Jerry Sittser, in A Grace Disguised, transparently shared wise life-lessons and perspectives he learned…and is learning. Rather than give fixed answers, he deals more with values and perspectives. This is excellent for those who have gone through crushing tragedy in their past.
And also Jerry lays out an approach for individuals and groups to process any change, especially the difficult transition period between the loss of the familiar and the fuller experience of the “new norm.” Here are a few summary thoughts, mostly adapted from his book. I hope this whets your appetite to read his book to prepare you in advance for tough life circumstances.
1. Ground ourselves now in healthy, relational Christianity.
Then we will be prepared to navigate significant loss. Begin where God does, with His unchanging Eden-intent in Genesis 1 and 2.
2. We live in a post-Genesis 3 world.
The seeming randomness of loss makes the universe seem like a cold, unfriendly, capricious place with no predictability. Don’t naïvely expect a perfectly fair world? Life is now a constant succession of losses and gains.
3. Living means change.
Change requires letting go of one thing in order to gain something else. Few of us want to be stuck where we are today with the wonderful possibilities available before us. So change is actually a golden treasure, with unimagined value since God’s great love can reframe evil events into good gifts for His people. Our story is part of a greater story authored by God Himself, like Joseph. Treasure hunt with “hello” metaphors.
4. Change depends on our choices.
Victims have no power to change. “Response involves the choices we make, the grace we receive, and ultimately the transformation we experience in the loss [so] we will actually become healthier people.”
5. The “Why?” question brings little comfort.
As we ask the “Who? question, we treasure hunt and come to know God in a fuller way. We discover afresh that our good God Himself is the answer to our pressing questions, like in Job 42:5.
6. Loss is like the fading light at sunset.
We can frantically chase the loss by running west and try to outrun the darkness. Or we can accept and embrace the loss of daylight, turn east and plunge into the darkness with rising expectations focused on the new dawn of tomorrow (transition). Take ownership. We have the power to face the dawn and to be transformed by this experience.
7. The process of dealing with loss has three essential aspects.
First, acknowledge that the past will never be the same again. Feel the pain, specifically name what has been lost, and grieve it. Second, identify possible gains that could be part of the “new norm.” The last one bridges both of these. Transition is that suspended time between the familiar past and the expected future, the most difficult and challenging part of the process.
8. “Loss turns life into a snapshot. The movement stops; everything freezes.”
This may lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with nonessentials. This time-warp exposes how much of our identity is improperly tied to what we lost. Churches are full of people subtly tying to earn their identity or prove their worth. During transition, invest in the “sacrament of the present moment” (since God is here, Psalm 139:7-12) and take inventory of our life. “Failure to take stock almost ensures that we will repeat patterns that became chiseled into our lives before we suffered the loss.” When we explore our own personal loss, a new world of meaning opens up, which sows the seed of future possibilities, the “new norm” (Philippians 3:13b-14).
9. Each person is a one-of-a-kind-treasure, so every loss is unique.
Avoid both deserts: “my loss is the worst ever” and “my loss is inconsequential compared to yours” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
10. Although loss is a solitary experience we must face alone, it does not have to isolate us or make us feel lonely.
Loss is also a universal experience that can lead us into deeper koinonia.
11. The experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives.
We can choose to partner with God to use this as a springboard for our transformation and define our lives by the good that God will bring out of bad (Romans 8:28).
12. The legitimate emotions in the midst of loss and pain expand our capacity to feel deeply.
Feel legitimate emotions like anger and anguish, despair and depression. Once enlarged our emotions are expanded, we are now also capable of experiencing greater love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and gentleness. Our capacity now increases to know God intimately, to love others more deeply and to live life well.
13. Loss deprives us of our illusion of control, which is a good thing.
If our expectations remain tied to what we lost, then we will be disappointed and imprisoned in our past. Our creative God has something different, yet exquisitely good, possibly leading to a profound spiritual awakening. So hunt for treasure in the loss.
14. Recovery is a misleading and empty expectation.
We recover from broken limbs, not amputations so there is no going back to the past. We can, though, reach forward toward the “new norm.”
“Our feelings do not determine what is real, though the feelings themselves are real. We cannot ignore these feelings, but neither should we indulge them. Instead, we should acknowledge them without treating them as if they were ultimate truth….God is the center of reality.”
Three concepts are essential for me. “Treasure hunt,” that is, find valuable nuggets in the loss, “extract the precious from the worthless” (Jeremiah 15:19). Say “hello” to those nuggets. Bring them intentionally forward into our journey. Then “reframe” the loss with the precious you extracted. Now when I’m reminded of the event, God’ presence stands center-stage reflecting His shimmering glory on the painful event.
Put an egg, a potato and a coffee bean in the same boiling water. The egg hardens. The potato softens. The coffee bean releases flavor. It’s the same with the hot water of trials and suffering. The outward event does not determine how we evaluate and respond. Our inward values and beliefs guide our responses. Dry times or dark times will come. Count on it. I can only choose how I will respond. And we supply meaning to suffering by how we respond.
To read this in context, download my book on the RESOURCES tab, “Cultivating Disciples” on 1 Thessalonians.