Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Catastrophic Loss and Spiritual Formation

Our back yard
I purchased A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser several months ago. Linda read it and found it amazing. I'm sitting down with it now. "This book is about catastrophic loss and the transformation that can occur in our lives because of it." (17)

Note to my Spiritual Formation companions: This book serves, among other things, as an extended meditation on Ps. 23's "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

If you live long enough in life you will experience catastrophic loss. Some encounter it sooner than later. Suffering and mega-loss is a "universal experience." "As surely as we are born into this world we suffer loss before we leave it." (Ib.) The "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" experience is universal.

Sittser writes:

"It is not, therefore, the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives, for that is as inevitable as death, which is the last loss awaiting us all. It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives." (Ib.) Sittser chose to walk through that valley rather than around it (you can't do that anyway) or avoid it (can't do that either). He writes: "I knew that running from the darkness would only lead to greater darkness later on. I also knew that my soul had the capacity to grow - to absorb evil and good, to die and live again, to suffer abandonment and find God. In choosing the face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunrise." (52)

We never "get over" catastrophic loss. Forget trying to "help" people do that. But we can "live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it." (18) That's true. Linda and I have never gotten over our baby son David's death. We never will. And, by the way, we don't want to. Our great loss did not condemn us forever to bitterness and lifelessness, as God has helped us find our way in and through this dark valley. For both of us it became essential to learn to trust Jesus, to abide in Him, and to do so now, not later.

"If we face loss squarely and respond to it wisely, we will actually become healthier people, even as we draw closer to physical death. We will find our souls healed, as they can only be healed through suffering." (18)

Sittser writes: "Lynda, my wife of nearly twenty years, loved to be around her children... In the fall of 1991 Lynda was teaching a unit of home school to our two oldest children, Catherine and David, on Native American culture." (24)

Sittser's catastrophic loss is about to happen. It will forever transform his life. He's hit head-on by a drunk driver going 85 mph. His wife, his daughter, and his mother are killed. He lies at the scene with his other children for two hours, watching his loved ones die, caring for his surviving children.

He's in the darkest valley, the valley of nothingness, with God.