Paul L. Caron

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain Of Loss And The Comfort Of God

Tim Challies, Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God (2022):

Season of SorrowOn November 3, 2020, Tim and Aileen Challies received the shocking news that their son Nick had died. A twenty-year-old student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, he had been participating in a school activity with his fiancée, sister, and friends, when he fell unconscious and collapsed to the ground.

Neither students nor a passing doctor nor paramedics were able to revive him. His parents received the news at their home in Toronto and immediately departed for Louisville to be together as a family. While on the plane, Tim, an author and blogger, began to process his loss through writing. In Seasons of Sorrow, Tim shares real-time reflections from the first year of grief—through the seasons from fall to summer—introducing readers to what he describes as the “ministry of sorrow.”

Seasons of Sorrow will benefit both those that are working through sorrow or those comforting others:

  • See how God is sovereign over loss and that he is good in loss
  • Discover how you can pass through times of grief while keeping your faith
  • Learn how biblical doctrine can work itself out even in life’s most difficult situations
  • Understand how it is possible to love God more after loss than you loved him before

Matt McCullough (Christianity Today; Author, Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope), ‘I Will Grieve but not Grumble, Mourn but not Murmur, Weep but not Whine’: What Tim Challies Resolved in the Wake of His Son’s Sudden Death:

Your book is full of searing honesty about the anguish you experienced, but it also radiates confidence in the sovereignty and goodness of God. In an early chapter titled “My Manifesto,” you write, “By faith I will accept Nick’s death as God’s will, and by faith accept that God’s will is always good. … I will grieve but not grumble, mourn but not murmur, weep but not whine.” How did those resolutions hold up in the year that followed?

Early on, my wife and I realized we were either going to trust God in this or we weren’t. We adhere to Reformed theology. We believe strongly in God’s sovereignty, and we profess it all the time. But throughout my life, God’s sovereignty had almost invariably done what I wanted it to do. My wife sometimes reminds me of what I told her in the year or two leading up to this—that we have had an easy life and there’s got to be some sorrow coming.

So I wrote that manifesto early on, hoping it would direct my heart for the long haul of grief. The first days and weeks are difficult. But in a sense they are also easy because you sort of go in one direction: through memorials, funerals, burials, and everything else you need to do. After that, the support starts falling away, and that’s when things can go awry. That’s when I most needed the manifesto, and God was gracious in allowing it to help and guide us through the months to come. ...

The book leaves off in the fall of 2021, on the anniversary of Nick’s death. Has your experience of grief changed since then?

What we’ve found hardest are the days that are supposed to bring great joy. Our daughter got married recently, which was a wonderful, beautiful occasion. But we were so aware that Nick was not present. In moments like these, we’ve tried to celebrate, looking ahead with confidence that there will be a day when all our tears are dried.

The Lord has been so good and kind throughout these two years. I think I can really say that all of us love the Lord more now than we did before. We have a more tangible sense of his providence, that he’s directing all things to his glory. And we want to be used by the Lord for his purposes, to be found faithful in all he calls us to.

Clarissa Moll (The Gospel Coalition; Author, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss), The Strong Comfort of God:

In 2020, I began following the story of Tim Challies and his family’s tragic loss of their son and brother Nicholas. A promising young man of only 20 years, Nicholas had met his death suddenly and unexpectedly. I knew the storyline of that kind of grief. Hundreds of miles apart, Tim blogged through his loss and I read each entry. His confusion and distress I knew well. In the isolation of pandemic lockdown and my own grief, Tim’s words stretched across cyberspace offering assurance and solidarity. Death really was as dreadful as I’d discovered it to be. But there was more. Mysteriously and magnificently, Tim wrote, God really was as good as he promised to be. I had seen this too.

Readers of Challies’s new book ... will hear echoes of C. S. Lewis (A Grief Observed) and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Lament for a Son) in his words. The honesty and rawness of grief is all there. A deep ache rises from the words Challies penned for his son’s obituary and a letter meant for his 21st birthday. Anguish layers over the hoped-for joy in the wedding speech Challies wrote for the audience who would never hear it. “The Lord knows I love the Lord, and the Lord knows I love my boy. I’ll leave it to him to sort out the details,” he writes (122). If you’ve felt alone in the darkness of your grief, Seasons of Sorrow will read like the tear-filled murmurings of your own heart.

But Challies offers us something tremendously more precious. Rooted in the firm belief that God is always for us, Seasons of Sorrow steps forward boldly and claims God’s goodness in the dark and, by example, gently implores readers to do the same.

Embracing the mystery of God’s will, Challies reminds readers of the one thing they need most in bereavement—the firm, steady grip of God. When death looms large and grief threatens to overwhelm, we need not depend on ourselves or our own spiritual efforts.

“Surely he is not a God who is least present when most needed,” Challies writes (51). Instead, “When I focus on what is true, I understand that God is present with me. He has been present since the moment I heard the awful news; he is present with me right now; he will be present with me until that day when he at last wipes away my final tear” (52). Held securely in God’s care, the Christian can grieve fully and deeply. And, in life’s most terrible moments, God’s love will carry us, enabling us to sing a tear-choked hallelujah.

Why did I run to Scripture the night I learned my husband had died? Time and the initial shock have obscured the memories of that night so I can’t recall the specific thoughts that ran panic-stricken through my mind.

Nevertheless, I’ve realized what prompted the homing instinct that drove me to my Father’s arms. I know now the power that has enabled me to say with Challies,

I will not waver in my faith, nor abandon my hope, nor revoke my love. I will not charge God with wrong. . . . I will continue to love God and trust him, continue to pursue God and enjoy him, continue to worship God and boast of his many mercies. (36–37)

This is not human willpower, spiritual muster in disaster. Instead, it’s Christ in me. The Father who calls me his own ever draws me to himself, enabling me to sing in the shadow of his wings. The power to survive and thrive again is power made perfect in weakness, the glorious display of God’s strength in seasons of sorrow.

Clarissa Moll, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss (2022):

Beyond the DarknessThe Bible says that “God is near to the brokenhearted,” but what does that look like when you’re lost in the darkness of agonizing grief? How do you engage with your sorrow when the world tells you to shoulder through or move on?

Award-winning writer and podcaster Clarissa Moll knows this landscape of loss all too well. Her life changed forever in 2019 when her husband, Rob, died unexpectedly while hiking―leaving her with four children to raise alone. In her debut book, Beyond the Darkness, Clarissa offers her powerful personal narrative as well as honest, practical wisdom that will gently guide you toward flourishing amidst your own loss.

In the pages of Beyond the Darkness, you’ll learn how to

  • meet and engage with loss in your everyday life,
  • uncover the lies the world has told you about your grief, and
  • point your feet toward hope and find a way to navigate your new life with loss and God beside you.

Whether you’ve lost someone dear to you or you’re supporting a loved one as they mourn, you can learn to walk with grief. And as you do, you might be surprised to discover the path is wide enough for another companion, the Good Shepherd of your soul. Grief may walk with us for the rest of our lives, but Jesus will too.

Editor's Note:  If you would like to receive a weekly email each Sunday with links to the faith posts on TaxProf Blog, email me here.

Book Club, Faith, Legal Education | Permalink