Last week, our son would have turned 31. My husband and I still wonder what that would have been like? Would we have enjoyed celebrating as he got married like most of his friends have? Would he be living nearby or in a distant state for a new job? Would he and his wife be planning to start a family and give us grandchildren? These are questions we can only visit in our imaginations, and yes, they bring pain.
On our son’s FB memorial page and our Instagram this week, I posted a photo of the desert after a storm when a rainbow appeared, with this quote: “As in nature, so in life: it takes both clouds and sunshine to make a rainbow.” I have been pondering these apparent paradoxes in nature and in life, especially the concept of darkness & light. While reading A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, I was reminded again of how we felt from the moment we heard the words from the sheriff’s mouth: “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but your son is dead.” Sittser lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter together in a head-on collision by a drunk driver and says, “Sudden and tragic loss leads to terrible darkness.” Yes. Existential darkness.
He describes a dream of seeing the sun setting and running frantically west toward it in order to remain in some vestige of light – but the sun was outpacing him to sink below the horizon. As he looked back over his shoulder, utter darkness and despair was closing in behind him. He later realized that “the quickest way to reach the light of day is to head east, plunging into the darkness, until one comes to the sunrise.”
When we were young and pursuing a spiritual path to knowing God, there was a saying that describes a similar concept and helped keep us on a positive path in an increasingly negative world: “Don’t try to drive the darkness out – just turn on the light.”
It takes courage to not run from pain. Everything in our modern society tells us to run from it by either diverting our attention with other things or numbing ourselves with substances. But Sittser shares what my husband and I have found to be true: when we face the darkness in our life, we will experience pain. But, if we allow ourselves to be transformed by the suffering we will also experience growth that can come to us no other way. “The defining moment of our lives can be our response to the loss. Darkness invaded my soul, but so did light. Both darkness and light contributed to my personal transformation.”
Do we wait until we have come through the darkness to begin to heal and grow? In our experience as in Sittser’s, it is in the darkness – living and grappling with all the pain that entails – that we can find grace to make it through to the light and thereby grow because of it, not in spite of it.
Next time I’ll continue on these thoughts and ponder how our choices determine the type of experience we have while living with pain of any sort.