How Does a Young Mother Survive Losing Two Babies?
Press Interview with Nancy Guthrie
At KCC’s #OneLove14 women’s event and #Oxygen2014 week-long conference last month in Sydney, the speaker that touched my heart the most was Nancy Guthrie. Here are questions the press asked Nancy and her candid answers.
Was there a time in your life where the rubber hit the road with your faith in Jesus?
Two days after our baby daughter Hope was born, the geneticist came in to my hospital room and told us that she had a rare metabolic disorder and would only live 6 months. I knew that this was going to be where my faith was tested. I grew up in church, went to Bible college and now was in Christian ministry. It’s easy to trust God when things are easy and another thing when your baby is dying. I had to re-think what I believed about prayer. Should I ask God for a miracle? What is the value in a life? Does God owe me a good life if I’ve “been good”? And if He is truly sovereign, what’s God’s involvement in this? Did He cause this? Did He allow it unwillingly? Did I bring this on myself? Did Satan do this? My desperation to know the answers and what God is doing in the world and my life sent me to Scripture like never before. Instead of running from God, I ran to Him.
In helping others, have you found Job’s response, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” to be something you can use to encourage people? Or is it hard for them to grasp that God really is sovereign and has the right to do whatever He wants, even if it hurts? How do you help them through that?
Absolutely that is hard for people to grasp because we have an equation all figured out with how life works with God. “I’m smart enough, good enough and spiritually inclined enough to give myself to God. He’s so lucky to have me and therefore He is obligated to give me a good life. And when I ask for something, it’s His job to give me what I ordered. Therefore, on that wrong basis, we think God has not done His job when something that is precious to us is taken away and that our anger is justified.
The first book I wrote, Holding Onto Hope – The Pathway Through Suffering, was about the book of Job. I had just studied Job 2 weeks before my baby, Hope, was born and 2 things stood out:
1 – Job’s instinctual immediate response to loss was to tear his robe, shave his head and fall down on His face to worship God. How did he do that? I don’t think, if I lost like he lost (all 10 of his children at once and all his wealth), that would be my first response! I hoped I could maybe come to that point after a period of time.
2 – The last verse of the book says Job died having lived a long good life. I remember thinking “That’s not what I have in mind when I think of a good life! Maybe I don’t understand what a good life is! I wonder how I would respond.” Two weeks later in the hospital, I realised, “I guess now I’m going to find out. Do I really believe everything I’ve said I believed?”
We think a good God will only give us what we think is good and would never take away something precious to us. If He does, then perhaps He’s not good. But Job, being the richest man in the East, understood that we are only stewards of God’s good gifts as opposed to thinking we’ve earned them, we deserve them and they are ours. How dare God take them from us! Job held onto what God had given him loosely and was thankful for what he had.
Another interesting thing is that, at the end of the story, God gives Job back 2 times the amount of wealth, but not twice the number of children. I think it speaks of the resurrection. A ‘health-and-wealth’ preacher would say, “You’ll get it back in this life”, ignoring eternity. See, Job never lost the other 10 children! Job realises everything in this life will not come out fairly. But in chapter 19 when he says he will see God, it helps us realise that when we know we have everything to gain in eternity, we don’t have to hold on to everything here on earth so tightly or resent God when He takes away things or people we love.
How do you protect yourself from being weighed down by the burden of all the sadness you help others carry in your counselling and the weekend retreats you and your husband hold?
The retreats are a gathering of 11 grieving couples living for the weekend in a lodge outside Nashville, TN. Some come not even wanting to be there or to share with complete strangers. But soon the physical weight of sorrow falls off and some of them laugh for the first time since they lost their child. When it’s time to leave, they wish they could stay longer because they’ve made 22 close friends who understand and “get” them, unlike most of their friends. So remembering the joy and healing with which the Holy Spirit wraps these hurting people and the restored relationships makes it worth the cost.
God promises in Romans 8:28 to cause good to come out of all things. What He does not promise is that He will always allow us to see what that good is. We can’t imagine any good sometimes. But I feel fortunate that God, day by day, is drawing back the curtain and showing me that the thing I trusted Him with is being used for good. He doesn’t owe me that, but I’m really grateful.
After Hope died, you found out you were pregnant again and that your baby, this time a son, had the same genetic disorder. Now you had to go through all that again! Were you furious? Were you scared? What went through your mind?
I’m thankful that I was in the Word when we got this news. Matthew 7 has the story of the wise man and foolish man. They were the same in that the Word of the Lord came to both of them. They both faced the same storm, yet the outcome for each was totally different. Notice the Bible says that the wise man worked the words of God into his life. God’s Word was the foundation for my life when my storm hit. It’s not that I wasn’t affected by the storm – because I was – but I wasn’t destroyed.
The day we found out that the child I was carrying would also die after a few short months, I’d been reading the story of Joseph – how his brothers treated him so cruelly, first intending murder, then selling him to get some money out of the deal. Then years later when they had to go to Egypt to buy food during the famine, they were terrified when Joseph told them who he was. But Joseph explained that they had not sent him away, but God had. “They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Joseph recognised the sovereign hand of God behind the scenes – that is wasn’t a human action that sent him into all those years of suffering. God shaped the events of His life and God is at work.
So when David and I found out that I was pregnant, even after surgical procedures to prevent it, I realised it wasn’t us, it was God. I just had a solemn sense of rest that if God has ordained this for our lives, He has something good He wants to do. He’s not out to hurt me, make me miserable or torture me.
The next day I had to go on a business trip and so I stayed a couple days after alone in a motel just to think and pray and cry. I said, “God, You’re gonna ask me to go through this again? You must have a really good reason. So whatever it is You want to do, please do it. Don’t let me keep you from doing all you want to accomplish in me and through me. What would really be a tragedy is if this is just wasted pain because I’m somehow resistant. So I’m going to surrender and trust You because I know You were really sufficient for me when I walked through it the first time.”
A couple hours later, I got an email that the Religion writer for “Time” Magazine wanted to do an article on our family! He came and stayed with us for 4 days, and though he didn’t share our faith, he shared our sorrow, going to the cemetery and everything. He wrote a beautiful article named “When God Hides His Face – Can Faith Survive When Hope Dies?”
God didn’t have to use our story publicly, but He has. And God used my sorrow to refine me and deepen me. Before my loss, there were lots of hurting people around me and I just didn’t see them. Now it’s a privilege to share in other’s lives, to be invited into the most tender parts of their heart believing that in our experience there might be something that could help them in the depths of the grief they’re going through. That’s an incredible privilege!
In tragedies, couples are often pushed apart. How do you help counter that?
The reason we do couples retreats is because grief puts a lot of pressure on a marriage. Now there’s this terrible statistic that floats around about the high percentage of divorces that result from the loss of a child. But a lady told me of a secular support group for couples who have lost children called “Compassionate Friends”. They conducted 2 scientific studies that proved that your marriage was even a bit less likely to end in divorce. But all of that aside, it does make sense, doesn’t it? Loss takes the marriage into whole new territory. Maybe you’ve worked out communication patterns, responsibilities patterns, and responses and suddenly you find yourself unprepared for what just happened.
Men and women grieve so differently, too. The essence of grief is a deep and pervasive loneliness and we got married so we wouldn’t be lonely, right? We tend to think that if I’m this lonely, my spouse must not be “being there for me” in the way they “ought” to be, because if they were, I wouldn’t feel this lonely. It can take a lot of expectation off of your spouse to recognise that even if my spouse was being perfect, I would still feel desperately lonely. This can help avoid the unfair expectations that result in conflict.
David and I were like two limping people who leaned in on each other. We gave each other plenty of grace. My grief came out in a heaviness of tears, sometimes at the most awkward moment. But men aren’t like that, so some wives think, “Are you shutting down? Don’t you even care?” We have to give our husbands permission to grieve their way. We also need to give permission to go on a vacation from grief. To not always be so intense. To get relief. So we have to learn how to navigate grief.
But grief is also an opportunity to become bonded to each other. David and I feel like nothing could tear us apart. We’ve gone through this hard thing together and gotten to know each other in a deeper way. Also we have a shared mission and purpose now that helps knit us closer together.
Thank you, dear Nancy, for your willingness to be vulnerable, for coming to Australia to bless 3,000 people and your ability to help us see suffering and life as not all about us, but about our good, awesome God! Joy