We long for suffering to last only for a second, a minute, an hour at most. No matter how unrealistic the expectation, we prolong it. But the truth is that deep suffering lasts days, weeks, months, seasons, even years. The longer we live, the more acquainted we become with it. And how we meet it reveals much about our faith. Suffering is an anvil on the soul's bones; it presses out the marrow at the center and helps us see who we are and what we most long for. Reading Tim Challies's Seasons of Sorrow was a precious exercise in seeing the marrow of a brother in Christ. Tim and his family suffered the unexpected loss of their son, Nick, when he was just twenty. Seasons of Sorrow is the story of how he and his family have been processing (and continue to process) this painful bend in God's providence, with tears streaming down but eyes lifted up.
While some readers might not seek out a book on sorrow or suffering, given the weight of the subject matter, this should be a special exception. It shows a picture of what it means to grieve with hope and long for heaven as our days on earth move towards eternity. For those reasons, I'm recommending the book even to those who aren't grieving right now. They will still benefit greatly from the hope and honesty set out on every page. Perhaps the most encouraging takeaway I've had is this: God is guiding every soul to himself in ways we can't expect and in ways that may deeply hurt us, but he is good, and that goodness can help us continually interpret our pain in light of his eternal love.
What I Loved
As someone who had to walk through grief earlier in life, I appreciated two threads woven together throughout the book: raw honesty and persevering hope. You need them both. The first step in dealing with grief is honesty. This comes out in Challies's reflections on how Nick's life seemed to have been interrupted by death, cut short with a thousand loose ends left hanging. It's healthy to express that feeling, to be candid about what's on the inside. Then the second step can take you where God wants you to go: hope. For the author, Nick's death was not, in fact, an interruption that left a bunch of unfinished fragments in its wake. Nick's death was a path set in God's providence, the completion of Nick's road on earth and his bright trail into paradise. It was also a redirecting sign for his parents and family, to go on living in light of this life-altering change, now with renewed sympathy and passion to help fellow sufferers. The call will be for them to interpret, with persevering grit, the death of their son in light of the death and resurrection of God's Son. That's what we're called to do as followers of Christ, as children of the one who raises the dead. And that's what I most loved about the book.
So much wisdom to share from these pages, but here are some of my favorite quotes.
- "For a seed to become a plant, for it to bear fruit, for it to really live, it must first die. And so too with human beings. . . . There is life after death, but that life must come through death" (pp. 20, 22).
- "My feelings rotate like the earth; my emotions come and go like the seasons. But the truth is as fixed and constant as the sun" (p. 51).
- "I am coming to understand grief as a response and a process—a response to circumstances and a process that begins with a sore trial or deep loss. And while I am less certain of the destination, I think it must be acceptance, submission, peace, and hope" (p. 59).
- "The will of God is inseparable from the character of God. I remind myself that the will of God is always good because God is always good" (p. 76).
- "Jesus has promised there is boundless joy beyond this bounded life" (p. 100).
- "If . . . God makes no distinction between his children who are in heaven and his children who are on earth, then neither will I" (p. 108).
- "If the laying on of hands ordained me for my ministry of pastoring, the tearing of Nick out of my hands ordained me for this ministry of sorrow" (p. 151).
- "Death, did you bring any great harm to Nick when you took him from my side? No, for when you took Nick from my side, you delivered him to the Savior's" (p. 175).
Should You Read It?
Yes! This is a book that has emerged, like a fern tendril, from the dark soil of grief. But dark soil usually lies beneath the most beautiful flowers. Read this book. Read it slowly. Read it prayerfully. And look up. The light that burns beyond death can make its way to you on earth—in the loss of a son, a parent, a friend, a sibling. It's a light of hope. And it won't go out. The light of hope is constant through the seasons of sorrow. Stare at it.
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