After I lost Adonica, I read a fair number of books on grief. A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser spoke to me more profoundly than any other book I have read in the past few years. The author’s personal experience with grief made him instantly credible to me. About twenty years ago, Jerry lost his wife, daughter, and mother in the same car accident. He watched three precious family members die on the street after a drunk driver jumped the median and crashed head on into the vehicle Jerry was driving.
After reading A Grace Disguised I was compelled to meet the author to discuss the loss of my beautiful wife. I instinctively knew he would understand, and he did. I drove many hours to Dr. Sittser’s hometown and poured out my broken heart over shared cups of coffee. He imparted great hope, but explained, given my love for Adonica, I would never “get over” my late wife. I could not simply “get past” my grief. Instead, I now had an opportunity to allow the pain of grief to change me. I could choose to suffer redemptively. My sorrow was real and it still is. I could not run from, dodge, or medicate it. I had to absorb it. I would forever be the man who lost his dear wife to cancer. Nothing could ever change that reality.
After the death of his dear family members, Jerry described his loss in A Grace Disguised.
Jerry embraced the darkness of his suffering and eventually found light again.
Dr. Sittser waited patiently for the sun to rise again on the eastern horizon, and rise it did, eventually.
Addictive behavior begets more addictive behaviors. Eventually, we cannot cease our endless pursuit of porneia. We refuse to accept that the sun could possibly set without us. We feel shortchanged, victims of unfair circumstances, innocent casualties in the war of life. We begin to believe our own propaganda and consider ourselves forever entitled to the sun’s warmth and light. It had no right to set. We got a raw deal. If the setting sun is reality, then, by God, addicts will re-create reality. We will make our very own imitation balls of fire… rebound relationships, one-night stands, strip clubs, or any other form of erotica we need to stay in the artificial glow. The man or woman caught in the web of sexual addiction cannot accept the finality of pain. Somehow they feel unique and beyond suffering’s reach.
The objective is not to avoid emotional pain, but rather to learn from it. The question of the source of our suffering is largely irrelevant. Some pain we bring on ourselves. Some is random and we did nothing to deserve it. According to the psalmist, the darkness of some of our losses comes directly from God and, in the words of Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence," we reluctantly prepare our welcome: “Hello darkness my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again.” We are left with little to do but embrace personal darkness as our “closest friend”:
Who can we blame for our suffering? God, Satan, ourselves, others, coincidence, happenstance, fate, the nature of the broken world in which we live? Or, no one and nothing at all? Soothing answers and logical explanations evaporate before us. We are left with nothing but a choice; the choice to embrace the darkness or pretend it’s not there.
No person escapes the reality of emotional pain. Its eventuality marches toward us like an unrelenting army of irresistible force. The reality of loss and grief advances mercilessly and envelops every living soul in the power of its devastation and ruin.
Early in the recovery process, addicts may express, “You don’t know how I feel or understand what I’ve been through” as if to convince themselves that they are unique. They want to believe that their pain is so profound that they may rightfully justify their addiction. They are partially correct, of course. You can’t know what others have suffered or how they feel, but neither does the addict know what you have suffered and how you feel. The simple truth remains: if you can get better, so can any other human. Hold on to this truth for yourself and every addict you know.
Addicts hope to convince themselves, and anyone else within earshot, that their pursuit of porneia is reasonable given the hard-life hand they were dealt. Although it is entirely appropriate to show them compassion and to empathize, even sympathize, with their situationa, it is certainly not true that addiction is their only option. In this they are not correct.
We cannot outrun the lengthening shadows of sorrow, hurt, distress, or grief. We will never catch the setting sun. We must stop running west on the path of Judas and plunge, instead, into the darkness. Following in the footsteps of Peter, we choose to feel deeply our suffering, allowing it to shape the persons we are meant to become.
Relief to emotional pain is not always forthcoming. We may faithfully follow Jesus on the path of self-discovery and actively participate in personal recovery… and still feel the hurt. In these hard times, “Why?” takes on a special significance. It’s not “Why me?” or “Why must I suffer?” but rather, “Why do I suffer?” There are reasons for the anguish in our souls, and some of those reasons become knowable only when we choose to absorb our pain and embrace the darkness.
Imagine yourself on a bright, warm, sunny day gazing at a beautiful, blue sky. Do you know what you are you looking at? Stars! You’re looking directly at stars, but you cannot see them. A magnificent collection of twinkling constellations lay hidden in the light. Your eyes cannot perceive them.
Like shining stars on a clear, black night, some of God’s most brilliant epiphanies are viewable only in the darkness. Many truths can only be found in dark and difficult times, and there, the greatest of all truths, the knowledge of God Himself, awaits your apprehending.
If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t loss. All loss hurts… the loss of friends and loved ones, the loss of idealism and innocence, the loss of right standing with God and people. All loss hurts and all loss provides an opportunity to sit with pain; that is, to feel it without the numbing and temporal benefit of your addiction. When you say “no” to the pursuit of porneia, and choose to suffer instead, you are choosing the path of Peter whose words have encouraged believers for two millennia.
Life is good, but never perfect. Disappointment, conflicts, betrayal, grief, and trauma are inevitable. Emotional pain is a part of the human condition – every human’s condition. Prepare to suffer, but suffer with hope. Suffer redemptively. Embark on the journey of self-discovery. Trust Jesus and your sisters and brothers in recovery. Listen to the voice of your conscience. Flee porneia. Embrace the darkness. Wait patiently, and have hope.