When a man or woman of God invites you in as they process their grief of losing a loved one, they are giving you a spiritual gift to strengthen you. Throughout church history, many faithful Christians have suffered the loss of children and encouraged others through their experiences. Samuel Rutherford, John Flavel, John Bunyan, and George Whitfield come to mind. When they write on such issues, we will do well to pay attention.
This month another brother in Christ has blessed us with a book I wish he never had the opportunity to write. In November of 2020, Tim Challies’ son collapsed unexpectedly and never recovered. Here is how Tim described the incident. “Nick was playing a game with his sister and fiancée and many other students when he collapsed, never regaining consciousness. Students, paramedics, and doctors battled valiantly, but could not save him. He’s with the Lord he loved, the Lord he longed to serve.”
Over the next year, Tim wrote as he mourned, and I am so glad he did. His newest book, Seasons of Sorrow, gives a glimpse into the heart of a grieving father alive with faith. The book breaks into four parts; Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. Each season has heart-wrenching lows and heaven-piercing highs.
The steady stream of tears that must have flowed from Tim’s eyes as he wrote this book only increased its richness. Do not plan to read this book without shedding a few tears yourself, but more than that, be ready to see how death can be swallowed up in victory, even while the tears continue to fall. He will also remind you of the coming day when Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes.
There are two groups of people who should read this book; those suffering through loss and those who are not. For those of you who are mourning, Tim will invite you into the sacred circle of the suffering. You will know you are not alone and will be strengthened for your journey. For those of you who are not currently grieving, he will give you insights you need to see as you come alongside people who are. He will also help you prepare for the day loss hits your life. Most importantly, he will remind you to set your mind on the things above because the things below are fleeting.
This book is filled with insights that only the grieving would know. Tim drew me in as he began speaking about how once you experience a tragedy like this, you start to look over your shoulder for the next one. Or how once you lose a child, you have so much love to give them but no way to show them. However, in these deep and penetrating moments, Tim does not leave us hopeless; the Holy Spirit ignites his faith as he points us to Scripture and our blessed hope. In my wife’s words, the book is not only filled with truth but also poetic.
I hope this book will gain an extensive reading now, but I also hope it will still be read 100 years from now when Tim and his family have finished their race and reunited with Nick in heaven. In my experience of reading the puritan writers mentioned above, one of the blessings of books like this is they only get sweeter with time when you know the author is in the presence of Jesus as you read.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Tim is not afraid to mourn. He does not pretend that a life of faith must always be chipper, but, at the same time, he does not grieve as one who has no hope. There can be joy in mourning. This joy does not eradicate grief, but it transforms it. If you have not yet read the book, I suggest, in honor of Nick and his great Savior, you brew a cup of coffee and spend a few hours being strengthened as you consider the goodness of God even in the face of death.