Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Christian Living in the Trenches, Depression and Faith | 4 comments


Nick Challies attended Boyce College in Kentucky to begin his training for vocational Christian ministry. On November 3, 2020, while playing a game with his sister, fiancee and other students, he suddenly collapsed and never regained consciousness.

His dad, Tim, a writer and pastor, processed his grief through poignant reflections written over a one-year period beginning the day after Nick died. He traced his journey through the four seasons of fall, winter, spring and summer. The outcome is Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God.

Tim walks the reader through his brutal, heart-rending anguish and shows how truths of the gospel penetrated the darkness and enabled him to steward the sorrow for the sake of others who experience it. Whether you’ve lost a loved one or your type of affliction is radically different, you’ll profit immensely from the Bible truths and other means of grace that continue to sustain Tim, his wife and daughters. What he shares ministered to me in relation to depression. Several times I wept as I read, not only due to seeing Tim’s pain, but tears of gratitude for gospel truths that also sustain me in a far less agonizing affliction than Tim’s.

You won’t find glib bromides or superficial treatment of God’s Word, but you will see illustrations and vivid descriptions of God’s grace. You’ll see why Randy Alcorn said this about the book: “There is no pretense here, no airbrushing death or minimizing it. Yet it is a hopeful book that embraces the blood-bought promises of God that one day he will reverse the curse and swallow up death forever.”

In the review that follows, Tim’s words are in italics. I sometimes glean his statements on a given topic from various paragraphs or pages. He might not have written every sentence sequentially, but the actual words are his.

This is a lengthy review for two reasons: First, I want the gospel truths he cites to minister to you even if you don’t purchase the book. Second, Seasons of Sorrow is one of the most significant, helpful books I’ve ever read.


The Pain of Loss

The day Tim and his wife received the call about Nick’s death, they “cried and cried until we could cry no more, until there were no tears left to cry.” He admitted that “the loss is painful beyond any I’ve ever known and is causing me to cry out from the deepest parts of my being.” Here’s another effort to describe effects of the tragic news:

The doctor’s pronouncement of his death was like a heavy darkness creeping in and settling around me, dulling my senses, trapping me in a shadow. Though my eyes have remained clear, my mind has not. My heart has not. Everything is muffled and distorted. Things that should be easy are difficult. My memory is full of holes. I’ve lost the ability to make decisions. I’m lost. I’m confused. I’m discombobulated. I’m so very weary.

I don’t even know what to feel about my faith, about my God. I feel so much and yet so little. My pain is searing and dull. I’m writhing in agony and lying still, crying and laughing, rejoicing and lamenting. What am I supposed to do? How can I orient myself when everything is so dim, so dull, so dark?

How Are You Doing?

During those first few months after his son’s death, Tim explained his internal reaction to the question, “How are you doing?”

While at this exact moment I may be doing okay, it’s possible that fifteen minutes earlier, I was so overwhelmed with sorrow I could barely stand. It’s possible that fifteen minutes later, I’ll be reveling in the joy of knowing that my son is safely home in heaven. I can go from joy to sorrow and back again in moments.

I Still Love Nick, But…..

Tim cites the sadness of not being able to show concrete forms of love to Nick. He could no longer send Nick encouraging letters while he was away in college, or brew coffee for him and greet him with a hug when Nick was home.

One of the great sorrows that comes with the death of a loved one is being left with feelings that can no longer be acted on. Yet the feelings of love remain and are even greater through the lens of loss. But the ability to love him is as far gone as he is. Whereas before I could always speak a kind word to him or send him a small gift, now he is beyond the benefit of my encouragement. He can no longer receive the tokens of my affection. My love is strong, but my mouth has been rendered silent, my hands powerless.

What Could Have Been

The spring day that had been scheduled for Nick’s wedding was an extremely difficult one. Tim and his wife visited Nick’s grave. Fresh waves of grief washed over them as they pondered what could have been or should have been, perhaps thinking of Nick’s planned future ministry, his marriage, his children. Tim recounts the short trip  to the cemetery: “We drive in silence, our tears saying what our mouths cannot.” Tim cited a form of sorrow that only parents who’ve lost a child understand: “I’ve mourned what was, but today I mourn what will never be.”

Heightened Grief

Tim’s mourning as a father was exacerbated by the excruciating pain of his wife and two daughters: “Deeper even than the sorrow of suffering a great bereavement is the sorrow of watching my wife and daughters endure one. It is grief added to grief, sorrow atop sorrow, burden upon burden.”

Now I’ll shift from book snippets revealing Tim’s sorrow to evidences of God’s reassuring grace. These examples are merely representative, far from an exhaustive list of means of support he received.


The Comfort of God

What anchored Tim and his family when waves of grief slammed against them?

The Sovereignty of a Good God

In a chapter titled “God Is Good All The Time,” Tim discusses the mysterious, yet hope-instilling doctrine of God’s sovereignty as it related to Nick’s death:

Sovereignty is an attribute of God himself, who rules heaven and earth to such a degree that nothing happens or can happen apart from his will. Nothing is given to us that does not pass first through his own hand….God’s sovereignty is a sweeping doctrine that touches every aspect of life across every moment of creation and every corner of the universe. There is no moment, no spot, no deed, no death that falls outside of it. It assures me that it was ultimately no one’s will but God’s that Nick lived just twenty short years, that he died with so much left undone.

Tim’s discussion of this bedrock doctrine goes on to view God’s sovereignty in the context of His other attributes, such as his goodness:

While God’s sovereignty offers comfort, it offers comfort only if I know something more, something of his character…If I am laying my head  on any pillow in these days, it is the pillow of God’s goodness….I don’t necessarily understand how God is good in this, or why taking my son is consistent with goodness, but I know it must be. If Nick’s death was not a lapse in God’s sovereignty, it was also not a lapse in his goodness….God can’t not be good!

Ultimately, to say “Thy will be done” is to say, “Thy goodness be shown.” It’s to seek out evidence of God’s goodness even in the hardest of his providences. It’s to worship him, even with a broken heart. Nick was a gift I received with such joy, such gratitude, such praise. He was a gift I am releasing with such pain, such sadness, such sorrow….As I blessed him in the giving, I will bless him in the taking, for he is good all the time, and all the time he is good.

The Sympathy of Christ

The portrait of Jesus in Isaiah 53:3-5 and Hebrews 4:15-16 compelled Tim to take his sorrow to the Lord. Here’s the verses in Hebrews: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Tim explains:

Though I am a writer by trade, and words are my currency, I still lack the ability to express the deep sorrow of losing a child…The sorrow is not only beyond description, but also beyond my own comprehension. Yet I am confident that there is One who understands what I cannot. God’s Son is the man of sorrows who is intimately acquainted with grief and who can sympathize with me in my every weakness.

The Holy Spirit’s Intercession

When Tim tried to pray during those early days after Nick’s death, he didn’t know what to say or what to request. But these verses ministered to him on such occasions: “The Spirit helps in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

 This grief is lodged deep in the soul, inexpressible by mind or mouth…His spirit, I am assured, intercedes with groanings too deep to utter, too deep for words. I feel special comfort in these, the Spirit’s groanings, for I am often unable to do more than groan, sigh and sob. My prayers are often devoid of words, yet still full of meaning, full of significance. Sometimes the best I can say is, “God! God! You know.”  It’s a comfort to know that he is in the business of understanding and interpreting what I find inexpressible.

The Promises of God

Tim compares the promises in God’s Word to beautiful flowers set against the stark desert sand. One promise that strengthens his soul is in Romans 8:28: “For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

God makes many promises, and the best of them are for the worst times. It is when we are struck down and very nearly destroyed that we most crave God’s comfort, God’s assurance, God’s words of peace. Perhaps the most precious of all is this: all things work for good. Those who love God and are loved by him can have confidence that he is working through all of life’s circumstances to bring good out of bad, light our of darkness, joy out of sorrow….No event is meaningless, no situation purposeless, no condition ultimately hopeless. God is working out his good will, not despite dark days, difficult trials, and broken hearts, but through them…God’s specialty is is not bringing good from good, but good from bad.

Focus on the Future

Tim described what was going on inside him at Nick’s burial:

My life has known no moment harder than this….I stand with my arms around my two girls, tears coursing down my face, turmoil ravaging my heart. A piece of me is being buried. A piece of my heart. A piece of my soul. A piece of my very self.

Yet amid the death, amid the grief, amid the sobs, I can sense something arising, something swelling. Deep in the darkness, almost imperceptibly, something is stirring to life. It is hope….Though my eyes are fixed on the dirt, my heart is fixed on Christ. The hope rising in my heart as my son is being sown into the earth is the hope of resurrection. This is not a fingers-crossed, wish-upon-a-star kind of hope but a sure and steady conviction that what is sown perishable will be raised imperishable….I can be certain that while Nick’s body is being sown into the ground, his soul has entered the hallowed halls of heaven where there are none but those who came to glory through the grave.

Near the end of the book, Tim adds:

The death of death has been guaranteed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death is a defeated adversary, a flaccid foe, a chained enemy who can go not one step farther than God allows…Death, did you bring any great harm to Nick when you took him from my side? No, for when you took Nick from my side, you delivered him to the Savior’s. 

Tim’s words to death continued, where he alludes to the promise in Revelation 21:4 that in the new heaven and new earth, there will be no more death, mourning, pain or tears. Tim’s words also stem from and were inspired by John Donne’s poem, “Death, Be Not Proud.”

Death, raise your chin and look me in the eye as I say it: You did Jesus no harm, you can do me no harm, and you did Nick no harm. Death, be not proud, for one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and you shall be no more. Death, you shall die!


A New Ministry

Tim referred to a significant outcome of his suffering, as revealed in 2 Corinthians 1:4-5. Paul referred to God as “the God of all comfort.” Then he said that God “comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

If death is the  great interrupter, it is also the  great redirector. Nick’s death is not the end of my calling in life but a new beginning to it. It hasn’t closed out my story, but it has opened a new chapter for me. If each of us is called by God to to take up some kind of ministry, Nick’s death has called and equipped me to take up a new kind, a ministry I wasn’t expecting.

He calls some to bear witness of his goodness in grief. He calls some to grieve faithfully. And I’m convinced this is a ministry God has called me to, the ministry of sorrow, a ministry of faithful suffering. I could only be fitted to this ministry by a great loss….I can bear witness that faith can survive sorrow, that we can be content even in loss, that when we are weak, then we are truly strong. for it is when we are weak that he provides us with his strength.

I’m deeply wounded, deeply scarred, deeply broken. Yet I know it is God who decreed this suffering and I accept it as something meaningful, something precious, something sacred. I accept it as a training for ministry he has called me to….Through this ministry, I can come alongside others who face a similar loss and minister to them in their sorrow, comfort them with the comfort with which I myself have been comforted by God….I have been given what I need to truly weep with those who weep, for they will be crying the very same tears that have so often filled my own eyes.

One form that Tim’s “ministry of sorrow” takes is this book. Read it for yourself and give a copy to someone who’s currently suffering grievously. Tim’s theology of suffering, interspersed with his own agonizing experience, indicates that Tim is, indeed, faithful in carrying out his ministry of sorrow.



Please note: comments are closed after two weeks. You are welcome to contact me directly after that time if you would like to share your thoughts.


  1. Terry, thank you so much for sharing this. Not only did it minister to me, but I am going to purchase the book for a dear friend who is grieving the loss of her husband.
    God bless you.❤️🙏

    • Hi Terri–thanks for your note and for getting the book for someone. Hope you are well. Terry on March 4, 2024

  2. I resonate greatly withis. I still weep over my departed son and my divorced wife. But God is good…

    • Thanks for your note, Michael. I know you suffer a lot physically, and may the Lord be gracious to you.


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