Thursday, July 07, 2016
Many of us struggle to understand the mystery of suffering in our lives. In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions by people of all faiths is, “Why would a loving God allow pain and suffering?” People often perceive pain and suffering as a punishment, rather than as a medicine or as a healing balm, which helps us grow closer to God. Redemptive suffering is something that we might understand intellectually, but have difficulty putting into practice. Even the great saints struggled to make sense out of the suffering and trials they endured.
In Jeannie Ewing’s book, “From Grief to Grace: The Journey From Tragedy to Triumph”, she shares her own poignant struggle with suffering and grief, recounting the story of the birth of her daughter, Sarah, who was congenitally diagnosed with a rare genetic condition known as Apert Syndrome, which is characterized by facial abnormalities and fused fingers. Although Jeannie initially experienced heartbreak, loss, and anger with this situation, she responded with faith and obedience, surrendering herself to God’s will, opening up her heart to His graces, transcending the pain, and transforming her life into one of profound purpose and joy. This is a story not of defeat, but one of victory, which occurs, when a Christian embraces his/her cross. It is one of answering Christ’s call to become the mother of a special needs child and to carry out that call with deep love and joy.
While “From Grief to Grace” may sound strictly like a memoir, it is actually much more than that. Ewing describes her book as “a conglomeration of my life experience mingled with my understanding of human suffering, its meaning and purpose, and the spiritual, emotional, and physical implications of grieving.” She states that she simply desires to share a book on grief from a spiritual standpoint containing personal anecdotes to help others who are also experiencing grief. Ewing, who has a background in psychology and professional experience in counseling, has written the book to educate others on the meaning of grief, to help them learn how to differentiate between grief and depression, to assist them in handling grief on both psychological and spiritual levels, and to lift up their hearts in hope.
“From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph” is an insightful, comprehensive guide to understanding grief and the spirituality associated with it. As a retired psychologist, I have read professional textbooks on the topic of grief, but have yet to find one comprehensible enough for the educated lay person to understand until now. From “Grief to Grace” is chock-full of meaningful examples and infused with spiritual richness. It is a compact, but complete guide to grief and suffering from a Catholic viewpoint. While there are only five chapters in the book, each one of them is extremely well-written and filled with useful and intriguing information that helps those who are suffering from the pain of grief – whether it be caused by the loss of a loved one through death or divorce; infertility, miscarriage, and abortion; addiction, or mental illness and chronic disease.
To assist us on the journey of navigating our grief, Ewing introduces six spiritual principles: humility of heart, which is the basis of all other virtues and interior growth, abandonment to Divine Providence (trusting in God’s loving care), holy indifference (that condition of neither desiring nor possessing anyone or anything except God), the dark night of the soul (darkening of the senses, will, memory, and intellect) confidence in God’s timing, and the wound of the heart (the unitive state of communion with God). She provides an in-depth discussion and explanation of each of these principles to help us understand redemptive suffering, enlisting the aid of St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux as spiritual guides on our faith journey.
Ewing uses the model of the Divine Mercy, to help us understand our grief and to provide ways to assist others who are grieving through spiritual and corporal works of mercy. She aptly explains how God’s mercy has dissolved her misery in the situation of her daughter’s diagnosis: “I see now that God created her exactly as she is, not because He loved us so much that He blessed us with a special child, a medical marvel... who has deeply transformed nearly every person she encountered, however briefly…Sarah is one of the ways God has chosen to send a particular signal to the world during these times of relativism, atheism, and heresy. She isn’t required to perform any miraculous acts or exhibit exemplary intelligence or talent. Her beauty, and thus, God’s mercy, is revealed in the virtue she bears and offers with incredible generosity to an indifferent, distant, and lukewarm society. Sarah knows what it means to encounter people, to make eye contact and offer an uplifting smile. Often that simple gesture is enough to awaken our sleepy selves, to enliven us, and to remind us that there is indeed, hope still lingering somewhere within us. Sarah quite naturally and unpretentiously restores the flame of hope that has all but dwindled in into quiet embers within our hearts.”
The final chapter of the book is the most powerful; for it is here, that Ewing reveals how we can find meaning in our losses. She defines the hidden blessing of grief as “mission”, which is the calling each of us receives to rise above our individual crosses. However, we can only reach this point after we have entered into our pain and eventually die to self, choosing to carry our cross, joining Christ on the road to Calvary. The end of the road to Calvary comes when we say “Yes” to Christ’s invitation of discipleship. He commissions us all to acts of greatness, despite our sorrow and pain. Ewing describes the transformation to rise above our suffering: “If we permit God to enter into our wounds, and we trust Him wholehearted, we find that sorrow contains inexplicable, inexpressible joy. Joy elevates our hearts to the heights of heaven. We are able to soar above the mere experience of suffering when joy permanently resides in our hearts. At times, we are capable of losing sight of the suffering altogether when we are enraptured in God’s love.”
“From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph” by Jeannie Ewing is a book that will help bring healing and hope to wounded hearts. It is a valuable tool for both lay people as well as professional counselors and spiritual directors who deal with those who are grieving.
~ copyright Jean M. Heimann July 2016
This book review is participating in Carolyn Astfalk's Open Book, where you can read other book reviews. Be sure to check out the great reads there.
Jeannie Ewing is a writer, speaker, and grief recovery coach. She is the co-author of Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. Jeannie has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Tony Agnesi’s radio show Finding God’s Grace. For more information on her professional services, visit her websites lovealonecreates.com or fromgrief2grace.com. You can also follow her on Google+, Twitter @JeanEwing07, and Facebook at fromgrief2grace and lovealonecreates.
You can find From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Sophia Institute Press, and at Catholic bookstores.