Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Is There Life After Loss?

Leslie Basham: When you’re suffering, you have a unique opportunity to reach out to other suffering people. Here’s Nancy Guthrie.

Nancy Guthrie: Many women and men will say to me, “Well, I really can’t reach out to somebody until I’m better myself.” I’m here to tell you tonight: The way you become better yourself is to begin to reach out to other people.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, August 27.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, yesterday we began hearing the story of Nancy Guthrie whose daughter Hope was born with a rare congenital disorder and died several months later. Nancy shared openly about the deep grief that she and her husband experienced in the midst of that journey. She pointed us to God’s Word and showed us some wise practical steps for dealing with grief not only in the short term and the immediate crisis but over the long haul.

Now, Nancy’s story is so touching, and if you missed any of yesterday’s program, you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com. Today, Nancy will continue showing us how to deal with grief in a way that is honest and healthy and can ultimately result in a richer, more fruitful walk with the Lord. Let’s listen to Nancy Guthrie.

Nancy Guthrie: The second hard choice I think we have to make is to refuse to insist that our loss remain front and center in our world, in our interactions, in our relationships.

I think this is especially difficult for those of us who have gone through a loss where perhaps it was a long medical condition where everybody got used to checking in with us for the latest medical or treatment report. Every time we went to church, they were asking, “How’s it going?” Every week at Bible study they were praying for the treatments or for the person or for whatever it is. And every time we walked into church everybody asked us, “What’s going on?” Then for a while after the death, everyone asked us how we’re doing. We get kind of used to it just always being about us.

I want to say that to get through this, one of the hard choices you’re going to have to make to get through this is to refuse to insist that your loss remain front and center. When we resist making and keeping our loss front and center, we stay silent or we actively put the spotlight on someone else rather than on ourselves.

It reminds me of a friend of mine at one of the publishing companies I work with. She and I were talking about this one time. She went through breast cancer. She was at lunch with some friends—I don’t know exactly how it came up—but she brought up once again her bout with breast cancer. She said her friend turned to her and said, “Jan, when are you going to quit playing the cancer card?”

Maybe that seems tough to you, but she was glad she said it. She needed to hear it. Let’s not wait for someone to say that to us. Let’s just resist insisting that our loss is always front and center.

The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep—right? When we’re weeping, we want people to weep with those who weep. Don’t we? But we think that we get a pass on that other part about rejoicing with those who rejoice because, really, we’re sad. We’re weeping, and we can’t rejoice.

But you know what? If you want people to weep as you weep, don’t you want to rejoice, even in the midst of your sorrow, with those who rejoice?

The fifth thing is it’s going to require—getting through this—it’s going to require some telling yourself the truth. We have all kinds of voices in our head when we’re grieving, don’t we? These thoughts:

Thoughts that say: Your life will never be good again.

Thoughts that say, You’re going to be alone forever.

Thoughts saying, God must not love you if He allowed this to happen.

Thoughts of, I’m never going to fit in anywhere again.

So many thoughts go through our head; they scream at us. We have doubts that demand our attention. We have our worst fears whispering in our ear that this life will never be any good again.

Then we also have the enemy of our souls who wants to kick us when we’re down and take us down for good. So he tells us all things we should have done differently and fills our hearts with guilt and regret.

So, ladies, what are we going to do with these voices and these messages? We’re going to confront them with the truth.

First of all, we identify them. In those moments of especially strong despair and those thoughts are going through our heads, we capture them and set them out there. We say, “Is that true?” If it’s not, we start arguing with it in our heads and in our hearts, and we reject those lies. We reject those things.

After my daughter Hope died, especially in those first four to six months, I would get in the car and head out to the grave, out of a desire to feel close to her. You know that feeling, don’t you? I was thinking, Maybe if I go to the grave, maybe there I’ll feel close to her once again. I kept feeling like it was one of those bait-and-switch kind of commercials. I headed out there with the promise of feeling closer to her, and yet when I got to the grave, I felt awkward. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how long to stay, and I didn’t know what to say. Every time I went, I just felt like it was a bait-and-switch. I didn’t feel closer to her, and it didn’t seem fair, and yet I would occasionally go out there.

One day I was getting ready to head out there, and my sweet husband David said to me (I was telling him that sense of how I felt, that bait-and-switch, and that I went out there to feel closer to her, and I didn’t), and so he just looked at me he said, “Why do you keep going?”

It was one of those moments where I tried to bring to the foreground, “What is the voice I’m hearing that is telling me to go? What is it saying to me?”

I said to him, “Because I don’t want her to feel ignored by me.”

And David said, “Well, do you think she can feel ignored by you?”

And it set me free. Now I can go to the grave or I can not go to the grave. But confronting that thought I had, that feeling I had, that fear I had of her feeling ignored by me, laying it out for what it was, evaluating it, testing it to see if it was true, confronting it with the truth, set me free from that.

Another experience I had with that was, after we had my daughter Hope, we knew that it was because David and I share a genetic trait for that syndrome, then my husband David had a vasectomy because we then knew that whenever we had a child, that child has a twenty-five percent chance of having that fatal syndrome. So David had the vasectomy. You can imagine my surprise, to put it mildly, to discover a year-and-a-half after Hope died that I was pregnant.

But I wasn’t just surprised. I was afraid—afraid about what it might mean to perhaps love and lose another child. I went through prenatal testing. We discovered that this time I was carrying a son, our son Gabriel, who was also born with the fatal syndrome. He was also with us just a short six months.

The reality of Hope and Gabe’s lives is that they were the same but yet different. If that makes any sense at all. With Hope’s life, so much of my sorrow I could define by being a grand disappointment.

People ask me all the time, “Were you angry?”

I said, “No, that wasn’t my primary emotion. My primary emotion was disappointment.”

I was so disappointed not to have a daughter, not to have a toddler, not to have an elementary-school-aged girl, and now not to have a girl starting in the youth group. Disappointment.

I had expectations for her life, of who she would be, and who she would be to me: my friend in old age. I had to let go of those, and that was a disappointment.

But it was different with Gabe because we knew early on that he would have the syndrome. So in a different way, I never gained these huge expectations about what his life would be with me. So I didn’t feel the disappointment. Does that make sense? My grief took some different contours.

I think it was also different because, let’s face it: Grief is scary. At least it was for me because I really did wonder, Am I going to feel like this forever? What am I going to be like down the road? How is this going to change me? How am I going to come out of this on the other side?

So grief the first time was so scary, and so, frankly, it was less scary the second time. It was more familiar territory. Our son Gabe was also with us six months. There were times when I thought, I’m not as sad as I was after Hope died. And that made me feel awful. I would ask myself, Is this because I didn’t love him as much?

Once again I had to test these thoughts with the truth and just say, “Is that the truth? Is the fact that my grief feels different, perhaps feels less, does that mean I loved him less?” I had to stare it down and say, “No, it does not! You see, love is not defined by a feeling. Love is an action. And I loved him well.”

The sixth thing is that it’s going to take some reaching out to someone else.

That week after Hope died, a bunch of people had given us books, and in the silence of that week, I began pulling out some of those books and looking at them. I remember reading in one of these books, “There’s only one thing to do to get rid of the pain.”

You would have thought that I was in the desert and they were telling me where to find water, because I felt so much pain that I felt desperate to do whatever it took to not have to feel it. I was imagining what it might be like if I had to feel that much pain forever.

And so as I read the book, I was like, “Okay, what is it? What’s the answer? What is the one thing?” And the he said it.

He said that the only way to deal with the pain was to serve others.

I thought, I don’t think so. He’s just a preacher, and this is like his motivational tool or something like that to get people out there. I just cannot imagine that could really be true, that there’s any way that could relieve any of the pain I feel.

But this book was written by a man who had lost three children, and I thought, “Okay, I don’t think he’s going to lie to me about this. He knows he’s talking to other people who have experienced this devastating pain. So I’m going to give it a try.

David hadn’t gone back to work yet, so we put on our grubby clothes. One of my best friends from college had become a widow during the time that I was carrying Hope. The night before Hope died, she had moved to a house in our neighborhood. It was a house that had sat empty for several months, and so all of the shrubs and yard had grown up and was just an absolute mess. So David and I put on our grubby clothes. We loaded up all of our lawn tools, and we went over to her house.

As we trimmed shrubs and pulled weeds, we wept. But the beautiful thing was, it wasn’t just weeping for ourselves or even primarily for ourselves. As I worked there at her house, I thought about how painful it must have been to move out of the house that she had shared with her husband, with her children, into a house where she had never known him. I thought of how scary it must have been to be starting life on her own with these three children.

I began to enter into her sorrow, and it lightened mine. This was a wonderful discovery for me to make. I hope this is the discovery you have made. If not, will you open your eyes and look around you for someone that you could reach out to? Not in spite of your pain, but uniquely because of your pain. It’s your pain that actually makes you more sensitive to their needs, more aware of what might be more helpful, it's what makes you more motivated to move into their lives in a powerful way. Ladies, will you let your pain drive you toward other hurting people? And in the process, discover that God is actually using that to heal you.

Now, many women and men will say to me, “Well, I really can’t reach out to somebody until I’m better myself.” I’m here to tell you tonight: The way you become better yourself is to begin to reach out to other people. Don’t wait until the pain is completely gone to begin to reach out and help other people.

If you’re that woman who’s experienced a miscarriage, won’t you let that drive you to be the first woman on the doorstep of the women in your church when you hear she’s had a miscarriage?

Or if you’ve experienced the devastation of a divorce, and you know what it’s like to walk into church alone and wonder who knows and what they’re saying, won’t you let that drive you to pick up the phone and call that women you know in your church whose husband has left her? You can say, “You know what? I’m going to meet you at the front door next week, and I’ll sit with you, and then we’ll go out to lunch.”

Begin to reach out to someone else.

Finally, number seven: It’s going to take God Himself filling up the empty places in your life. We try to fill up the emptiness in the midst of loss with so many things. Ladies, I know that there’s a big empty place.

For some of you, there’s an empty bedroom in your house. Some of you are sleeping in an empty bed. There’s an empty place at the table. Maybe there’s an empty bank account, or an empty schedule, or an empty future. What are you going to do with this gaping emptiness?

Well, as Jenny spoke to us tonight, she gave us the answer to this deep, incredible emptiness we feel. It’s Jesus’ words to the apostle Paul when he had the thorn in his flesh. His words were, “My grace is sufficient.” In other words, “I will be enough for you. I will be enough to fill up the emptiness.”

Perhaps you stayed up late tonight because you see the emptiness in your life as your greatest problem. I want you to know tonight that God does not see your emptiness as a problem. God sees your emptiness as an opportunity, an open place that can be filled up with Himself.

That is what we see in the Bible over and over again. What is the first verse in the first book of the Bible? Anybody remember? "And God created the heavens and the earth." It was formless and what? It was empty. What happened? The Spirit hovered over the waters, and the Word of God went out. The chaotic emptiness of the world was filled with light and life and fruitfulness and purpose.

You see, God does His best work with empty when, by His Spirit, He begins to fill it with Himself.

Think of a few chapters later in Genesis. God is calling a people to Himself. He begins with one man, Abraham. At the end of Genesis chapter 10 we read what I think is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. It says that he had a wife Sarah. And what does it say about her? “She was barren.” Almost as if that’s not enough for us, it’s almost repeated, “She had no children.”

Now this is a profound emptiness, isn’t it? A lifetime of an empty womb, and some of you know exactly what that feels like month after month.

But Sarah’s emptiness was not a problem to God. He came, and He said, “Next year at this time, you’re going to have a baby.” Her womb was filled with a baby they called Laughter. And their lives were filled with laughter and joy because God does His best work with empty.

Then later there’s another woman, and it’s also impossible for her to be pregnant. Not because she’s old, but because she’s never been with a man. And the angel comes to Mary, and he says that she’s going to have a Son. She says, “How can this be?” Well, how is it going to be? “The Spirit will come; the Spirit will overshadow you; the Spirit will hover, and the womb was filled with life”—the very Life of God.

So this is my close to you, ladies. I know some of you really are wondering, What’s it going to take to get through this? This is perhaps the most significant answer, and that is you invite God to fill up the emptiness in your life and in your home with Himself, with His very life. All of your emptiness He will fill it up. He is enough.

Nancy: Well, Nancy Guthrie has been providing the kind of rich insight that all of us need to hear no matter what we may be going through. As Nancy learned, not just in theory, and not just from a textbook, but in the laboratory of life and painful life experiences, in every situation the Lord really is enough. He truly is all that we need.

Nancy’s been sharing some very practical thoughts about how to deal with pain and loss in a way that is honest, and how to lean on the Lord’s strength through the most difficult seasons of life. She’s studied this topic carefully from God’s Word, and she’s lived it out in her own seasons of loss.

She has shared even more of her journey in a book that I think will be a great help to many of our listeners. It’s called, Holding On to Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God.

We’d like to make that book available to our listeners today, and we’ll be glad to send it to you as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. You can give us a call at 1-800-569-5959, or you can visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

When you make your donation, let us know that you’d like to get a copy of Nancy’s book, Holding On to Hope. I believe that book will be a rich source of encouragement and grace either to you personally or maybe to a friend or loved one who’s going through a really difficult time.

Let me encourage you, if you are walking through a season of grieving and loss, and you need somebody to pray for you, would you just send us an email at info@reviveourhearts.com. We would be glad to have one of our prayer partners lift you and that prayer request up to the Lord, to take you to the throne of grace.

So again, if you’re going through a season of grieving or loss and you want somebody to pray for you, our prayer team would be glad to do that. Just send us an email at info@reviveourhearts.com. Share the burden that’s upon your heart, and it would be our privilege, our honor to lift you up to the Lord in prayer.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy.

Is there a bold task the Lord has put on your heart? Tomorrow, Nancy Leigh DeMoss talks about what it takes to move forward and embrace the role God has called you to. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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