What I Learned Through Loss

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Nancy Guthrie

The deaths of two of our children taught us how to run to
God, not away from Him when we face tragedy.

How do you think about your suffering? Have you thought
about it?

Is your first response when something difficult comes into
your life to do everything you can to get rid of it? To call everyone you know
to pray to ask God to take it away? For most of us, it is.

In the Bible, here is how Peter told us to think about
suffering: “Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more,
learn to think like Him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old
sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to
live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by
what you want” (1 Pet. 4:1-­–2, The Message).

Would you like to live out your days free to pursue what God
wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want? Then you may need to change
how you think about your sufferings.

When Hope Dies

The truth is, most of us don’t think about suffering much
until it invades our lives like it did mine four years ago when we gave birth
to a daughter we named Hope. The doctors were immediately concerned by several
“small” problems evident at birth. Hope had club feet, was very lethargic and
unresponsive, had a flat chin and a large soft spot, and would not suck.

On Hope’s second day of life, a geneticist who examined her
came to our room. He told us that he suspected Hope had a rare metabolic
disorder called Zellweger Syndrome. He explained that
because she was missing something in her cells called peroxisomes,
which rid cells of toxins, her systems would slowly shut down.

And then he dropped the bomb that most babies with this
syndrome live less than six months. No treatment. No cure. No survivors. When
he said that, I remember feeling as if the air had been sucked out of me, and I
let out a low groan.

We had Hope for 199 days. We savored our days with her. We
held her during her seizures. Then, we let her go.

To have a child with Zellweger Syndrome requires that both
parents be carriers of the recessive gene trait for the syndrome. So after Hope
was born, we made a difficult decision.

We knew that any child of ours would have a 25 percent
chance of being born with the fatal syndrome. So we took surgical steps to
prevent a future pregnancy. It didn’t work, and about two years later we were
shocked (to put it mildly) to discover that I was pregnant.

We were not only shocked but also afraid when we considered
what might be ahead in having and then losing another child. But we also felt a
cautious joy at the prospect of having another healthy child to raise alongside
our son, Matt.

However, after a series of prenatal tests, we discovered
that we would indeed be welcoming another child with Zellweger Syndrome into
our family. And we did.

Gabriel was born in July 2001. He was so beautiful and so
easy to love. We packed a lifetime of love into the six months we had with him.

A Sorrowful Submission

When Hope was a month or so old, the secretary from our
church called and told me we were on the prayer list that went out to church
members. They were asking people to pray that God would work a miracle and heal

I told her, “That is not how we feel led to pray.” We didn’t
ask God for that. It didn’t seem right. Or maybe we were afraid to pray that,
to expect that, when the diagnosis seemed so sure and so grim.

In those early weeks, God seemed to speak to me
clearly—thought not in an audible voice. I’ve never heard that. He spoke to me
the way He always does: through Scripture.

In my Bible study a couple of weeks after Hope was born, we
looked at the story of Hagar, who had run away from Abram
and Sarai due to Sarai’s harsh treatment. She wanted to escape her
difficult situation, but God spoke to her in the desert, telling her to return
and submit (see Gen. 16:9).

My Bible study leader asked, “What is God calling you to
submit to?” I knew God was calling me to submit to the journey we were facing
with Hope—not to fight it or to cry out to Him to change it but to submit to
His plan and His purposes.

For me, submission has meant a quiet, though sorrowful,
acceptance of God’s plan and God’s timing. It has meant giving up the plans I
had for my daughter and son, for my family, for my life, and bringing them all
under submission to God.

I wish that it had been a one-time decision, a one-time
sacrifice. But throughout Hope’s life, as her condition slowly deteriorated, in
the days of grief that have followed her death, and as we said “yes” to loving
and then losing a second child, the call to submission hasn’t changed, and it
hasn’t gotten easier.

Every day, as I let go of my dreams and desires, I’m once
again called upon to submit. Some days I do better than others.

Submission frees us to embrace God’s plan for our lives, a
plan He has put together with our very best interests in His heart and mind.
Because I believe God’s plans for me are better than what I could plan for
myself, rather than run away from the path He has set before me, I want to run
toward it. I want to submit.

What is God calling you to submit to today? Is it a
difficult situation, a demanding person, an unfulfilled dream, a limitation, a
loss? Are you willing to submit?

We Don’t Expect to Suffer

As we endeavor to think like Christ about the suffering in
our lives, most of us would have to admit that we have spent most of our lives
doing everything we can to avoid suffering. In today’s modern world, we expect
a cure for every illness, a replacement for every loss, a fix for every

We are shocked and shaken when something hurtful invades our
comfort zones. But look around. How many people do you know who have escaped
experiencing profound difficulty at some point in their lives?

Look at the Scriptures. Can you find a person in the
Bible—even the godliest of persons—who did not suffer greatly?

Why is it that we think we shouldn’t have to suffer? That
God’s will for our lives could not include suffering?

Evidently the Bible’s
most significant sufferer—Job—didn’t see it that way. Job wasn’t looking for
suffering, and yet it didn’t seem to catch him off guard.

You know his story. Job was sitting at home one day when a
series of messengers came and told him first, that all of his livestock had
been slaughtered and second, that all of his children had perished when the
building they were in collapsed. Then, as if losing everything he had and
nearly everyone he loved was not enough, Job was stricken with painful sores
all over his body.

When his wife tells him to completely give up his life and
give up on God because of his suffering, Job says to her, “Should we accept
only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10, NLT).

Job’s acceptance and even expectation of both good and bad
things from God is in sharp contrast to our expectation today, which is why we
have such a hard time responding to suffering in a godly way as Job did. We
have an unspoken expectation that a good God will bring only what we consider
to be good things into our lives. We never expect Him to allow and perhaps even
bring difficulty into our lives. But He does.

“But,” you might say, “Lamentations says that ‘God does not
willing afflict his children.’” That’s true.

So what does this mean? If we’re God’s children, we’ll never
have to suffer? No.

It means we will experience no meaningless suffering. If God
has allowed suffering to come into your life, it is for a purpose. A good
purpose. A holy purpose.

Embracing Suffering

Few of us would choose to suffer. Yet when we know that God
has allowed suffering in our lives for a purpose, we can embrace it instead of
running from it. Jesus said: “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me
and I’ll show you how” (Luke 9:24, The Message).

Jesus is suggesting that we do more than simply endure
suffering. He’s inviting us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and focus
instead on what there is to learn in the suffering.

He’s inviting us to draw closer to Him in the midst of our
suffering because of our suffering. Not only does Jesus invite us to embrace
suffering, but He also shows us what that looks like.

We see it described in Hebrews 5:7-9,
where we read: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers
and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from
death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was,
He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became
the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him” (NIV).

Amazingly, God’s plan to redeem the world and to make a way
for you and me to spend eternity with Him included the suffering and death of
His own Son. It helps me to know that Jesus wrestled with that plan even as He
submitted to it.

Have you cried to God in frustration, with questions about
how He could have the power to heal and yet choose not to heal the one you
love? Have you agonized in an effort to reconcile your understanding of a
loving God with one who allowed the accident, the atrocity, the abuse? I have.

When you groan because there are no words for the hurt, when
you cry out to God with hot tears, when you agonize over His plan that has
caused you such pain, Jesus understands! He understands what it is like to cry
out to the Father, who has the power to make another way, enact another plan …
but chooses not to.

No Pain is Wasted

Bob Benson, former president of Benson Publishing Company,
used to tell about how, whenever he was speaking at a retreat, he would ask the
people there to take out a piece of paper and fold it in half. He told them to
make a list on the top part of the paper of everything bad that had ever
happened to them. Then he told them to make a list on the bottom part of the
paper of the best things that had ever happened to them.

What people found was that there were many things from the
top of the page that they also wanted to include in the list at the bottom of
the page. Experiences they had labeled as the worst things that had ever
happened to them had, over time, become some of the best things that had ever
happened to them.

That’s because God uses difficult experiences of life for
our ultimate good.

Early on in my journey, I said to God, “OK, if I have to go
through this, then give me everything.

“Teach me everything you want to teach me through this.
Don’t let this incredible pain be wasted in my life!”

I know God has a purpose for allowing this pain in my life
and that it is for my ultimate good. And I believe God has a purpose for the
pain in your life that is for the ultimate good, even though everything about
it looks and feels bad. As you learn to think like Jesus about your suffering,
embrace the truth that there is no meaningless suffering for a child of God,
and refuse to allow pain to be wasted in your life.

Nancy Guthrie is the
author of Holding On to
Hope, published by Tyndale House, from which this article was

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