)

3 Replies to “Excerpts from A Grace Disguised”

  1. *hugs*
    I looked up this book on Amazon.com.
    How tragic that he lost 3 generations of his family all at once. Perhaps it seems even more tragic to me because I’ve been there (tragic car accidents).
    This looks like a book that would have me in tears 99% of the time… Yet I’m so glad that people choose to share their stories and griefs with others; I know it helps countless upon countless people!
    Thank you for sharing!

  2. After loosing my son this book was highly recommended to me. This book brought so much comfort to me in the worse time in my life. I have also copied so many of the quotes in this book.

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