A book arrived in the mail last week, unsolicited by me. I opened it distractedly and thumbed through the materials that came with it. After about a minute of reading, I started sobbing uncontrollably as I stood at my kitchen counter. I am not an emotional woman easily given to tears, but I could hear God already speaking to me, meeting me in a place of deep personal struggle, dealing with questions that were so hard to understand that I kept them at bay as best I could. Over the last 2 years, I have walked with several friends through very dark circumstances. Not your daughter is pregnant out of wedlock dark. Not you lost your job kind of dark–though I’ve seen these too, and those are definitely dark places, and I DO NOT minimize that pain. But I have 3 friends who have walked through things worse than that–among them, the murder of my aunt. I remember sitting across the living room from one of my friends in the midst of an unspeakable crisis and praying to myself as I sat with her, “God I know You are good and I know You are sovereign. But I have no idea how to reconcile that with what I am witnessing now.” As I read the foreword and introduction to the book I received in the mail, I realized I was talking with someone who had been there before me and knew exactly what I couldn’t reconcile on my own.
The book is Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie. Nancy lost both her infant daughter and son to the same metabolic disease a few years apart. In the introduction, she remembered her pastor asking at the graveside service for her infant daughter, “This is the place where we ask, ‘Is the gospel really true?'” And that is the question I asked too as I sat across from my friend in her living room–is the gospel really true? I believe it is, Lord, but I realize I have holes in my understanding that are exposed by this tragedy. I asked it again at my aunt’s funeral. And I’ve asked it repeatedly as I walked with yet another friend through betrayal and abandonment. There are times where the only thing that sustains me is that, like the disciples in John 6, I have no where else to go.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67″You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
I understand that response. Sometimes, the only thing that seems to hold me is that I don’t have anywhere else to go if I did leave the faith. Nancy Guthrie meets us in that place and points us to Jesus over and over as the answer to those unanswerable questions. She asks the really hard questions and doesn’t skirt around any of them. She reminded me that Jesus does indeed meet us in the worst of circumstances with real answers–not trite, polite sayings that would fit on a motivational calendar but real, HARD, deep truths that have the power to cut through the most awful scenario you could imagine and meet you right there with authentic, genuine hope.
Nancy shared this piece of her story that I found especially poignant.
Our church family had walked with us through some difficult days, joining with us in making the most of Hope’s brief life as they took her into their arms and into their hearts, and sharing the deep sorrow we felt in the emptiness following her death. So when we stood up to tell them that I was pregnant again despite the surgical steps we had taken to prevent another pregnancy, they could not hold back their joy. They burst out in applause before we could get it all out. But there was more to get out. After the applause began to die down, David added, “And this child will have the same fatal syndrome his sister, Hope, had.”
There was an audible expression of dismay. This was not the happy ending everyone felt would have been the appropriate fit for our story, certainly not the one they felt would make following God look good.
(A) friend in class told us that she wept that morning and into the next day. It didn’t seem right to her. And it didn’t fit her idea of the way we can expect our good God to work in the lives of believers. It seemed to her that the fitting end to the story would be that God would bless us with a healthy child, showing the watching world that he makes up for the losses he allows into our lives.
And she wasn’t the only one.
How many of us are right there with her church friends? Surely a good God would not do THAT. Right?! And then the reality sets in–that’s exactly what He did. Well, maybe their faith wasn’t enough. Or maybe I need to reevaluate my belief in the sovereignty of God. Instead, Nancy examines Jesus–His own life’s example and His teachings to His disciples. And we realize that He set them all up for earthly lives and deaths that were about as bad as we could imagine. And He was good to them.
Many of us are not ready to hear this truth. You can not handle the truth that there is a better good than you have ever imagined but that the path to it is excruciating. But others of you are there. You know the pain well and you ask yourself, “Surely the gospel matters in this pain. Surely something about Who God is can meet me in this and transform it from the bitter place I currently live.” I’m not recommending that you let Nancy Guthrie be your guide. I am recommending that you look to the Man of Sorrows Himself–this one who is well acquainted with grief and familiar with suffering. If you are ready to let Him be your guide, then Nancy’s book is a great starting place.
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
**Here’s an older post on walking with friends who are suffering.**
This is excellent, Wendy. Thank you for posting!
Thank you for posting this Wendy. Watching my child go through treatment for Leukemia for the last seven months… I've very much come to these places. And have had a lot of people put the question to me for themselves. I have been trying to look deeper into it, and how to speak about it.
I would love to see a post on being a godly friend to those going through the hard times. I just read material this week that warned against “Bible Verse handgrenades.” Most of us feel woefully inadequate to help someone who is suffering so deeply, so we say nothing or draw away.
Jess, I am so sorry to hear of your pain. I can't imagine watching a child suffer. I hope you feel well supported by your Christian community.
Anonymous, I posted brief thoughts on walking with a suffering friend here. It's called Helping the Hurting. I'll add a link to it at the bottom of the post.
oh thank you…
thank you for speaking on this very difficult subject few bring up.
from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Thanks friend, I have to know that I have done my part and that if God is still going to allow this to happen then His will be done in my life and the lives of my children. Thanks for your encouragement.
I've read the Guthrie's other book on grief and her edited books on Easter and Christmas, and will be getting this book soon. If we can't look to the man of sorrows then who can we look to? Great post.
I got up this morning and ask God to speak to me because I really wanted to hear his voice.My husband dies Jan 29, 2009 and there is no way to express the hell my life has been for the last year.
As I drove to work this morning the phrase “acquainted with grief” came to mind. I knew the source but decided to look it up and re-read the passage. For some reason I googled it and ran across this site, this page.
I needed to read this. I have struggled with faith issues through all this but as you say, “Where would I go?” I am at a cross roads.
But I'm thankful when God speaks so clearly. I'm going to look for the book you mention.
Dixie Girl, I am so sorry for your lost! I hope Nancy's book encourages you. I don't know how you feel, but Jesus is well acquainted with the grief you are experiencing. Thanks so much for letting me know you were here.
I have just read the material that's posted above and might i say that three nights ago in my sleep heard “your sorrow is his will”, and in researching scripture to embrace these words i came across this… I just got to give God a crazy praise because he loved me enough to place conformation on YOUR BLOG!!!! a whole year before he would have me in this place of seeking for unexplainable answers to encourage and uplift my spirit out of the jaws of depression!! I know i don't know you and probably never see you but this day AUGUST 9TH 2010 I SPEAK OUT OF THE DEPTH OF THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD THAT YOU BE REWARDED EVEN GRATER for stepping out and posting your experiences. Thanks for being in season with the working of his anointing.
Thank you, April!
Thank you! As I sit and read this as a grieving, young, widow with two children,tears streaming down my face I'm grateful I have a savior who understands my pain.
Oh, Danielle, I am so sorry for your loss. May Jesus hold you tightly and comfort you deeply.
Same thing; I goggled man of sorrows and landed here. My hardhip has to do with my current church. I see so much good in it- and also so muchcorrumtion and the same time. Our leader iIS a main of faith, but struggles with honesty and inegrity. This is not the first time I have been in a chrch that was stained. A church that give and helps with one hand and takes and cause serious harm with the other. Currently I see the harm but no one else seems to. It it the individual and corporate deception that is making me me feel so crazy. I am an older person, have been a believer for a long time and I know I am not distorting what I see.. It hurt so mch and I feel so lonely