Nancy Guthrie and her husband, David, are the co-hosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. She is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.
T4L: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with Theology for Life Magazine, Nancy. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, including the current ministries you are involved in?
Nancy Guthrie: I live in Nashville with my husband, David. We are members of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin. My husband produces excellent, Christ-centered musicals for kids through his company, Little Big Stuff Music, which is based in our home. Our son, Matt, works with him so it is fun for all three of us to work together at our house day-by-day.
We also have two other children, a daughter, Hope, and a son, Gabriel, who both lived for only six months. We currently host weekend retreats for couples who have lost children called Respite Retreats. Couples come from all over the country who have experienced this sorrow and find great comfort in being with eleven other couples who understand.
T4L: That’s amazing! A very needed ministry, for sure. It’s my understanding that you are also involved in another counseling-type ministry. Can you tell us about the ministry of GriefShare and your role within this ministry?
Nancy Guthrie: GriefShare is a 13-week video curriculum used by over 12,000 churches around the country for small group ministry to grieving people. We are grateful that a number of years ago the creators of GriefShare (Church Initiatives), based in Wake Forest, NC, asked us to host the videos. A great deal of wisdom is presented on the videos by pastors, counselors, and people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. And in the groups grieving people find companionship with others who are working through grief.
T4L: Grief and loss are such difficult subjects to deal with, whether as someone first-hand experiencing them, or a friend/family member of that person. When it comes to ministering to those experiencing loss what are some of the best ways to minister to them, and what are some ways we should avoid?
Nancy Guthrie: I can boil it down to four words: Show up, speak up. Sometimes we avoid people who are grieving because we think they probably want to be alone or want to be with people they know better than us. But it means a great deal for people—even people we don’t know all that well—to care enough about our loss to show up. It says, “The person you love and the loss you are experiencing is worth me stopping what I’m doing to enter in.” We’re also afraid of saying the wrong thing to people who are grieving and so sometimes we say nothing.
But grieving people aren’t expecting us to say something that will fix the pain or give them a perspective about it that they hadn’t thought of. They just want to know they are not alone and that other people are willing to enter into their sorrow with them. Sometimes the best thing to say can simply be, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sad with you.”
T4L: As we consider those who may be grieving the loss of their spouse, family members, or a friend, how can the local church and/or church-members best come alongside them to minister the grace of God to them?
Nancy Guthrie: Rather than say, “Call us if you need us”, it is far better to figure out what they need and just do it. In the confusion of grief, sometimes you don’t know what you need. You just need people to come in close and figure out what the needs are and do what is needed. You need people who are willing to help shoulder the load. Sometimes what grieving people need is for someone to show up and clean the bathrooms, or do the laundry, or mow the lawn. But they are never going to call anyone who has said, “Call us if you need us”, and ask them to do those things.
T4L: That’s very true. Even those dealing with grief and pain (or perhaps especially those people) don’t want to be “a burden” to those around them. Sometimes we forget that just because they don’t “ask us”, doesn’t mean that they don’t need us. Loss, grief, and suffering not only affect people differently but they also can change the way people interact with the world around them. How can Christians be a good caring, godly friends to those experiencing these life-changing circumstances?
Nancy Guthrie: It means a lot to have friends who are willing to give us the time and space to simply be sad for a while—maybe a good long while. When you lose someone you love, it makes sense that you would be sad. Sadness is not the enemy. Tears are not the enemy. You esteem our grief and the value of the person who died when you don’t try to rush us to feel better and get back to “normal”, but rather recognize that the pain might get worse for us before it gets better and that we may never be exactly the people we were before.
T4L: So true. The Bible even tells us to “weep with those who weep”—something that our Western culture has a difficult time with. So, how do we begin to see the circumstances of our lives, even those that are genuinely challenging, as opportunities to know more of God’s goodness, His character, and to grow in thankfulness for His grace?
Nancy Guthrie: No one likes to have Romans 8:28 quoted at them. When someone does that it feels to us like we should be happy this hard thing is happening. It diminishes our loss or difficulty. But even if we don’t want someone to quote it at us, aren’t we so glad this verse is in the Bible! It fills us with the confidence that the worst things that happen to us, if we are joined to Christ by faith, are not meaningless but are purposeful.
And we’re not left to try to figure out what the “good” is that God intends to cause all things to work together toward. It is in the very next verse. The “good” that God intends in “all things” is that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. He’s using the worst things we can imagine to cause us to look and think and act more like Christ, to make us beautiful like Christ. That is genuine hope to hold on to in hardship.
T4L: That is an excellent point! Even when we face the trials of this life, we know that there is always a hope that we can hold onto…and His name is Jesus. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, Nancy.