The ever-honest Jerry Sittser reflects on the pain of losing a loved one, and how we can free ourselves from destructive feelings such as regret, hatred, bitterness, and despair. If you feel crushed under the weight of regret, I hope Jerry’s gentle but honest wisdom is a blessing to you. [Excerpt from A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss (eBook).] -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
If I want transformation, I must let go of my regrets over what could have been and pursue what can be. But what I cannot have is the best of both worlds: the growth that has transformed my life as a result of the tragedy and the people whose death engendered that growth.
There is a bitter irony here that cannot be avoided, however much we grow through loss. The people whose death enabled me to change for the better are the very people with whom I would most like to share these changes. Their death has forced me to grow; I wish now that they could benefit from the growth that has resulted from their death.
Our choice to make
Many people are destroyed by loss because, learning what they could have been but failed to be, they choose to wallow in guilt and regret, to become bitter in spirit, or to fall into despair. While nothing they can do will reverse the loss, it is not true that there is nothing they can do to change.
We cannot change the situation, but we can allow the situation to change us.
The difference between despair and hope, bitterness and forgiveness, hatred and love, and stagnation and vitality lies in the decisions we make about what to do in the face of regrets over an unchangeable and painful past. We cannot change the situation, but we can allow the situation to change us. We exacerbate our suffering needlessly when we allow one loss to lead to another. That causes gradual destruction of the soul…
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. But after a period of struggle, which sometimes leads to catharsis and release, it may become apparent to us that we are becoming prisoners to these emotions and captive to their power over our lives. At that point we must decide whether or not to allow these destructive emotions to conquer us…
Our feelings don’t own us
[Our feelings are] not the center of reality. God is the center of reality.
This struggle will show us that emotions like anger or self-pity, however natural and legitimate, do not define reality. 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. The feeling self is not the center of reality. God is the center of reality.
To surrender to God, however contrary to our emotions, will lead to liberation from self and will open us to a world that is much bigger and grander than we are.
- Jerry Sittser
Learn more about A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss.
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