Grieving a LossGrieving with Hope
Leslie Basham: As Nancy Guthrie suffered the loss of her daughter, she didn’t find it helpful when people recommended she “move on with life.”
Nancy Guthrie: Those very words make it sound like I was leaving my loved one behind and forgetting that that person was here. No. I don’t want to “move on.”
Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, for Monday, August 26.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Day after day, we receive emails, letters, and calls from Revive Our Hearts listeners who share with us some kind of personal tragedy or trauma that they’re going through—maybe in their marriage, maybe with their children, maybe with physical health issues.
In this life, grief is inevitable. There’s no way around it. Everyone is going to experience heartache and sorrow; that’s just part of living in a fallen world. We can’t avoid it, and we need godly, biblical wisdom on how to deal with grief and heartache.
My friend, Nancy Guthrie, is going to provide some of that godly wisdom for us today. Nancy’s a student of God’s Word; she’s a Bible teacher for women, so what she says comes out of a careful reading and study of the Scripture. But, as we’re about to hear, Nancy also has a heart for hurting women, because she has experienced deep loss and grief at a very personal level.
If you’re in a place of grieving right now, my prayer is that God will use this message to strengthen and encourage your heart. Even if you’re not in a hard place right now, I think this message will give all of us perspective, no matter what tough things we may be facing today or perhaps just around the corner.
Nancy delivered this message at the Gospel Coalition’s women’s conference last year. Let’s listen to Nancy Guthrie.
Nancy Guthrie: A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour or two on the phone with a gal who called me from Canada. A couple of years ago she had buried a son, and about a week before, she had now buried a daughter. Even though she has been through grief before, her question to me was one that I have heard over and over again.
I’m thinking that perhaps it might be the question that has drawn you here to this session. That is the very real question, “What’s it going to take to get through this?” “What’s it going to take to come out on the other side of this and have joy again? Is it possible after this kind of loss that my life could actually be good again?”
When she called me on the phone, she told me that she had observed women around her. She said,
I’ve seen a couple of things that are most difficult. I have seen women who have become hard and bitter toward God and other people after loss. I don’t want to be like that.
I’ve seen other women who seem to be so broken and crushed it's like they can never pursue joy again; that they’ve become so weak that they can never walk in the strength of the Lord again. I don’t want to be that person, either. So what is it going to take to get through this?
The first thing it’s going to take is, it’s going to take some time to be sad. My son, who turns twenty-two this week, was eight years old when my husband, David, and I had a daughter named Hope. Hope was born with a rare metabolic disorder. She couldn’t see, and she couldn’t hear, and she couldn’t respond.
She was just missing a tiny, subcellular particle that you and I have in every cell of our body, that she needed for life. When she was born, the doctors told us that already a lot of damage had been done in utero to all of her major organs—especially her liver, kidney, and brain.
The doctors told us that there was no treatment and no cure; that most children with that syndrome live less than six months. I’ve got to tell you, that’s the day that sadness came into my life in a way I certainly didn’t go to the hospital expecting; in a way I never could have imagined.
Honestly, during Hope’s life, I kind of thought to myself—I don’t know if it was naivete or wishful thinking—Okay, since I’ve got this time during Hope’s life to prepare for her death, to anticipate her death, then perhaps grief for me afterward won’t be as bad. I’ll get some of it out now, and then it won’t be that bad.
Well, Hope was with us for 199 days, and then we said “good-bye.” I felt like inside me was a big ball of ulcerated pain and that it had to be washed away and soothed and drained by tears. So it’s going to take some time to be sad.
I’ll always remember a few months later going to the choir retreat for my church choir and standing up at the choir retreat and saying to the people there, “Listen, I’m not slipping into depression, and I haven’t lost my faith. I just need you to give me some time and space to be sad.”
In the church sometimes we think—or at least we give the impression that we think—if your faith is strong then you won’t have to be sad. Ladies, if you haven’t figured it out yet, we live in a world that is so broken. Those of us who are joined to Christ are not exempt from experiencing the brokenness of this world. Faith does not make loss hurt less. David and I thought it would.
When we were walking away from putting Hope’s body in the ground, David said to me, "I think we thought faith would make this hurt less, and it doesn’t." It kept us from despair. It filled us with hope and confidence in seeing her again and all that is to come, but it doesn’t make loss hurt less. Somehow, we think it should.
Somehow, we also think there should be a time limit on these tears. I remember a lady coming up to me in church who had recently been widowed. She stopped me after church, and she said, “I cry when I’m getting ready for work in the morning. I cry all day at work. I cry in the car on the way home, and then I get home and I cry. What’s wrong with me?”
I just said to her, “Wasn’t your husband worthy of a great sorrow? What would make us think that to lose someone of such great worth—someone that you loved so deeply—that you wouldn’t be sad that he’s gone?” But while I’m saying to you and I mean it, it’s going to take some time to be sad. I also want to encourage you with this word . . ." It's another gem of wisdom from my husband.
We had also assumed that either you’re very sad, or you have joy. What’s amazing is how joy and sadness can coexist. I’m just wondering, how many of you in this room would say, “That’s exactly been my experience, and I’ve been amazed by it—that joy and sorrow can coexist.”
In fact, I actually think that a person who has had great sorrow has a larger capacity for joy. It's almost as if the sorrow expands our capacity so that we can feel joy more deeply, more persistently. It’s going to take some time to be sad. Also, it’s going to take some time spent searching the Scriptures.
Someone can’t go through a devastating loss that leaves them with all kinds of questions about who God is and how He’s working in the world and expect that just week to week sitting in the sermon or even in Sunday School class is going to get those questions answered.
This kind of loss pushes us. I think it’s part of the gift that came in the package we never would have wanted. It's part of the gift of an incredible loss, this sense of, “God, I thought I knew You, and I thought I understood what this Christian life was all about and how you work with those who put their faith in You. Now that has all fallen apart, so I’ve got to start again with You—figuring out really who You are. What are You doing in this world? How is it, why is it, that You would allow this?”
We’re not going to figure those things out just in conversation with other people. We’re not going to figure those things out with a casual approach to God’s Word. We’re not going to figure those things out by occasionally opening the Bible, looking for passages that will bring comfort.
In fact, I think that actually the Bible, at times, is not a comforting book at all. Certainly, I don’t think the Bible was written to be used in this way—to go at it in bits and pieces, looking specifically for a little piece of comfort that will soothe my pain.
I think the only way we find comfort in the Bible is as our pain forces us to dig deep in the Bible, specifically to become clearer on the big picture story of the Bible. The only way I’ve been able to make sense of suffering is to come to a deeper understanding of what happened in the Garden.
The only way we can accept that God is doing something good in this world, including in the losses of life, is to look back at the Garden and see how good it was, and to see all that He had intended to share with His people . . . to dwell with them, to be their God, and for them to be His people. And then how that was lost in the midst of Adam’s and Eve’s sin.
But right there in the Garden, He made it clear in the way that He put the curse on the serpent. He also promised that the day would come when there would be an offspring of the woman and that the serpent would bruise His heel, but this Offspring would crush his head.
Maybe for a lot of people, that just seems like a bunch of gobbledegook theology. If you are hurting deeply in this world, this is the first announcement of your greatest hope. That is, God is not going to leave this world this broken, where there’s this much suffering, forever.
He began, even that day, working out His plan to put an end to suffering; to put an end to death. So many times people will say when something hard happens that they’re so mad at God. This is where diving into the Scripture helps us. It makes me want to say, “Well, shouldn’t we be mad at what’s really to blame—who is really to blame?” We see it right there in Genesis 3.
What is the cause of all of our suffering in this world? It’s sin. Why doesn’t anybody ever say when something hard happens, “I am so mad at sin and this power that sin has to hurt those I love!”? So it’s going to take some time spent digging into the Scriptures.
Thirdly, it’s going to take some forgiving and then more forgiving. Really, throughout Hope’s life, especially early on (I’m embarrassed to tell you) I kind of kept a list of who had said something to us and who hadn’t. I don’t mean a physical, written list, but mind you, I knew.
I knew who had had the courage to approach us and who had turned around and avoided us. My inner response to that was a creeping, growing resentment. “How could they? How callous! Don’t they know?” The truth is, no, they don’t know.
Over time, especially after Hope died, I began to look at it from another angle and think about how difficult it must have been for people to know what to say to us. What do you say to a mom and dad whose child is dying? It’s not getting better; there are no good medical reports.
We want to say to say something that’s useful, intelligent, comforting, whatever. So for those of you who have been going through grief, and maybe you’re seeing in yourself a growing disappointment with how your friends are responding (those ones that you thought would be there with you at the lowest moment of life and they disappeared). You find yourself growing in resentment toward them.
Maybe your resentment is with your family. They should get it; they should know what to say, we think, right? Oh ladies, it’s going to take some forgiving. I tell you what, I think the only way this happens is as we invite the Holy Spirit to do a great work of forgiveness in our hearts.
The only way we ever forgive anybody of anything and really have the power to do that, I think, is as we begin to see how much we have been forgiven. That’s the only way we find our foothold to begin to forgive someone else. If you’re like me, the reason I quite often don’t want to forgive is because, frankly, they don’t deserve it . . . right? And yet God has given us this generous forgiveness.
Ladies, if you have experienced a generous forgiveness from your Father, won’t you let the generous forgiveness that you have experienced overflow from your life out onto the people around you who have hurt you so deeply? Once you do that, you probably need to recognize that they might hurt your feelings again tomorrow. That’s why I say, it’s going to take some forgiving and probably some more forgiving.
I think that's how we who are going through grief know that the Holy Spirit is doing a supernatural work within us, even in the midst of our grief. That is, instead of keeping track of wrongs, and who has said what, and what they said and didn’t say; we find ourselves extending a verbal, emotional, and even a physical hand toward people we can see hovering around that don’t know what to say. It’s almost as if we give them a hand and help them over that awkward hurdle and invite them into an interaction. We don't stand there waiting to see if they know the right thing to say or if they will embarrass themselves and offend us with the wrong thing. We just invite them in and look forward to the opportunity of being a blessing to them as they enter in to the sadness in our lives, even if they don’t know what to say.
The fourth thing it’s going to take to get through this is that it’s going to require that we make some hard choices. I’m going to mention a couple that I think are hard choices.
In the midst of grief, it’s our grief that keeps us feeling close to the person that we have lost. So, the idea that we might wake up one day and it’s not the first thing we think about, we’re not sure we really like that. Maybe we say we want to feel better, but the truth is, there’s a part of our grief that brings a comfort because our grief over the one we have lost is what keeps us feeling close to them.
Here is what I think is one of the hardest things about grief. We don’t want the world to forget the person who has died, and yet we must come to the place—if we want to pursue healing—where we give grief permission to loosen its hold on us.
Now, what we don’t want to hear someone say is, “Now, don’t you think it’s time to move on?” Oh, don’t we hate that? “What are you talking about? Move on!? Because those very words seem like leaving my loved one behind and forgetting that person was here. No. I don’t want to ‘move on.’”
But, ladies, we do want to move forward. Do you hear the difference? There’s a bit of difference. To “move on” is like leaving that loved one behind you. To “move forward” is to take God at His Word, that He is Jehovah Rapha, He is the Healer. He has the power to and desires to bring healing into the broken places of your life.
So getting through this is going to require making the hard choice to not become women who are defined by our grief. Do you know women like that? At some point, it just became their identity; it’s the context in which they deal with anyone; it’s just who they are, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s any desire to be defined by anything else except loss.
Ladies, there is only thing we want to be defined by, and it is not our grief. We want to be defined only by our connection to Jesus Christ. We want to be defined by Christ alone—not by the losses in our lives.
Another reason this is a hard choice is that it feels like if we begin to let grief loosen its grip on us, that maybe what that means is we no longer love the person like we used to. That’s a very painful possibility, isn’t it? Here’s the truth to hold onto, ladies: Your love for the person that you lost is not defined by your ongoing misery.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve been listening to Nancy Guthrie as she’s been sharing her story about grief and loss after she experienced the loss of a daughter who was born with a rare congenital disorder. I so appreciate how honest Nancy is about the hurt and the grief that we go through, and even more, that she keeps pointing us to the truth of God’s character and His Word . . . the truth that we can trust, no matter what may be going on around us.
You may want to know more about Nancy’s story and the perspective God has given her through that. I want to encourage you to pick up a copy of her book called, Holding On to Hope. Of course, Hope was the name of the little girl that Nancy and her husband lost.
Holding On to Hope—the subtitle is A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God. In this book Nancy frames her story with the book of Job, and the story of how Job found a pathway through his suffering to the heart of God. Through this book I believe you’ll find out how your suffering can actually be a journey that takes you closer to God’s heart.
We’d be glad to send you a copy of Nancy’s book when you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. We’re trying day after day to encourage hurting and grieving women. You can be a part of that ministry when you make a contribution to Revive Our Hearts.
You can give us a call to let us know you’d like to make a gift at 1-800-569-5959. If you’d rather make your donation online, you can do that at ReviveOurHearts.com. When you do, be sure to let us know that you’d like a copy of Nancy’s book, Holding On to Hope.
Leslie Basham: Thank you, Nancy. Tomorrow, Nancy Guthrie will join us again. After the events we heard about today, Nancy continued to go through suffering. Hear how she kept leaning on the Lord, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.