Some things in life seem completely unfair. Having a baby, knowing that they will live for only a few short weeks or months, is one of these things. The pain and grief for the parents and siblings is too difficult to contemplate. For this to happen twice within the same family beggars belief. Holding on to Hope by Nancy Guthrie tells the story of the Guthrie family and their loss of two children with a metabolic disorder called Zellweger Syndrome. Their daughter, Hope, lived for just over 6 months and their son, Gabriel, lived for a little less than 6 months. Nancy describes their staggering loss and broken hearts. More than this, she writes of the wonderful hope to be experienced by turning to God in our brokenness.
Holding on to Hope invites us inside Nancy’s personal journey of suffering. She examines her own story of loss in the light of the biblical Book of Job. These Scriptures offer insights on dealing with pain, listening to others, grappling with despair, searching for meaning, struggling to trust God, handling our emotions, and where to find hope.
Job is the longest exploration of suffering, grief and hope in the Bible. Its sheer size and its apparently depressing tone have scared many readers away from learning its lessons. One friend of mine went to a church where the minister preached one chapter of Job every week for 41 weeks. It seemed like the minister wanted the congregation to get a taste of Job’s suffering! Surely 4 or 5 weeks would be a better approach. I preached it in one week! Another friend of mine is fearful of reading or preaching on this book, because he superstitiously expects things to go wrong if he does so. I would have thought that things are going to go wrong anyway, so we may as well learn what we can from Job!
Nancy Guthrie takes us gently through her experiences, engaging in every chapter with the text of Job. This is a book of compassionate wisdom. It’s the kind that you can confidently pass on to a friend who is suffering, knowing that you have left them in safe hands. This is no academic work or dispassionate apologetic – it’s a kind word from one who knows suffering and who listens to God’s word.
The overall structure of the book traces Nancy’s experience with her daughter, Hope, through pregnancy, birth, death and grieving. While the family is struggling to deal with the loss of their daughter, they are growing in the hope that comes from trusting the promises of God. Toward the close of the book we learn also of Nancy’s pregnancy with Gabriel, who also has Zellweger Syndrome. This is a tragic, yet hope-filled story.
Each chapter begins with a brief reading from Job, followed by a reflection on her own experiences. The chapter headings below will give you insight into the breadth of issues addressed:
Loss Tears Worship Gratitude Blame Suffering Despair Why? Eternity Comforters Mystery Submission Intimacy
Hold on to Hope is a journey of faith, hope and love. We see God at work by his Word and Spirit in the lives of Nancy and her husband, David. She helps us to grieve well, to turn to God in thanks, to trust God, to seek to honour him, to find hope in God’s promises and faithfulness. She shows us where to turn when it’s all too much, what to do when people’s words (or lack of) hurt more than heal, and why God should always be our strength and refuge.
I found some of her words very personally confronting. In one instance, she reverses a typical prayer for healing that’s accompanied by a whisper of “If it be your will”. She suggests instead the following:
Shouldn’t we cry out to God with boldness and passion and persistence in a prayer that says, “God, would you please accomplish your will? Would you give me a willing heart to embrace your plan and your purpose? Would you mould me into a vessel that you can use to accomplish what you have in mind?” And then, perhaps, we could add a tiny P.S. that says, “If that includes healing, we would be grateful.”
Isn’t real faith revealed more through pursuing God and what he wants than pursuing what we want? (p79-80)
My wife read this book years ago. In fact, there are usually a few copies floating around our bookshelves because she keeps buying them to give away to others. One friend, whom she’d given a copy to, asked me on the weekend if I’d read it. So now I have! This was a woman who’d given birth to a little boy who died within an hour of his birth. She told me that she’d found it helpful and encouraging. I known Fiona has given copies of this book to grieving mothers of stillborn babies and others who’ve experienced significant tragedy and sorrow.
Don’t think it’s just a book for mothers or women. I found it spoke to personally to me. It has relevance for people struggling in a range of areas, such as unemployment, bereavement, serious illnesses such as cancer, divorce, depression, anxiety, loneliness, chronic fatigue. These are all circumstances where our hearts are tempted to turn away from God. This book gently draws us back.
The edition which I’ve just read contains additional resources for the reader. There’s a list of Bible passages related to the theme of each chapter. There’s also an 8 week study guide which is designed to be used by individuals or groups. These studies take the reader deeper into the Book of Job, as well as other Bible texts, and include questions for discussion and application. She invites you to visit her website at www.nancyguthrie.com to write a message, share your story, or discover more resources to help you find hope in the midst of suffering.