Redeeming Our Pain: A Lesson from Nancy Guthrie

Last weekend, I packed my van with friends, overnight bags and a cooler of drinks, and drove to St. Louis to hear author and speaker Nancy Guthrie. She was speaking at a women’s retreat coordinated by Central Presbyterian Church in Chesterfield, and many of us women from The Crossing made the drive to attend. I want to thank the women at Central Presbyterian for hosting the event; they did a remarkable job of attending to the details, and indeed I think they made us all feel pampered and welcomed.

I also want to thank them for the “welcome bag” that each woman received upon arrival Friday night. Among other things, inside that bag was a package of Kleenexes. They knew we would need them.

Nancy spoke Friday night and Saturday, using excerpts from her book Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow. Pulling from several stories in the gospel accounts, Nancy used specific events in Jesus’ life to explain why it is we can be confident that He understands what we are going through as we experience the searing pain of loss, the trial of a health issue, the death of a loved one – or any other devastating reality that is so common to life here on earth.

Nancy is a compelling speaker – personable, warm, intelligent and articulate. The reason, I think, is because when she talks about the pain of loss, she knows of what she speaks.

If you don’t know Nancy and her husband’s story, you would do well to read her bio on her website. After giving birth to their first child, a healthy boy, the Guthries later had a daughter, Hope, who lived a mere 199 days before succumbing to a rare chromosomal disorder called Zellweger Syndrome. Against great odds, both Guthries discovered they carried the recessive gene for this disorder, and any other children they had might well be born with this same disease.

After Hope’s death, Nancy’s husband underwent “a medical procedure” (her words) to prevent them from having another child and putting their family through such pain again. Not long after, again against all odds, Nancy was again pregnant – and Gabe was born. He, too, had Zellweger’s. Gabe lived 183 days, and is buried next to his sister, Hope.

Yes, Nancy understands sorrow.

There is much to be impressed about by this calm, intelligent woman. She did a wonderful job of exegeting passages from the Bible, and she compellingly communicated to the hearts of women in the room. But I think what is perhaps most unique and arresting about Nancy, and so very God-glorifying in my mind, is that she went through what I have to think is a mother’s worst fear, and instead of becoming bitter and renouncing God, she not only turned to Him in her sorrow but eventually began to use her horrific experience to bring comfort and hope to others.

So few of us look at the pain in our lives as opportunities to minister to others experiencing similar pain. Instead, don’t most of us expect our lives to go a certain way? When it doesn’t, don’t most of us feel disillusioned, depressed, or even bitter? Isn’t the last thing on our minds in those moments, “I wonder how I can turn this tragic circumstance into something that glorifies my Creator?” Be assured, I condemn myself even as I put words to the thought.

I’ve known people to suffer far less loss, far less disappointment than that endured by the Guthries, and yet they will angrily accuse God of being unfair. Their lives didn’t turn out the way they expected or planned, and they glare up at the heavens accusingly, asking “Why?” I certainly have been a member of that camp at different points in my life, as has my husband.

I think Nancy herself would tell you she sought answers to the question “Why?” as well. But as she sought those answers, it seems she came to rework her soul’s deepest question to God. Her question, in the face of God’s gloriousness and inscrutable greatness, became instead, “What?” I think that ought to be our question as well. “What is Your will for this circumstance in my life, and how can I use it to give glory to Christ?”

I would strongly encourage you to read more about Nancy and David’s lives, and their response to the incredible odds of losing two children in this way. And then I would challenge you to consider your own life and think how you can use the disappointments, trials and sorrows in your own life – which, if you are at all like me, pale in comparison to what the Guthries have endured – to God’s glory.

2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, 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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

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