What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie, Free for CAPC Members
Nancy Guthrie’s overwhelming message in What Grieving People Wish You Knew is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people.
Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze recently resigned due to scandal surrounding his inappropriate conduct. For part of the investigation, “inappropriate” is probably an inappropriate word to describe his transgressions. It was discovered that he used his university-issued phone number to contact an escort, or prostitution, service. The investigation is ongoing, but what has been uncovered thus far has not been favorable evidence for him.
What made his transgression so vile in the court of public opinion was his outspokenness about being a Christian. He unapologetically invited his players to Sunday worship and was heralded as a hero to many southern believers. A Christian football coach in the South is not unheard of, but a coach bold enough to speak about the Christian faith, particularly in Mississippi—part of the America’s Bible Belt—looks untouchable.
Americans assume and expect much from Christians: good character, morality integrity, sacrifice, and service in communities. These are admirable and good assumptions. However, Freeze’s debacle fell drastically short of all of those traits.
In the days following the discovery of his immoral and dishonorable behavior, sports analysts called Freeze a hypocrite, a fraud, and a phony.
About a week later, another public figure exposed his dishonorable behavior. But his exposure came by way of a full-frontal confession.
Lamar Odom, a onetime Los Angeles Lakers fan favorite and wingman of Kobe Bryant, suffered from a severe overdose two years ago that sent him into a coma for four days. He was uncannily explicit and transparent about his addictive experience and about his life leading up to that point:
It was the first time in my life that I felt helpless. I felt like I was two inches tall. It was just… it was real.
At that point in my life, I was doing coke every day. Pretty much every second of free time that I had, I was doing coke. I couldn’t control it.
I didn’t want to control it.
Though he survived, he didn’t sanitize his past nor where he is now. During the interview he admitted, “I’m sober now, but it’s an everyday struggle. I have an addiction. I mean, I want to get high right now.”
Who can be so honest about something so deviant? Why would anyone expose oneself about being an addict? I think confessions like Lamar’s can only be spoken by free people. Only people who are free from the dark can be honest in the light. Lamar can be honest with himself and everyone else around him about wanting the very thing that almost killed him.
It reminds me of another man named Paul who found himself in similar dilemmas. Paul admitted that he did not understand his own actions: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). He knew what was right, yet he openly admitted that there remained an incessant desire to do what he knew was wrong. Paul was free from his sins in a truer sense.
So what can coach Hugh Freeze learn from these examples? I think it’s something we can all learn. We need to be honest with God, others, and ourselves.
From the moment we, like coach Freeze, speak out boldly about being unashamed Christians, the pressure is on. But the pressure isn’t put on by God. God commands us to rest in his son, Jesus (Matthew 11:28).
We feel pressure from pockets of society—Christian and non-Christian—that expect us to be flawless. And if we’re not flawless, we’re allowed to struggle with only “minor” sins like impatience, anger, or pride—not lying, cheating, or lust. When we accept these pressures, we will fail trying to uphold the unrealistic picture people have of us. We will feel the need to conceal our sins and close ourselves off from seeking real help.
We can’t allow opinions of what other people think about us, nor their thoughts of who they think we should be narrate our lives. When we do, we begin setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves and we try becoming people we’re not.
Odom will tell you that: “Nobody is untouchable. Nobody in this life is immune to pain.” He didn’t picture himself becoming an addict when he grew up. But he warns that “[a] lot of great men are fools to that. Fools to that. There are probably a lot of young dudes out there who hear my story and think that it could never happen to them.”
Coach Freeze also probably didn’t envision himself suffering the pain of loss because of his sin. But now he is. And what Odom’s grandmother would always tell him, is as true for Freeze as it is for us: “‘What’s done in the dark . . . will come out in the light.’ . . . If it’s not in the public light, it’s in God’s light.”
So just as Lamar Odom could confess in his interview that he wanted to get high, Coach Freeze too can be honest about the current state of his heart. But this is true for us too. We can be honest about our sin struggles, not because we are strong, but because the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can be honest because we are free. There’s no need to hide what Christ has saved (Titus 3:3–6). We are weak people trusting in Jesus.
And in our trusting we walk diligently to display our faith so that others may see our good works and glorify God. We seek God in his Word to live holy and acceptable lives, and not simply give into our ravenous desires. We desire to walk by faith in Christ so that our works may prove to be from God, and thus genuine. Our aim toward our perfect Father will often be crooked and imperfect, but we must not stop aiming for the perfect one in our thoughts, words, and actions. This is one of the essential daily reminders of the Christian life.
Yet to be Christian is to be imperfect. Any attempt to appear perfect is to live as someone else—a liar (1 John 1:10). Only imperfect people need Jesus. We trust in Christ’s perfection with our imperfections. We ask God to heal us of our daily sins against him. We confess our sins to be healed (James 5:16). There is freedom for our faults and failures.
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