Mother Finds Kindred Spirit in Suffering Job (Jul-Aug 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Adelle Banks
July-August 2002

c. 2002 Religion News Service

Before she knew of the parental nightmare ahead, before she knew the child she carried would live less than nine months and be followed by another with the same fate, Nancy Guthrie admired Job.

“God had such confidence in choosing Job,” said Guthrie, an evangelical Christian publicist based in Nashville, Tenn., of the biblical account of God permitting Satan to test Job’s faith by killing his children, servants and animals.

“He was so confident that Job would be faithful to him no matter what,” marveled Guthrie in a recent interview. “I thought that’s something to attain to, to be so consistently faithful to God that he would point at me and say, `You know what? She’d be faithful to me no matter what.'”

Guthrie, who has lost two children in the last three years to the rare disorder called Zellweger Syndrome, has written her first book about how the biblical character’s experience with suffering can influence others in the midst of trials.

She details in “Holding On to Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God” (Tyndale House Publishers, $11.99) that she learned from Job that in the midst of suffering, he drew closer to God.

“I wanted to offer these hurting people a gentle invitation to change how they think about their suffering and to see it as an opportunity to develop a more intimate relationship with God that they couldn’t have without the suffering,” she said.

Expanded from a talk at her Presbyterian Church in America congregation when she was pregnant with her daughter Hope, the thin volume describes how Guthrie’s faith endured in the midst of suffering. She also looks at how others can help people who suffer and admonishes those who think faith and tears are mutually exclusive.

Guthrie, 39, who has promoted such Christian authors as Max Lucado and Anne Graham Lotz, initially shied away from writing about her situation, fearing that some might suspect she was exploiting her experience.

Then a reading of Jesus’ parable of the talents, in which he urged making the most of one’s gifts, helped her view the opportunity to be a first-time author in a different light.

“I just felt such an impulse at that point to write, a desire to in a sense give God a good return on all he had invested in me,” she said.

Using the skills she’d long honed as a media representative for CBA, the trade organization of the Christian retailing industry, Guthrie can explain in a sentence or two the disease that twice struck her family. She compares peroxisomes, subcellular particles, to “little trash men” that remove certain toxins from our bodies.

“A child with Zellweger Syndrome is born without peroxisomes and so there’s nobody to take out the trash,” she said.

She watched her daughter Hope and, later, her son Gabriel succumb to the disease that began to shut down their bodies’ systems even before their births. (Gabriel’s birth occurred after Guthrie and her husband attempted to prevent future pregnancies — and potential familial sorrow — with a vasectomy.)

“The challenge of her life was primarily the reality that her first day was her best,” Guthrie said of Hope. “Whereas most children are developing and increasing, … from the day she was born, she was deteriorating.”

Nancy, her husband David, an executive of Word Entertainment, a Christian company in Nashville, and their son Matt, now 12, decided to celebrate the months, rather than years, of their young family member.

One month they gathered with 50 people around the piano in their home and sang songs. At her six-month celebration — the last one — they had a cookout at the park with three times as many people.

Guthrie said one of the big lessons she learned was the need to appreciate life no matter what the circumstances.

“Life itself is a gift and that’s worth celebrating, even when it’s very limited,” she said. “My focus was `I don’t want to spend her life being sad the whole time that she’s leaving me and miss her life.'”

They had sent out invitations for a six-month party for Gabriel as well, “a big chili dinner in a barn,” with a band and bingo, but he died the day before that milestone.

“We didn’t get to have that party,” she said.

She marked the first anniversary of Gabriel’s birth — July 16 — with the release of the book, which includes an epilogue about his brief life.

The celebrations they were able to have — and copious photos of them — were not just for Guthrie’s family; they were an opportunity for others to share in their joys, and later, their grief.

“If you have held and touched and known that child, you care more deeply,” she said. “When they were gone, I didn’t want to be the only one who missed them.”

In fact, Guthrie said one of the greatest comforts is having others cry with her when she contemplates her loss.

“Grief is a very lonely experience,” she said. “When someone sheds their tears with you, it’s not quite so lonely.”

Guthrie scolds those who think that the comforting belief that children are in heaven should be enough for those left on Earth.

“We believe firmly in heaven but it doesn’t make me not hurt,” she said. “It doesn’t make me not sad. It doesn’t not make me miss my children desperately because heaven feels very far away.”

Guthrie urges more people in the church to recognize that tears can come with faith.
“In some Christian circles, they focus so much on victory in Jesus that there’s no room for being sad,” she said. “There’s no room for recognizing and verbalizing and expressing our humanness in terms of what we feel in terms of loss.”

Though she admires Job’s ability to grieve and still worship God, Guthrie admits that’s often not easy to do.

She recalls being stunned after Hope’s death by a stanza in “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” a hymn she had sung her whole life, that includes the verse, “Oh, that with yonder sacred throng, we at his feet may fall.”

Guthrie interprets it as a call to worship God along with those in heaven.

“All of a sudden I’m realizing this piece of me, this part of me, is in that yonder sacred throng and yet it’s calling me to do the same thing when I’m sitting here feeling so hurt that she’s gone,” she said.

Guthrie makes no claim to have figured out all the reasons for Job’s trials — or her own.

“I think God is a redeemer and that he uses the most bitter things in our life for his glory and to accomplish his purposes and so I believe that’s how he’s using it in my life,” she said. “Would I say he caused it all to happen for that? I can’t answer that for him. I don’t know his reason. All I know is it’s up to me to be a good steward of what he’s allowed into my life.”

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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