Jerry Sittser tells of an experience shortly after he lost his wife, his mother, and his four-year-old daughter in a tragic accident. As he stood in the funeral home looking at three open coffins, he felt himself slipping into dread and oblivion even as people tried to comfort him.
Days later, he says,
“I dreamed of a setting sun. I was frantically running west, trying desperately to catch it and remain in its fiery warmth and light. But I was losing the race. The sun was beating me to the horizon and was soon gone. I suddenly found myself in the twilight. Exhausted, I stopped running and glanced with foreboding over my shoulder to the east. I saw a vast darkness closing in on me. I was terrified by that darkness. I wanted to keep running after the sun.”
Though Jerry found the dream unsettling, his sister later pointed out that
“the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.”1
That was a turning point—the moment Jerry realized he could not run from his sorrow; he had to face the darkness of his grief. Three years later he wrote a book that has become a classic on the topic: A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss.
As I write this, it is early November. The days grow shorter. The light wanes. Try as I might, I cannot run back to summer, reliving its warmth. The only way forward is to head into deepest winter. In a month, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will reach the winter solstice, the point in the year with the least amount of daylight. Each day after that will bring more light until we are once again basking, enjoying the brightness.
As in Jerry’s dream, as with the rhythm of the year, sometimes the only way into the light we long for is straight through the darkness. We go there, not alone, but in the keeping of the God the psalmist acclaims:
“To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you” (Psalm 139:12).
- Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 33.