Don't Get Over It. Grow Into It.
Gerald Sittser of Whitworth University tells his story of grief, which he recounts in A Grace Disguised. Following the death of three generations of women in his family in one car crash, he learned a new way of “growing into suffering” rather than trying to escape or “get over it.”
I’m an academic, so I make my living as an academic, teaching, writing, researching, that sort of thing. But one of my callings is to figure out how to try to serve as a bridge between that world and the world of ordinary people. And I’m an ordinary person. Sometimes I think academics almost live double lives.
They don’t do it intentionally or deceptively, but they do their research in the library. And they read their books and write their articles. And then they go home as married or single, as living in apartments or homes, and raising children or not. And they don’t realize that their own subjects do or can make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve been acutely aware of that because of my own journey. I married when I was very young. My first wife Linda and I had troubles conceiving children. Finally, we had four in six years. Two years after she gave birth to our youngest son, John, she was killed in a tragic drunken driving accident.
I was driving, all our kids were together. I lost a daughter, and I also lost my mother who was visiting us for the weekend. So three generations of women disappear, literally, in a moment of time. My mother, Grace, my wife, Linda, and my daughter, Diana-Jane. And all of a sudden I realized more acutely than before that my world, in this case a world of unbelievable tragedy, and loss, and pain, also needed to hear the wisdom of the ancients.
And in a strange kind of way, I don’t even know if this is gonna make sense, I began to study more and more for myself. I remember the first time I read, or reread Calvin’s Golden Book of the True Christian Life. And he’s got this fabulous section on living in both adversity and prosperity.
And I’ll tell you that just pierced me, me, because I was reading it more for myself. Trying to figure out how to raise my children, then eight, six, and two. And how to be a good dad, and how to be a good citizen of the community, and how to handle and live under these kinds of very painful conditions.
I’ll give you one example of what I learned. In our modern culture the language we tend to use is to get over something. And I learned, really, by studying ancient wisdom that you don’t get over, you grow into. You begin to wear it, it becomes a part of the landscape of your life. It’s not over, it’s into, it’s not through, it’s absorbing, wearing it, growing into it until it becomes clothes that fit better.
We should carry loss in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Jesus said “blessed are those who mourned.” He didn’t say blessed are those who’ve overcome mourning. It’s who mourn, maybe our own sorrows, but also other people, until we realize that we belong to a community of mourning that goes back thousands of years and wraps itself around the world today.
We spend so much of our time trying to escape these things, avoid these things. And the call of discipleship is to grow into them. Now, that I learned not just through my own experience, I learned through my study. And those two worlds came together more and more.
Evan: Thank you, thank you Jerry. That’s unbelievable, that’s [mumbles]. [soft instrumental music]