Danielle Anderson, Nancy Guthrie, and Vaneetha Risner share their experiences with grief, and the grace they’ve discovered along the way.
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Nancy Guthrie: So, Danielle, would you be willing to start things off, yeah, tell us about how grief became a reality in your life?
Danielle Anderson: Yes. Grief hit my family hard five years ago. At the time, I had two little boys, Jaden at the time who was three and Chase who was one. And out of the blue, literally out of nowhere, Chase passed away. So it was nine days after his first birthday, and we were just kind of hurricaned into this season of what I call continuous grief and restoration. I’m very clear to say to people, “I am not done grieving. This is part of my new normal. I will walk this path until the day that I see Jesus and my son again.”
So, grief started on March 23rd, 2013. Since then, I’ve had two other sons. Kai, he’s two, and Callen is four, and grief has just been woven into our life. So, in those early days, it just felt like I was in the eye of a storm and didn’t know how to move forward. And we’ll talk more about it. But in the early days, my, the biggest truth that I was clinging on to at the time was Jesus is the solid rock. So all I can do is like lie prostrate on the rock. I cannot kneel. I cannot stand. I’m not strong enough. I am weak, weak, weak and broken, but I’m gonna do by his spirit the best I can to cling to this solid rock.
Guthrie: Thank you, Danielle. Vaneetha?
Vaneetha Rendall Risner: Yeah. I’m actually looking at notes because I’m trying to keep this short. My experience with loss started at a young age. I contracted polio as an infant and lived in the hospital for most of my young life through most of my elementary school. At times, I was there for a year. I had 21 surgeries by the time I was 13 just to make me functional, and actually, my arms and legs were so weak that they never thought I would be able to do anything beyond sit-up. But I was actually able to walk as I do now, which was amazing, and I led a really fairly normal life, went to college. The operations were very successful.
But then about 15 years ago, things started to change, and basically, I was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome. And that means that all the…my arms and legs are getting weaker and weaker. So now I do use a wheelchair pretty frequently. I deal with quite a bit of chronic pain, and my arms are failing. So, like I don’t have a mic because I can’t really hold one. So that’s been a pretty big source of grief for me.
I have to say it’s been really hard. I don’t wanna sugarcoat it and say, “Oh, I’m just happy every day.” It’s been a real struggle for me, and it’s a struggle every day. But that’s an opportunity for me every day to trust God for the things that I can’t do because I would say probably a year ago, I could do more things than I can do now, and I know in a year, I won’t be able to do some of the things I do now. That’s something that I grieve on a regular basis. But besides my physical disability…and you guys, come on up. There’s seats up here. And I’ve dealt with other losses, and I buried an infant son at two months old.
Just kind of the background is I got married in grad school and had a little girl named Katie. And then I was going in I was pregnant again, and my ultrasound found out that we had…our unborn son had a heart problem. So he had surgery at birth, and he was doing great. He was all smiles, and we were thrilled. And we went to the doctor, and the substitute…the doctor wasn’t there. There was a substitute, and he said, “He’s doing so well. Let’s just take him off his medicine. Like, he’s got so many medications here. I don’t think we need them.” And I was thrilled at first. I thought, “He doesn’t need them. He’s doing great.” But Paul died three days later, and I was stunned. First of all, I thought, “I dealt with a disability. Like, I shouldn’t have another thing.” I kind of felt like everyone has the one thing.
Guthrie: Only one bad thing, right?
Risner: Yeah. I mean, that was my theology.
Guthrie: Anybody relate to that?
Risner: You know, like you get one thing and then you’re done. And I honestly thought my life should be good from now on, and it just, it just rocked my world. So at first, after Paul died, I felt like I was strong at Paul’s funeral. We spoke, but then God started feeling really distant from me. And I didn’t know how to connect with God.
I’d walk by the empty nursery and the empty crib and see his stuff, toys, and our daughter Katie, a toddler, kept saying, “No, where did Paul go and why is he gone?” And I just didn’t know how to cope with all that. There were all reminders of my loss. And I kept reliving the last few days. I don’t know if any of you have dealt with regret or just wondering, “Should I have done something? Should I have notified somebody? Should I have taken him to the ER?” You know, just not let the doctor take him off all his medicine?” And so those things just kind of haunted me.
But then I remember listening to a tape on the sovereignty of God, and it changed me. I just thought, “Okay. God has a purpose for this.” And at first, I didn’t wanna hear that. That didn’t make sense. But then as I thought, “Okay. God has a purpose for this. He’s gonna use it,” it really changed me. And God drew near to me in the most extraordinary ways. I can’t even describe it.
And I have a dear friend, Crystal Wells, and she wrote a song about Paul. It’s the song “Held.” It was recorded by Natalie Grant, and the beginning of the song starts with two months is too little, but they let him go. That song, Natalie Grant would send Crystal the things that people said, and she would send it to me. And that was just part of my healing, realizing God uses everything. And even though that in no way made up for Paul’s death at all, it was just this small sense that God does use everything, and He uses things in ways that we may never see and never know.
And the last major area of struggle I’m gonna talk about is in 2009. My husband came home and told me he was leaving for another woman. I had no idea this was gonna happen, and this plunged me into the darkest time of my entire life. I was homeschooling our two daughters. At the time, they were ages 10 and 13 adolescent girls, so that was already a hard time. And they just fell apart. Our life was kind of characterized by rage and slammed doors and cold silence, and our peaceful home turned into a war zone, and anger was spilling out everywhere. And I couldn’t believe it.
I felt like, “God, you know, I deepened my faith after we lost Paul. Like, how really could you do this to me?” And I sobbed every night. I felt abandoned by God. I remember screaming out in my room. I shut the door, and I said, “God, why do you hate me?” That’s how I felt. I wanted to put our marriage back together, but my ex-husband did not. And he couldn’t commit to that, so he basically boxed up everything he had, moved to another state, and started a new life. And walking by the empty closet, I realized my life as a single parent had just begun.
I felt that I had nothing left. All the things I had turned to comfort were gone, and I had nothing to cling to but God. But I realized then that God was enough, and I fell in love with God in a way that I can’t describe. And he opened the Scripture to me in a way that he never had before. I mean, I loved reading the Bible, but the Bible became my life. Like, it was the best part of my day. Whereas before, there were times when it was like, “Oh, I gotta go have my quiet time and then I can go do something fun.” That was fun. And it really changed me, realizing the Bible is living, and God can speak to me through it.
I learned how to trust God even though I couldn’t understand and still don’t. I mean, I can’t make sense of all the things that happened, but all of those things brought me closer to God. And my life is not anything the way that I would have planned it to be, and at times, I’m discouraged about that and I have been. But yet God has met me in amazing ways. And I love this quote from John Piper. He says, “Occasionally, grieve deeply about the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses, feel the pain, then trust God. Wash your face, sorry, trust God, and embrace the life he’s giving you.”
Guthrie: Thank you, Vaneetha. I remember, my son turns 28 in a couple of weeks, and when he was born, I left my job. I didn’t really want to. I wanted them to think I was so valuable that they need to at least keep me part-time, and they evidently didn’t feel I was that valuable. And those months after that, I mean, my job had kind of been my identity, and I went to see a counselor. And he said to me that what I was experiencing was grief, you know, loss over this thing I loved. I suppose if we were gonna try to define grief in our time together, it would be that. And I remember one thing he said to me. He says, “So, when you feel sad, let yourself be sad.” And I begin to do that over this loss of my job. And I look back at that though, and I think that was preparing me for something else that I didn’t know at the time that I would need…needed to have developed that approach to grief.
A little less than 20 years ago, I gave birth to a daughter named Hope, and Hope was born with a rare metabolic disorder called Zellweger syndrome. And so my husband David and I found out on her second day of life that she had this syndrome that a lot of damage had already been done to all of her major organs and that she would likely live less than six months. I feel like that night as those doctors walked out of the door having given us that diagnosis, that’s where grief really began in my life in earnest as I had to begin that night letting go of the dream.
You know, I had just really looked forward to having a daughter to grow up with me and grow old with me and be my friend in my old age. And, you know, I realized that night that that wouldn’t be the reality, and so Hope was with us for 199 days then we let her go. Now, in regard to grief, my thought was, “I’m the kind of person that I like try to get things done ahead of time.” You know, I’m like a planner, and, you know, I’m not a procrastinator.
And so somehow, during Hope’s life, I had convinced myself that because I knew she was gonna die and I had all these months that like somehow I was getting a jumpstart on this grief thing. And I kind of thought, “Well, so it’s not gonna be as hard for me as other people, never happens because I’ve kind of gotten a jumpstart with that.” Well, it didn’t work out that way. It didn’t work out that way. There’s a big difference between somebody being sick and somebody being gone. Some of you in this room know that exactly if you have cared for someone for a long time with an illness before their death.
And so after Hope died, I just…you know, at first…I wonder if some of you felt this way. At first, I felt that like I’d learned so much, and I had been so enriched by her life and that I’d gained a lot of wisdom and that just went away very quickly as things got quiet in our house in those months. And pretty soon, I felt flat and empty with nothing to offer anyone and just desperately, desperately sad. Every time I got in my car and drove, you know, over two or three miles from my house, that time the car begins to weep, you know, and I’d have to get myself together wherever I was. And so the best way I know how to describe grief that season my life was like it was a boulder on my chest, and I felt like it was always pressing the life out of me. Like, I could just never catch my breath.
It was a year and a half after Hope died…to have our child with that syndrome means that my husband and I must both be carriers of the recessive gene trait for that syndrome, and so that means whenever we have a child, the child would have a 25% chance of having that fatal syndrome. So we didn’t know when we had our son, Matt, who’s 28, but we knew then when we had Hope. And so we took surgical steps to prevent another pregnancy. So you can imagine my surprise when a year and a half after Hope died I discovered that I was pregnant. But I wasn’t just surprised. I was terrified. I just thought to myself kind of like you, Vaneetha in that sense of, “I’ve done the one hard thing,” right? And I just remember feeling like it seems like the sun is finally coming…you know, it’s been a year and a half. I kind of felt like, “Okay, the sun’s coming out a little bit, and it’s like I saw these gray clouds gathering in the distance.”
So, I went through prenatal testing and found out that that child who would be a boy, our son Gabriel, would also have the fatal syndrome. So we had a son, and he was with us for 183 days. And then there we were, back to a family of three, which is…I think one thing about grief if you have been there, you understand there is…there’s the loss and there’s all the hubbub, and then things get really quiet, don’t they?
Guthrie: Yeah. And friends stop calling and the cards stop coming. And just about the time, everybody’s thinking, “So you’re feeling better now,” you’re just like, “Are you kidding? It’s only now becoming real.” Isn’t that the case?
Guthrie: So, Danielle, tell me, what are some things you think people don’t understand about grief from your experience?
Anderson: Where do I begin? One thing that became so clear is that I felt like people didn’t understand that pain and suffering exists in the world. It’s almost as if…and I was actually surprised at this coming from believers. When I think about the Gospel and that the cross exists at this beautiful intersection between deep, deep pain and great, great triumph and joy, I would expect the church to have the language of suffering, which is lament and would be able to understand and grieve. And that was not my experience.
I felt like people had very well-intentioned words to offer that were not helpful at all. You know, things just like, “Oh, it’s gonna be okay.” That stings. Like, it’s almost offensive, especially so early in your grief. I don’t wanna hear that. Like, I don’t wanna hear that it’s gonna be okay. And so there’s that…
Guthrie: In some ways because it sounds like your child didn’t matter enough to still be hurting this much. I think that’s where it hits it.
Anderson: Yeah. I think there’s an expectation of, well, you grieve and you do the funeral, whatever you do, and then a couple weeks later, you ought to be back to normal now. Like, you’ve done that grief thing. Move on with life or get on with it. And even those words like moving on, sounded like I was leaving Chase behind. Like, no. Like, no, no, you need to find another word. So one thing is I just don’t think people understand the weight of grief that the toll that it takes, how it really can be.
And everyone’s grief process and journey, it looks different, but there is a time. It takes time. I’m not a believer in that time heals all wounds. I do not believe that that’s true, but grief takes time. And it happens over time. It’s a long, long journey, and I just don’t think that people often understand that. And I don’t think that people understand how unhelpful well-intentioned words can be. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. Sometimes just your presence is enough. Sometimes when you don’t know what to say, sometimes it’s helpful just to say, “I don’t know what to say, and I love you, and I’m praying for you.” So those are [crosstalk].
Guthrie: How about you, Vaneetha?
Risner: Yeah. I really resonated with what both of you all said. I remember maybe a month after our son died. I’d been working part-time, and I ran back into the office for something and somebody said, “So are you over this?” And I was like, “What?” I mean, but people just want you to move on. And I remember just not even knowing how to answer that. Am I over it? I will never be over this, you know, but you don’t wanna be rude to people. I really struggled with how to respond to people who have kind of trite things.
And I had mentioned something else that at our son’s funeral, somebody came up to me with Romans 8:28. You know, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.” And it’s like amen but not here. Like, maybe I’ll get that in a few decades, but right now like this is not helpful. I know I’ve done the same thing that we all wanna say the perfect thing like we wanna have the right Scripture or the words that somebody’s like, “I feel better.” There are no words that can do that. Only God can. So, I would say silence. Really just being there, showing up but being quiet is really the biggest gift. But showing up and talking too much is almost as bad as not showing up.
Guthrie: I think one of the main things that people don’t understand about grief is, you know, they hear that you lost your husband or you lost a sibling or you lost your parents, and they think of that loss in very singular terms. Maybe they think of just particularly that person’s death. And when we lose someone we love, really, it’s a series of losses. Is it not?
Guthrie: Right. So, when you have lost a child, a young child like we have, then, you know, you lost their elementary years and their middle school years. You know, you lost that, right? Your other children lost a sibling, you know. Your parents lost a grandchild. And as you go through life, life becomes a series of recognizing another sliver, another aspect of the loss when you lost that particular person you loved.
So, let’s turn our focus now to what we’re really here to talk about, which is this aspect…I mean, we could talk all day, couldn’t we, about just what grief is like and things people have said to us, we didn’t appreciate, and all these things. We wanna be more productive than that to think about what does it really look like to trust God in the midst of grief. So I wonder if both of you would take a stab at it. Vaneetha, why don’t you try first? If somebody looks at a woman over there who’s had a loss, what would you see in her life that you would be able to say about her, what a beautiful way of trusting God in the midst of an incredibly hard thing? What would that look like?
Risner: I think it would look like real honesty with other people and with God. I feel like people who trust God are not afraid to lament and to cry out to God and to pour out their pain because lament is really talking to God. And I think that’s a real key to me as if people are kind of shut down. And even myself if I’m like, “Oh, I’m fine,” I feel like it’s not been processed well. But when you’re willing to be honest and really pour out your heart to God, I think that’s the deepest form of trust to him is I can trust you with my pain, and I can pour it out to you, and I can talk to you and ask you. And maybe not get the kind of answers that I want but trusting that the things that I don’t get answers for, you have answers.
As well as I think trusting God in grief is throwing yourself into Scripture, and sometimes it feels like cardboard. I mean, sometimes you read it…I mean, I might read it 20 times and not even sure what I read. But it’s just trusting God is gonna use Scripture and just keep going back to God and praying, “God, feed me with this. I need it.”
One of the verses that I pray a lot of times is Psalms 119:25, which is, “My soul clings to the dust. Give me life according to your word.” So, that’s what I do when I feel like I can’t focus and I don’t know how to trust. I think you see people that they just breathe Bible because they’re willing to keep going back to God.
Guthrie: Let me ask you about that a little bit, Vaneetha, because I think also sometimes like we talk about the Bible as if it is a comforting book, and yet the Bible is made up of all kinds of genres of Scripture, right? You know, you’ve got your narrative, and like you were referring, I think, to a psalm there, right?
Guthrie: You know, then you get to this, you know, discourse, and maybe you think, “Okay. I’m gonna open up my Bible today. I’m looking for comfort.” And then you open up to a passage about, you know, what elders are supposed to do in the church or something. And you’re not finding the comfort there, you know, that you were looking for or a big oracle of judgment in one of the prophets, right? Or like you’re reading along the prophets. It’s sounding really good, it’s an oracle of hope, and then all of a sudden, it turns a corner.
Risner: Or even Judges.
Guthrie: And it says everything is gonna be terrible. So, in terms of…if a woman trusting God is gonna have her head in the Scriptures, what does that look like when you read things in the Bible that you think, “I don’t even really get how this intersects? This doesn’t seem to intersect with my loss at all.”?
Risner: Yeah. That’s a great question. So, I have a regular Bible reading plan, and I read in four different places in Scripture. And one of them is always in the Gospels and one of them is another place in the New Testament and then one of them is in the Psalms and then the last one is running through the Old Testament fairly quickly. So, I love that because I’m not…I don’t find it so helpful for me to flip through the Bible and find something because then I end up with, you know, things that are not that helpful. But I feel like the whole counsel of God is the most helpful thing to me. So usually, I like just reading a small passage of the Gospel.
I have found that wherever my Bible reading plan has me, that’s what God wants to speak to me that day. So that’s really what I do, and I love the fact that I’m pretty much always in the Psalms. So, it is comforting to me, but we do…I do. If I was just reading sequentially and I’m in Leviticus and something really hard happens, I wanna skip over to maybe another book, maybe the Psalms.
Guthrie: But I think what you’re talking about too is as you’re in the Word day by day, you’re feeding on it, it’s shaping how you think about things, including this one hard thing, right? So it may not be comforting in the moment, it might not seem to apply directly to your situation at the moment, and yet it’s shaping your perspective and it’s orienting your perspective toward God and what He’s doing in the world and increasing your confidence in Him, don’t you think?
Risner: Oh, yeah. And I remember after my ex-husband left, I decided I was gonna study Psalm 119. And it’s such a big psalm, but it’s unbelievable for suffering. I mean, there’s so much about affliction, and that is just a neat thing. And so I just spent a lot of time just poring over that. So, there’s something like that that people [crosstalk].
Guthrie: So deep meditation on a particular passage?
Guthrie: How about you, Danielle? What do you think it looks like for a woman to trust God in the midst of grief?
Anderson: So I read in a book one time. The author, she said, “There are no strong women in grief, just broken little girls sitting on Daddy’s lap.”
Guthrie: I love that.
Anderson: And that resonated with me. I felt like in grief I became face to face with the facade of strength that I had lived under for decades. And when it was so fresh, I just realized, “Oh, I didn’t have any strength. I wasn’t strong. I am a hot, broken mess with no strength at all.” And so in the process of grief, I think that that clinging to hope and being willing to sit on Daddy’s lap is a marker of the woman who is trusting God in grief.
Now, you might be sitting on his lap beating his chest because you’re so hurt and so angry about the situation, but there’s something in you that’s gonna stick with him. You don’t wanna leave him because maybe you know somewhere far back in your mind, “You are good. I’m struggling to believe that, but I know somewhere deep down it is true. So I’ma fight with you. I’m gonna be honest with you about my emotions, but I’ma stay in your lap.”
So I think that that hope and that willingness to fight to stay with the Father is a marker of a woman who is trying to trust God in grief. And that looks different for every person, but I echo that the Psalms are a beautiful place to be for the woman who’s fighting to trust God in grief because it’s in the Psalms where I think we have this beautiful picture of the human experience of emotion where you can just be authentic about your emotions.
And I think oftentimes sometimes in Christendom in our church culture, you can’t be honest about your emotions. And I was telling a friend earlier, we were talking about people who were sharing about their life and people would say these hard things like, “It’s been a hard year. I’ve been very angry this year.” And they would every time qualify it with, “But God’s still good. But I’m still like trusting God.” And I think you can trust God and still say, “It’s been a hard year, period.” I think you can still be honest to God and with others about your emotions because He can handle it. He created us. He gave us this spectrum and pendulum of emotions to experience anyway. So we can be free to take that to him and be honest as we sit with the Father in the midst of grief.
Guthrie: I read a great blog post a few weeks ago. I think it was on the CCEF blog, Christian Counseling Educational Foundation, and it was talking about what it means to trust God. I think sometimes we think If I’m having any anxious thoughts at all or if I’m having any questioning thoughts if I’m having any disappointed thoughts, we can think that means that we’re not trusting. And one thing I liked about what this article said. It said, “Better to think about it. Because I trust God completely, I keep bringing him my angst and my anxiety and my questions again and again.” And I just found that really personally helpful because perhaps it’s a bit unrealistic or we set up a hoop that’s unrealistic for ourselves to define trusting God as just thinking that there’s no…that trust means there’s an absence of a struggle kind of like you were saying, an absence of any thoughts or questions.
But actually, trust is like you said that you keep going to Daddy. You keep knowing where your source is and you keep taking all the doubts and questions and anxiety and keep on turning toward him that instead of…I think sometimes as women, we can tend to just pour out all of those thoughts and questions and anxieties on the phone with our friend rather than turning toward Christ himself and making space for heartfelt prayer where we begin with confession and say, “In my deepest heart, I don’t think I’m trusting you with this, but I want to. Would you give me the grace to trust you with this today? And I’m probably gonna be back tomorrow if not later today because I’m probably going to have a temptation to try to figure this out on my own, and so I’m gonna need to keep turning toward you again and again.”
So, ladies, let’s think about this question. A lot of times, people in the midst of grief tend to feel a great deal of resentment and anger. Some of us have probably known some people that they had a loss sometime in their life, and it changed them so profoundly but not in the best of ways. There’s some kind of aspect. They settled into an alienation from God because of it, maybe a wall between them and God because of it, maybe anger with God and anger with everybody around them who had disappointed them. What do you think is the key to not becoming that woman but instead becoming a woman that when people look at your life, they think, “Boy, I hope that kind of loss doesn’t happen to me, but if it does, I wanna have that kind of beauty in the midst of brokenness”? How do you think that happens, any thoughts?
Risner: My hero is Joni Eareckson Tada, and she’s amazing.
Guthrie: Anybody here that she’s not their hero? Okay.
Risner: And for those of you who don’t know, she’s a quadriplegic who was injured in a diving accident at age 17. And she honestly is the most joyful person I have ever met. She’s gorgeous. Like you look at her, and you’re like, “You’re stunning,” and it’s because she loves Jesus so much. And I feel like people like that make me think, “Okay. If that’s what suffering does in somebody’s life, sign me up.” And that’s a pretty major thing to look at somebody who’s lived with quadriplegic and chronic pain and has had breast cancer and say, “Sign me up, because if I can look like you and trust God the way you do, then there’s nothing that’s not worth that.”
Guthrie: Thoughts, Danielle?
Anderson: Yeah. It’s a really good question. I think one area to not become that person is just someone who’s honest enough to admit the struggle and even admit the, “I feel myself wanting to drift this way.” And maybe it comes in asking…you know, getting a close friend to have as a prayer partner accountable. Like, “I need to confess to you. I feel this drift happening. I just need you to be praying for me that I don’t go all the way off the edge.” I think that it takes a lot of humility and honesty to be able to confess that to someone and ask for help but just that genuine willingness to fight because you believe God is good.
I think there are just these basic foundational truths that for me were the only things I could cling to in the moment. And so when I felt myself drifting and wanting to go to the place of like, “Whatever, he don’t love me anyway,” I would go back to but he does. “Okay. I know that’s true. He is good. He is sovereign.” And I always would tell people, “I do not know how this fits together. I don’t know how my story being written this way, how Chase’s 374 days being written this way. I don’t know how that fits into, ‘You are good,’ but I’ma fight to stay there.”‘
And eventually, someone gave me this picture of the idea that God in his love doesn’t let anything hit us or touch us that wasn’t first filtered through his hand of love. And that’s really hard for me to believe and sit in, but I would fight to go back to that. And so for a woman who’s, you know, beginning to drift, I feel like if you find those foundational truths that you can cling to that you can come back to to keep you away from the drift.
Guthrie: I like what you’re saying there about finding some foundational truths. I bet each one of us and some of you out here would say there are some certain things. I mean, I think about grief as like a storm blowing in your life, right? And it’s kind of like those…you know the TV weathermen? They always gotta go chase after the hurricane, right? And they’re standing there on the beach, and the waves are coming up and the wind’s blowing. And sometimes you’ll see like they’ve found a stop sign that’s like the wind’s making it go like that, right? But they’ve grabbed hold of the pole because the wind’s blowing so hard and because they wanna be able to stay standing up.
And in the midst of grief, all of us kind of have to grab hold of something that’s really solid and secure that is…you know, the reason that signs stays up is it’s got this concrete that goes deep into the ground that’s giving it a lot of solidity and security. And so for those of us when we go through grief, we’ve gotta have some things we’re grabbing hold of that when the wind blows really hard, we won’t be blown away by the wind. We won’t be destroyed by it.
I know for me that some of those things were…like, one of us is the most foundational. It should be the most obvious, especially if you’re someone who grew up in church like I did. But I think when we experience loss, everything comes into question, but I think the first thing we have to grab hold of is that God loves me because we’re kind of tempted to question it, aren’t we?
Guthrie: And I think that’s because we tend to judge God’s love for us. We look at our circumstances, and we think, “If he loved me, then this wouldn’t happen,” right? And so we focus on our circumstances, and we let them be the arbiter or the measuring rod of God’s love for us rather than looking at the cross. I mean, that’s the measure, that’s the arbiter of God’s love for us. But we do. I think we have to struggle with it, reckon with it. Did you guys, yeah?
Guthrie: To decide, “Okay. Do I really believe God’s love? Is he for me?” Not just a sentimental love, but like, “Is he for me? Can I believe that he really has my best in mind?” Because that would be a definition of love. But, you know, when I realized that, I was like, “Okay. So, if I’m gonna grab hold of this truth that he loves me, but then there’s the other thing I have to grab on to at the same time is that he’s in control of everything” because one doesn’t work without the other, right?
If I believe he loves me, but somehow his power, his sovereignty is limited, then how do I know he’s capable of working out his loving plans for my life? He might not have the power to do that. But if he’s all-powerful, but I’m not convinced that he loves me, how do I know he’s gonna use all of his power with my best interests in mind? So I can kind of picture myself, you know, standing there in the storm of grief with my arms around two of these things and just going, “Okay. These are down in the ground, and I’m gonna hold on to them, you know, as the storm goes through my life.” Can you think of some things like that for you?
Anderson: Yes. Well, I was going to just yes and Amen that he loves me truth because it was actually in the early months of grief where that truth became way more solid for me. I had to realize in years prior to grief, somewhere I picked up on this idea that it was too man-center to focus on the fact that God loved me. Somewhere I picked up on the idea that, “No, no, no, in your worship songs and what you meditate on needs to be things that are God-centered.” Like, he is great. he is mighty. And anything that was…”that seemed man-centered like he’s good to me or he loves me,” I had somehow for some reason dismissed those things.
And it was in grief where I had to come face-to-face with the reality and actually go, “Lord, do I really believe you love me?” It was a truth that I had not meditated on for a long time, and I started to do it in grief. So, psalms that began to highlight his love for me became instrumental in my healing process because I needed to be reminded of that truth, “That is not like sinful man-centered idea to meditate on that God loves you, that he loves us.” And so yes and Amen to that truth that he loves me. He is in control. He is sovereign.
Other truths I clinged on to was he is good. You know, I’ve said it before, “I don’t understand how these two things go together, but I’m gonna believe that you are good. And I discovered in those early days of grief that you are the God of all comfort.” And the Psalms talk about how the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and I had never experienced him as God of all comfort. And so I needed to read that in the Scriptures and to see, “Man, I could go to all these other things, but there are gonna be a pseudo comfort or not enough comfort for you’re the God of all comfort.” So that was another…one of the steadying truths that I had to grab onto.
Guthrie: How about you, Vaneetha?
Risner: Yeah. I would totally agree with this. I think those would be the two, that God loves us and that He’s sovereign. I think I mentioned in my story that what really turned me after Paul died was hearing a sermon on the sovereignty of God. And someone quoted Charles Spurgeon, who was suffering with depression and died of gout and Bright’s disease at age 57, and someone said to him, “How can you handle this knowing that God allowed this?”
And Spurgeon said, “Allowed it.” And then he responded, “It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.” So, that really turned my heart realizing, “Okay. God is gonna use this.” And so God’s sovereignty is really a huge stake in the ground for me, but it has to be coupled with “God loves you.”
I think in suffering, there is this unbelievable sweetness with God that I felt that I hadn’t had before, whereas I just needed God. I’m really into quotes. I love the Samuel Rutherford quote where he says, “If the Lord calls you to suffering, do not be dismayed for he will provide a deeper portion of Christ in your suffering.” And I feel like that’s kind of…because I’ve kind of gone through very different seasons of suffering and each time wondered where God was, but each time God gave me a deeper portion of himself in it. And just the love of God for me just kind of overwhelmed me at different times. So, I think both of those together have made me say, you know, “God is good, and everything he does is good.”
Anderson: And just to add to…not add to that. I think it’s beautiful that we’re able to know Christ deeper through sufferings, but I will be honest that there are times that I don’t wanna know him that deeper.
Guthrie: Anybody who can relate to that, any here?
Anderson: You know, well, I might be singing a song, and, you know, you’re like, “I don’t wanna be this intimate with how well my soul is. You know, I don’t.” And so there’s this interesting tension of, “Gosh, I am grateful for the intimacy with you. Could I not have had it some other way? I don’t need to be that close.”
Risner: Yeah, exactly.
Guthrie: Well, I think that we’re in good company with that because I…when I look at 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says he has a thorn in the flesh, something that’s bringing him a great deal of pain. And when you look at that passage if you look at that verse, 2 Corinthians 12:7, he knows exactly why it happened. He says, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.”
He’s been given basically a personal guided tour of heaven, and he recognizes that that profound spiritual experience could puff him up with spiritual pride, and that would be even more painful than the thorn. And so he’s like confident, “God is doing something good in my life.” And the very next verse says, “So I pleaded with God to take it away.” Yeah.
Guthrie: “Three times I pleaded with God.” And so I just appreciate that as like there’s his humaneness there, right?
Guthrie: But I also think that the way Jesus responds to that in that passage is…I would have to say it’s one of the most profound passages to me because I think in terms of dealing with grief, especially the impact that grief has on us as we then face the future. You know, when the worst thing has happened to you, and then you know really bad things happen, that can produce a lot of fear about the future. Can it not?
Guthrie: And so what are we gonna hold on to for that as we face the rest of our lives? We talked early about being the kind of woman that someone would look at and say, “Okay. When loss happens, I want that kind of beauty.” And I would say one of those things. We don’t want to be women who because of grief in our lives have now become these fearful, flimsy, the slightest wind will blow us over kind of women, you know.
We wanna become women who because of this experience of grief because of the way it’s forced us into God’s Word, because of what we have learned about trusting God and that He’s worthy of that trust, that we become more women of solid rugged joy. You know, like, “Give it to me, world.” You know, I’ve been through something hard, and God has done a work in my life. And so we wanna go forward as women whose roots are deeper in God because of the loss and there’s a new firmness and resolve to our life.
And I think one thing that can feed that kind of attitude about the future after grief is right there in 2 Corinthians 12, and it’s the next verse after he pleads with God to take it away. And he hears Jesus speaking to him, and Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient.” I mean, think about that. I mean, that’s everything that we who have any fears about the future, that’s something to hold on to. That’s something that deep in the solid ground that Jesus is promising us, “No matter what happens in the future, I’m gonna be enough for you to be able to endure it.” That’s what he was saying to Paul.
You know, I’m sure Paul was hoping he would hear Jesus speak and say, “Okay. I’m gonna take that thorn from you right now.” But instead of that, he hears, “My grace is sufficient.” In other words, “I’m gonna give you what you need to endure the pain that I’m not going to take away.” And that’s just the kind of promise that we need to hold on to as we face the future of women who have experienced loss.
One thing we haven’t talked about since we’re talking about grief, I would say another thing I took hold of in the midst of grief, and I imagine this has been significant for both of you. And that is this reality that this life is not all there is. I tend to think there are aspects of…there are some gifts that we get wrapped in a package we never would have liked or asked for but in the midst of grief.
And that one of those gifts we get in this package of grief that we never would have asked for is a newer, deeper more profound awareness of the spiritual reality of the life beyond this life of being of the ones we love being taken into the bosom of Christ being in the presence of Christ. And is that not the greatest gift, right? That maybe we would have never been pushed to even think about those things. It’s so easy to be so focused on the world when everything you love is here.
Guthrie: But when someone you love is there, that becomes so much more real, isn’t it? Has that been in part of your experience?
Anderson: Definitely. I did not give much thought to heaven or the spiritual realm before Chase passed. And then after he did, I was reading as much as I could about heaven and what is to come and what might he be experiencing even now. And it quieted certain thoughts because as much as I was grieving hopes and dreams that I had for Chase and, you know, would envision like, “Oh, we go to the park.” And there’s two swings at the time. Like, “Oh, Chase is supposed to be in that swing.”
As much as you grieve and mourn those things, there was this, “But Chase is okay,” because he’s safe in the arms of the Father. He’s safe in the arms of Christ. And there was just a level of soul peace that knowing some truths about heaven and what was to come was able to provide for me. And even just the idea that I would see Chase again was…it made me so much…that much more. It sounds so trivial. It’s like, “I should be excited about heaven because Jesus is there,” but I’m excited about heaven because Chase is there. Like, I’m just gonna be honest. Like, I’m excited to see my son again too. I wanna see Jesus, absolutely, but I’m not gonna lie to you. I wanna see my son again. So that reality of heaven and those deep, deep truths there.
And I think the beauty of heaven began to change my perspective of the pain here. So at first the truth in Romans about like light and momentary afflictions was offensive, and I didn’t wanna be told that my story and what I was walking through was light and momentary. It just sounded so rude, and it took some time. But over time as I began to study God’s Word and learn about heaven and what was to come and the greatness that is there, then I was able to understand, “Oh, because that is so great. In comparison, this looks light and momentary.” Though this doesn’t feel light and momentary, this is so great that this can be called light and momentary in comparison to this greatness.” And that made me excited of what was to come, and it gave me this deeper sense of longing for Christ in heaven than I never had before.
Guthrie: Yeah. Vaneetha?
Risner: Yeah. I mean, I’m super excited to see Paul, and really after Paul died was when I really started thinking much more about heaven. I mean, there’s super excited about that and reading things about that. And for me also though there’s this, “I’m gonna get a new body, you know.” My husband says that to me a lot. I’ve remarried. I used to be an artist, and I love to paint. But I can’t with my arms now, and he’s so sweet because every time we see something and I’m like, “Oh, I wish I could paint,” he’s like, “You’re gonna do that in heaven. You’re gonna get to do that.”
And so, you know, I’m sure there are people here whose bodies are not what you want them to be and you can’t do the things you wanna do, and that’s pretty exciting to think, “Okay. I’m gonna get to do all those things in heaven, things I’ve never been able to do but things that I do love to do but haven’t been able to do.”
Guthrie: Well, we have just a couple of minutes left. Let me ask you to close our conversation this way. We know we live in a very broken world and that though we’ve experienced loss, there may be more losses ahead for us. So, when that comes down the road, we’re gonna now face it as women who have been through some losses before. And hopefully, we’ve learned a thing or two in the midst of those losses that’s gonna help us as we face losses in the future. So, what have you learned from these experiences of grief that as you look in the future and for any losses that are ahead of you, how do you want what you’ve learned to shape how you experience any grief in the future? Danielle?
Anderson: One practical thing is I would want to be more bold in doing that which is good for my heart rather than being so concerned about how things come off to other people. People would say crazy things, and in the moment, there was a nervousness and a fear there like I might offend them. But I wanted to say, “Yeah. That’s not helpful. Don’t say that again,” but oftentimes I would just shy away.
And so in thinking about ways to help myself if I were to find myself in a place of deep, deep grief again through a different…or a similar circumstance, I don’t know, I would want to be able to confidently in Jesus be bold with people and say that which would actually benefit myself in my grief process.
So, recently, we were sharing at a camp, and I…for me, the question of how did your son die is not helpful. And so, I was able when we were sharing our story, we have four boys. One is safe in heaven. When I was introducing myself and I said, “And just to like clear the air now so I’m not secretly mad at you later, please don’t come and ask me how.” And for me, that was a self-protective like protect my heart, keep me from the anxiety that literally builds up in my body when that question is asked. So I would want to be able to better stand firm in knowing myself and knowing God in grief and not shy away from being honest with people about ways to help myself grieve well.
Guthrie: That’s great. Vaneetha?
Risner: I think I would wanna remember that it’s okay to lament. It’s biblical. It’s a good thing. And so to keep talking to God because it’s when I pull away and I think I gotta deal with this myself that things go down south quickly. And it’s just whatever I need to say, I need to keep talking to God. And that’s what I really wanna remember, as well as remembering that, you know, weeping will last for a night but joy comes in the morning.
And joy doesn’t mean the situation is gonna be different or better, but, you know, God will meet you. But there are nights where it feels like it is unending, and nights could be weeks or months. But joy will come, and God will bring that. And so remembering when I’m in the midst of something really hard and I can’t see anything beyond what’s in front of me realizing there is good coming from God just even the way He meets us with himself.
Guthrie: Sometimes I think that we think that somehow tears are the enemy. Like, I’ve gotta get past this sadness, and my tears are keeping me sad. I think tears are a gift from God that helps us wash away the deep hurt of the sadnesses of living in a world that brings grief. So, you know, as I looked at the future, you know, I think one thing is walking, trusting God in the midst of grief is not gonna mean a lot that there won’t be a lot of tears. Tears don’t reflect the lack of faith. I think I know in my previous losses, I just felt like I had so many tears that had to come out. And if I didn’t let them out, they were gonna like sour inside me, and something really bad was gonna happen, right?
So as I look at losses ahead, I don’t anticipate somehow that because of previous experience that I might be less sad. I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case. There is one thing that I’m gonna know from experience in the future, and that is our God is Jehovah-Rapha. He is the God who heals. And I think any woman in this room has experienced a loss. There is a part of us that we know is altered forever. Maybe there’s been a bit of an amputation because of our loss in our lives, and so we’re never completely necessarily exactly the same people again. But we can genuinely expect in the midst of grief that as we open ourselves up asking God to do a healing work as Jehovah-Rapha that he will do that.
People often ask me, you know, “How does grief change over time?” And sometimes I’ll hear people who have experienced a loss. They’ll say to someone who has newly experienced a loss, they use these words, they say, “You’re always going to feel this. You know, you’re never gonna…” And I think what they’re trying to say to that person is “You’re never gonna forget the person who died and that there’s always going to be a broken place in a sense inside you because of this loss.”
But I always kind of cringe when I hear someone say that to someone who’s newly experienced a loss because I think what the person who’s just recently experienced a loss hears is, “As much as you hurt right now, you’re gonna hurt that much forever.” And I would say to you, that is not so. As the Holy Spirit using the tool of the word of God generating in you the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in your life, he is able to do a work so that it’s not that the grief disappears, but it begins to have less power over you. Haven’t you experienced to that?
Guthrie: You know, early on in grief, it like starts rolling over you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s just got so much power. But as the Lord does a work of healing in our lives, we can expect that grief will lose some of its power in our lives. It won’t always have the upper hand to determine our emotional state, our response to other people. And hopefully, as the Lord works in us to heal us, we will more and more become women who deeply, consistently, beautifully trust God in the midst of our grief. That’s what we wanna do, isn’t it?
Guthrie: Let me just pray as we close. Lord, I thank you for this time together with these sisters. What I really wished is we just had time to go around the whole room and let everyone share. It’s such a privilege to get to interact with each other to entrust the losses of our lives and how those have impacted us with one another. And maybe the time will come…maybe we have eternity for that or maybe in eternity, those things they will have lost so much power in our lives. The glory of God, the beauty of God, the sufficiency of God will so dominate our days that the losses of this life will not be so dominant in our own hearts and thoughts.
So, Lord, we ask you that you would be using even the teaching that we’re receiving at this conference. Would you use the time we spend in your Word? Would you use it to build us to give us a backbone to make the roots of our lives somehow dig deep? I think about that Psalm one picture about blessed is the man who doesn’t, you know, walk in the way of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on it, he meditates day and night and says, “He’s like a tree who’s planted by rivers of water,” and it says that his leaf never withers.
And, Lord, we wanna be women who are so deeply rooted in you who are drawing from you the water of life that death, the death of those we love doesn’t have the power to shake that tree, but instead, we’re solidly planted. The wind can’t blow us down, but instead, we’re solidly and securely in you. In your name, we pray. Amen.