Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God, Tim Challies.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2022.  Hardcover, 208 pages.

I’ve ministered to several parents over the years who’ve lost children in youth or adulthood (I still regularly think of all of you).  Never having experienced that kind of a loss myself, I really don’t know what it’s like.  However, after reading Tim Challies’ latest I do now have a much better idea.

Seasons of Sorrow is about the loss of Tim’s son Nick.   He was a 20 year old seminary student full of faith and vigour.  On November 3, 2020, he suddenly collapsed during a sports activity and didn’t regain consciousness. The following day, Tim wrote on his blog:  “In all the years I’ve been writing, I have never had to type words more difficult, more devastating than these: Yesterday the Lord called my son to himself – my dear son, my sweet son, my kind son, my godly son, my only son.”

The book follows Tim’s grieving journey over the following year.  It’s divided up into 42 bit-size chapters.  Among those chapters you’ll find prayer, meditation, and letter writing.  It’s vulnerable, raw, and honest.  Challies doesn’t shy away from openly wrestling with his doubts and questions – struggling to understand what God’s Word has to say to him and his family in this tough place of grief.  In some places, he deals with the practical questions around the loss of a child.  For example, how do you respond when someone asks how many children you have? 

I’ve always enjoyed Challies’ crisp and clear style of writing.  He has a knack for using just the right analogy or illustration.  For example, he shares his thinking after the tough job of cleaning out Nick’s room.  He uses the analogy of all these immigrants coming to Toronto:

The younger people tend to come first, and then, as soon as they can, they fetch their spouses and children.  Once the family has become established and has built up some wealth, they reach back across the ocean to extend the invitation to their parents, grandparents, or other relatives.  As one family member after another makes the journey, the people remaining in India or Nigeria or the Philippines must feel their grip on their own countries begin to loosen.  As they watch a growing number of their loved ones make the journey to that far country, as their homes become emptier and emptier, their loyalties must become divided.  By the time their own paperwork has been cleared and they themselves are boarding a plane, they must feel every bit as much Canadian as they do Indian, Nigerian, or Filipino.  (p.104)    

In the same way, Christians gradually watch their loved ones depart for the heavenly homeland.  And:  “Eventually, there may be more of them in heaven than on earth, more to draw me there than to hold me here.”  What a great illustration and a great insight!

A caveat:  Seasons of Sorrow is not going to be a “one-size fits all” help for those who are grieving.  While Tim lost Nick in a sudden, tragic way, his son died a godly man with his faith firmly in Christ.  It happened in circumstances beyond any human control.  People lose children under different kinds of circumstances.  So this book might not be for you and it might not be for someone you care about who’s grieving the loss of a child.  Please keep that in mind if you’re considering it as a gift for someone else.  However, for the right believer who needs it, Tim’s book will be a helpful guide on how to grieve the loss of a child in a Christian way.  It’ll give sound gospel encouragement to help keep you trusting the good God through your tears.

Originally published in Clarion 72.14 (November 3, 2023)