A Grace Disguised:
How the Soul Grows Through Loss

by Gerald L. Sittser, Zondervan, 1995, 184p.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

In A Grace Disguised, Gerald Sittser documents what he learned about growing through loss after losing his mother, wife and daughter in one tragic accident. He insists that it is not the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives, but rather how we respond to the loss. “The book is intended to show how it is possible to live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it.”

While drawing from his personal experience, Sittser recognizes that people live with many kinds of losses besides tragic accidents. Whether it is terminal illness, disability, divorce, rape, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse, chronic unemployment, crushing disappointment, mental illness or untimely death, loss is very real and personal for those who experience it. However, he goes on to point out, in a caring way, how losses also can help us grow. Much worse than experiencing losses of various kinds, Sittser states, is the death of the spirit that comes when we allow losses to leave us bitter and cynical about life.

A Grace Disguised, tackles the issue of suffering and loss head on, refusing to provide glib answers to the pain that many people experience. Of the many images Sittser offers for coping with loss, I found the following one the most powerful. When the sun appears to be setting on a once undisturbed and relatively peaceful life, instead of chasing the sun westward in an attempt to capture whatever light you can, turn eastward – facing the reality of the present darkness – since that is the shortest route toward the dawning of a new day. Another image that helped me relates to a balloon. The soul is elastic, says Sittzer, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering, but once enlarged it can also experience greater joy, strength, peace and love.

Sittser is not afraid to tackle the age-old question of theodicy - why people suffer - stating that his experience of loss forced him to alter his deterministic view of God’s sovereignty. Ultimately he concludes that he would rather live in a world in which he must endure what he doesn’t deserve if that world also allows him to experience the good he does not deserve.

A Grace Disguised, is a very helpful read for anyone experiencing any kind of loss, as well as for soul care-givers who wish to enter the sufferings of those whom they love and seek to serve.