There are many kinds of losses in this life. Right now, just in my circle of friends, I can think of people who have lost friends, parents, husbands, children, and grandchildren. I also know some who have lost mobility, vision, independence, innocence, and marriages. Just watch the news almost any day of the week, and you’ll see people who have lost homes, lost their sense of safety, lost their way. Life in this world is hard, and the losses we experience can compound that difficulty exponentially.
So, as believers, what are we to do with the thoughts and emotions that come with these losses? Are we to stuff our feelings because real Christians don’t have to grieve over losses? After all, if we believe in the sovereignty and goodness of God, then all things will work together for our good, right? Are we to just “suck it up,” as our culture likes to say, and move on? Some may say yes, but Bob Kellemen answers with a resounding NO!
God’s Healing for Life’s Losses is Kelleman’s answer to the question, what do we do when life hurts? When our gains become losses and our joys become sorrows? What does God expect of us in these times, and what provision has he made to help us fulfill His expectations? I first read this book as I was trying to recover from what I now know was a botched knee replacement. I had always been a physically strong person, able to do just about anything I wanted to do. I loved power walking, and had enjoyed it daily for most of my adult life. Whenever there was a need in the neighborhood or church, I was your go-to gal, always ready to help in anyone’s time of need. In the weeks and months following this surgery, I came slowly to the realization that I would never be that person again.
I was devastated. It’s not that I wasn’t a believer, I was. But I was crushed by the loss of my mobility; the realization that I would be suffering pain from this implant for the rest of my life; and the slow fade of my trust in the God that I’d been certain would heal me. I got some good counsel from someone who asked me some very potent questions. She also recommended the book that is the subject of this review. As I read it and did the journaling it prompts, the God I thought I knew faded even more, and the One True God came into more and more clearly defined focus.
Sustaining in Suffering: It’s normal to hurt and necessary grieve
This little gem is just over 100 pages, but at least for me, it was life-changing. This book taught that it is normal to hurt and necessary to grieve. Because my loss was not a death, it did not occur to me that there might be a grieving process. This truth gave me the permission and blessing I needed to truly experience the pain of the loss that I felt. He calls the first half of the book, “Sustaining in Suffering: It’s normal to hurt and necessary grieve.” In this section, Kellemen does a great job of teaching us how to be honest, both with ourselves and with the Lord, about our pain and how it has affected us. He lays out four stages:
- Candor: Being honest with myself about my loss
- Complaint: Being honest with God
- Cry: Asking for God’s help
- Comfort: Receiving God’s help
Through each of these, he teaches the reader how to move from anger and denial to honesty. Each chapter offers questions for us to answer about our own particular trial or loss, along with plenty of Truth to encourage us to think biblically. He offers many examples from Scripture, including David, Asaph, Job, and others. Here, we learn how to complain biblically: “When we complain, we live in the real world honestly, refusing to ignore what is occurring. Complaint is our expression of our radical trust in God’s reliability in the midst of real life.”
For example, we read of Asaph in Psalm 73. First, he proclaims that God is good to Israel, then he goes on to list all the evidence to the contrary! He complains to God about this seeming contradiction, but rather than drive him away from the Lord, his complaint draws them closer together. “It was Asaph’s intense relationship with God that enlightened him to the goodness of God even during the badness of life.” I had thought that it would be wrong or even sinful to complain to God about my condition, but here I learned that biblical complaint and lament are key to resolving the seeming contradictions in our heart between the attributes of God and the trials He brings.
Stages of Hope: It’s possible to hope and supernatural to grow
The second half of the book is entitled, “Stages of Hope: It’s possible to hope and supernatural to grow.” Again, Kellemen breaks it down for us into four sections:
- Waiting: Trusting with Faith
- Wailing: Groaning with Hope
- Weaving: Perceiving with Grace
- Worshiping: Engaging with Love
Now we come to the really hard part. We’ve accepted the reality of our loss, and we’ve been comforted in it by God’s Holy Spirit and through His Word. Now what? How do we keep going forward with hope? Again the author walks us through these stages with Scripture, biblical principles and questions for our journal that prompt deep reflection, prayer, and confession. Here, we learn how to grieve with hope. The author helps us to understand that crying out to God will help us to build our hope if we do it biblically. Biblical wailing admits weakness, allowing God’s strength to sustain us.
Kellemen takes us to the story of Joseph for a grace narrative of weaving truth into life. He shows us how Joseph understood that, even in his suffering, God was providing for the future of mankind. Again, he draws our story into the Bible story, and shows us how our suffering can deepen our walk with the Lord: “Instead of our perspective shrinking, suffering is the exact time when we must listen most closely, when we must lean over to hear the whisper of God.”
There is much more I could say about this book, but what I really want you to know about it is that it is more than a book. It is a wonderful tool for helping any believer work through grief over any loss, no matter how profound he or she perceives that loss to be. I highly recommend this book for use in counseling. The journaling questions make excellent homework, and would be a great springboard for probing into the heart issues that keep people stuck in grief, anger, or self-pity after a loss of any kind.
I ended up writing over 40 pages of responses to the questions in this book. In the process, a great deal of healing took place, both in my heart and in my relationship with the Lord. The takeaway message for me was that God sees my loss as real, and He cares about my pain. He knows the deep pain of loss, and not only has He provided biblical examples of how we are to deal with it, but He has also provided His own dear Spirit to walk us through the process. This book outlines that process beautifully.