A Grace Disguised
Jerry L. Sittser
In 1991, the car author Jerry Sittser was driving on a dark stretch of road with his wife, mother and four children was hit headon by a drunk driver. Sittser’s wife of twenty years, his mother and four-year-old daughter were killed. That night for Sittser became “The End and The Beginning,” as Sittser entitled the first chapter of A Grace Disguised, in which he recounted the accident.
Though Sittser was himself uninjured, this reader anyway stopped right there in the narrative and thought there’s no way he survives this. Even with three surviving children to raise, I just couldn’t imagine how a man could climb out of the horror of that night. But that is exactly what Sittser did, and that’s why I believe this is one of the most remarkable stories of the survival, recovery and redemption of widowhood I will ever read.
Oh, it was no walk in the park. As Sittser wrote, “I could not rid my eyes of the vision of violence, of the shattering glass and shattered bodies. All I wanted was to be dead.” He recounted the “deluge of loss,” of losing his mind, and overwhelming depression. “The foundation of my life was caving in.”
The long road back for Sittser was a journey of endurance, necessity and faith. Along the way he actually tried twice to get back on the horse, but both those relationships fizzled. It was when he realized the continuing pain his three surviving children were carrying with them that Sittser realized his new purpose in life had to be for and about them. That is when a new grace began to reveal itself to him. He wrote of how he learned to become a better father than he knew he had been before the accident. He connected with a community of people suffering their own tragic losses in life and became a better more compassionate friend. He realized that even with his loss, life still offered opportunities to grow as a person. Of God Sittser came to see that He is not an indifferent or mean spirited God, but One who is there to provide the all-encompassing love necessary to live and carry on through His grace.
Once, commiserating with a woman struggling to understand the fairness of a world in which her daughter survived an accident that a no less deserving daughter of another mother did not, Sittser experienced an epiphany. “The problem of expecting to live in a perfectly fair world is that there is no grace in that world, for grace is grace, only when it is undeserved.” [author’s italics]
It is here where grace for Sittser fully drops its disguise, and reveals all the wonder of God’s gift within the full irony of living: “To live in a world with grace is better by far than to live in a world of absolute fairness…A world of grace will give us more than we deserve. It will give us life, even in our suffering.”
Though I believe my concept of God to be grander and more expansive than the rather limited one of traditional religion, I believe Sittser nailed grace on the head. I had once told Carolyn that in holding her hand I could feel grace, the special and unique grace of her own spirit being transferred to me. And I grew because of it, and continue to grow thanks to the ongoing grace of Carolyn’s spirit and memory. And believe me, that grace is wholly undeserved.