About the Guest
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The pain of loss can rip our hearts open and leave us feeling hopeless, but Ron Hutchcraft points us to our Living Hope, Who provides purpose in the midst of great loss, and hope for a better tomorrow.
Dave: Alright; 2020 was a/I guess you could call it a pretty tough year.
Ann: I think it was our hardest year.
Dave: Yes; what was your hardest moment in 2020? Do you know?
Ann: Yes; for sure, January 9, 2020—I’m already going to cry—I lost my mom. [Emotion in voice] She’s my best friend; and it was really hard to lose her, even though she was 90 years old. It leaves such a hole and a gap. Then COVID hit. My mom and dad had been married 70 years; so to watch my dad be without her, and none of us could be with him, because he was in assisted living, that felt like torture.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We’re going to talk about tough things today. We’ve got the perfect guy in the studio with us to talk about—I love your book—Ron Hutchcraft is with us. He’s the president/founder of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries. I’m guessing you founded that with your wife Karen.
Ron: Absolutely. Wait a minute—this show—could we just stop now? [Laughter] I haven’t been called perfect ever before. You said “the perfect guy,” man, let’s just go with that. [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife. This is going to be a treat to have you; we’re so glad you’re here.
Ron: Thank you; thank you. And everything important I’ve ever done in my life I did with Karen.
Dave: You’d already told us that, so I knew it wasn’t you alone.
Your most recent book, Hope When Your Heart Is Breaking, is what Ann just talked about—her moment—and we all have moments in our life, where our heart is breaking. This book, Finding God’s Presence in Your Pain, is perfect. Again, I’m using the word, “perfect,” a lot; but it is so what we’re asking right now: “How do I find hope when my heart is breaking?—when life is really, really difficult.”
Ann: And especially in [this] season—I would call it a season of grief—because people have lost loved ones; people have been suffering with depression and anxiety; or just the tragedy of losing 500,000 lives in our country. Those are some really hard things to face.
Ron: I think everybody’s lost something in this past year. You’ve lost certainty; you can’t plan anything. Of course, all the people, [who] have lost a loved one; but people have lost businesses; they’ve lost jobs; they’ve lost a dream that they’ve had for a long time that just got lost in the pandemic; they’ve lost connection with other people. Whatever normalcy is, they’ve lost it; we just feel like: “Is it ever going to be the same again?”
Ron: Trying to plan something right now you’re like: “Well, if…” “Well, hopefully, we…”
Ron: And I have to tell you—of course, I had no idea as I’m writing this book—that’s all pre-pandemic; and suddenly, everybody’s dealing with loss of some kind. Whenever you have a major loss in your life—when something is dying that you care about or has died; or someone, even worse—you do grieve. You may not even call it that; so it’s: “Loss equals grief.”
We grieve throughout our life, not just when we lose the one we love—that’s by far on the stress chart—you know, they give 100 points; and 100 points is: “You lost the love of your life.”
Dave: Well, let’s go there; let’s talk about that. One of the reasons I said you’re the perfect guy to talk about this is—not only did you write a book about it—but when I watch you, when I listen to you, and now meeting you, you’re full of joy. There’s a joy that comes out of Ron Hutchcraft.
Ann: —and life and energy. Okay; can we ask you how old you are?
Ron: No. [Laughter]
Dave: He told us he’s over 40; and you’ve got the coolest, hippest tennis shoes on ever. [Laughter] You walk in here—it’s like this guy’s wearing Jordans—but anyway, enough of that/enough of that.
Ann: Let’s ask this: “How long were you married to the love of your life?”
Ron: Well, that will help you answer the other question: 50 years. This is the love of my life since I’m 19; the only person I’ve shared my adult life with every day. You guys understand. There’s only one person—literally, irreplaceable—that you have the same battles, you’ve prayed for the same things, you knew the same people, you’ve laughed at the same things, cried over the same things. All of a sudden, I turn to tell her—because that was life we shared—there’s nobody there to tell.
Here’s what happened. We had a wonderful May 15, 2016. We went to the graduation of our first grandchild; he’s valedictorian of the class. He’s giving a wonderful Christ- honoring speech to a stadium full of people. Ron, as usual, has to leave to speak; I’ve got to be driven by some guys through the night to get to where I’m going to go speak.
We’re sitting in the bleachers; and I said, “I love you, honey”; and she said, “I love you.” Then she teared up, which was not usual; because we’ve had a lot of goodbyes. I said, “Honey, what’s going on?” She said, “Well, I’m really going to miss you.” I said, “Oh, don’t worry; it won’t be long.”
Well, I was wrong. How could you know when your last “I love you” is? The next day, in another state, I got called by our youngest son, who said, “Mom’s gone.” I felt like a lost little boy. I knew how to do life with Karen. Life without her had no map whatsoever—was unimaginable—she was my mirror; she was my compass/help me know when I was getting lost; she was my best friend; she was a lot of fun; she was always interesting/I never got bored with her; she was a tremendous ministry partner/tremendous leader in her own right; most of all, mother of my kids.
So here’s the reality: it was the best day of Karen’s life: she got to see Jesus; she got to see heaven. It was the worst day of my life; it was the worst day of her kids’ life; it was the worst day of her grandkids’ life. I wrote a blog, not too long after that; and it pretty well summed it up: “My shattered heart/my certain hope, and they strangely coexisted.”
Ann: Tell us about that: “How do they coexist?”
Ron: Well, first of all, you have someone to cry out to, who gets it; His name is Jesus. Hope is not a concept; hope is not a religion; hope is not positive vibes; hope is Jesus. He’s called a living hope in the Bible because of the resurrection/His resurrection from the dead. The Apostle Paul wrote in the Bible these words to people, who had lost loved ones; he said, “We do not grieve”—now if it stopped there, I’d put a Bible away and never pick it up, and say, “That’s a lie! This hurts like nothing has ever hurt in my life,”—
Ron: —“We do not grieve as others who have no hope.”
If you imagine a scale:
No Jesus—the scale is all down on one side/the grief side is just—there’s nothing on the other side [of grief].
With Jesus, this living hope is on the other side of this [grief side]. He’s a death crusher; He’s a death conqueror.
Ron: I was the last one to leave her graveside, and because of Jesus/because of what happened on that first Easter morning, I could say with full assurance, “See you soon.” But in the meantime, she’s in heaven; we are not. Not only are we not, but we’re here without her, and all that she has been for us. I literally didn’t know what to do—get up off the couch—“What do I do next?” I really was lost.
I started a grief journal; I have it right here. A few pages in, you would see these words written in big letters at the top. It simply says—and I don’t know if I—there you go; you can see it right now.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Ron: Can you see it, Dave? What does it say up there?
Dave: “I WILL NOT WASTE THIS GRIEF.” Is that the start of the journal?
Ron: That’s a few days in.
Dave: “I WILL NOT WASTE THIS GRIEF.”
Ron: I will tell you—I was not coherent enough to even come up with that thought—literally, that had to be God speaking it to me; because I cried out in desperation. You see a broken heart is an open heart—it is wide open; it’s ripped open—I mean, it’s open in places where you didn’t even know you had places.
Ann: It’s interesting; when I read that, I recalled reading about a rabbi, who used to say, “I pray that God will use the seeds that I plant onto people’s hearts,”—I thought that was such a weird saying; and then later, he said—“so that, when their hearts are broken open, God’s Word will fall into their hearts.” I thought, “Oh, that’s exactly what you are saying, Ron.”
Ron: If, at that moment, you cry out to Jesus—whatever your relationship with Him; or maybe, you don’t have one—but if you simply say, “Jesus, whatever You do, do for me,”—and you have no defenses; you’re vulnerable—that’s why, if you don’t make the right choices at this point, that vulnerability is going to turn into more hurt by your choices, not by the loss, by your choices.
So, if at that point, if you open that up to Him, He goes where He’s invited. He will bring His comfort, and His meaning even to it, and His love, and His hope—and it goes into the deepest parts of you—and suddenly, if He is your personal Savior, He becomes a more personal Savior. I’ve served Him for all these decades but never has He been this personal; He’s been personal, but He’s personal, personal now. And those words—“I WILL NOT WASTE THIS GRIEF”—then I prayed a prayer after that; I said, “Dear Jesus, if this is going to hurt this bad, would You please somehow use it to make me more useful to You and of more help to other people?”
All I can tell you is, in the five years since then, He has been answering that prayer in ways I never, never could have dreamed. Does it take the grief away?—no! The hope doesn’t cancel the grief; it’s just stronger than the grief. You still have it, and there is still this hole left by this person.
A friend of mine, who had lost his wife five years before to cancer, called me right away. We had been to her funeral—Karen and I had been—and he gave me a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It says something like this: “Don’t ask God to take the hole away left by that person. He won’t, because that is your connection to that person; you don’t want that to go away. What I found in Jesus is the strength, and the leading, the guiding/explicit guidance from Him—constant, like never before—that helps you know/to find the meaning and the purpose in it.”
Dave: You’ve already commented on this—and this is what I think we don’t understand about grief, and hope and grief—and I’ll just throw it out to you, and I want to hear your well of experience explain this—but: “Losing means grieving. Grieving means choices,”—you already said that—“Choices mean hurt or healing.”
Ann: One of your quotes was: “In crisis, we make choices that will either bring hurt or hope.”
Ron: Yes; if I could say anything to someone who’s gone through a major life loss: “You won’t be the same. The only question is: ‘What kind of different will you be?’ You will be different because of this—but it’s not up to the loss—it’s up to the choices you make.”
You know, if I have a hammer in my hand, it could tear down a wall; it could build a wall. It isn’t the hammer that decides; it’s what you do with the hammer that decides what it does. We don’t get a choice about life’s hammers—I got hit with a sledgehammer that May 16th—but we do get to decide what we do with it.
Dave, my experience: I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death with a lot of people over the years.
Ron: The easiest way to go is to go the route of more hurt; it actually is a little harder to make the other choices. So probably more people ended up with compounded grief, compounded pain, compounded hurt—because for one—you say the road to hurt starts with stuffing your grief/pushing it in instead of letting it out. [It] seems like a lot of people choose that because, either they’ve been raised to be strong, or it hurts too bad to face into this and let myself feel how I’m feeling; so we internalize it.
But grief is like a beach ball that you push under the water. You can only push it down so far before it goes up; and the farther down you push it, the higher it’s going to go when it goes. Grief doesn’t go away because you deny it; it just morphs into ugly stuff: it becomes anger; it becomes bitterness; it becomes a hard heart; it becomes escape choices to run from the grief—and I run into a bottle, or a drug, or a relationship, or busyness, but something/it will only give me more problems—now, I’ve got the grief-plus, not the grief-minus.
Shakespeare said, “Give sorrow words”; that’s so important. I started by writing it in a journal. When you don’t grieve your grief, your grief will own you. It will own you, emotionally, and for years, and years, and years. One of the things we deal with in the book is the grief of your broken past—the abuse; the neglect; the abandonment; the mistreatment you had, years ago, maybe as a kid, never dealt with/never grieved—it’s pursuing you, and you’re making choices now that affect your other relationships and everything. So if you can find other people to do the journey with—my daughter has been so helped by one of these grief share groups—and there’s probably one in your area, wherever you are.
Then I learned there’s a wrong question and a right question to ask. The wrong question—it’s not morally wrong; it’s that you’re probably not going to get an answer—is the one we always ask: “Why?”
Ron: “Why?”—it’s probably going to take being in eternity to see it from that viewpoint to really get that.
The question you can get an answer to is—and I think I was asking that the day I wrote that “I WILL NOT WASTE THIS GRIEF”—“How can God use this?” “What can You do with this?” There’s this thing—I came to put two words together that seem odd together: “defiant hope”; and I talk about that in the book. Defiant hope—now I’ve never heard those words together—they’re like: “That’s weird.”
But defiant hope says this: “I will not deny my grief: I’m going to face it; I’m going to feel it; I’m going to talk about it; I will not deny it. But the second part of defiant hope is: “I will not be defined by it—
Ann: Oh, that’s so good.
Ron: —“the rest of my life,”—that I don’t have to be the guy, who lost his wife—that’s who I am from now on.
Ann: It becomes your identity.
Ron: It’s your identity. You evolve your life around it and that hole that we talked about/that Bonhoeffer talked about—that what I realize is the hole will not go away; it should not go away: Karen lives in that hole in my heart, and I want her to—but you can rebuild your life around the hole—it doesn’t have to be: “The hole is your life,”—seeking the meaning/the purpose in it.
There are other things, too, that lead to more hurt; and there are things that lead to hope.
Dave: You know, as a preacher for 30 years at our church, if there was a message that—if you went up to somebody and said, “What is one of Dave’s messages that comes around?”—that I’ll preach once or twice a year for 30 years, it’s this message. My phrase was not as good as yours—mine was: trials, or pain, or hurt, or adversity/whatever you want to call it—“Trials will make you better or bitter.”
Dave: And I always added: “The choice is yours.” That’s what you were getting at.
Whenever I preached that—whether it’s at my church, or on the road, or whatever—when I look out at the congregation, and say: “How many of you know bitter people?” “How many of you know better people?—show of hands.” It’s always 8 to 1; 10 to 1 bitter. Most of us know somebody, who went through something; and they’re bitter.
Ann: They’re defined by it.
Dave: Yes; they made the wrong choice; and they are mad, and bitter, and hurt; and they are defined by it.
Then you say: “How many of you know people, who went through the exact same trial—they lost a spouse, or they lost a job—are they better?” And there’s a few hands, but it’s never as high as bitter. That’s what you’re all about. It’s like, “Man, defiant hope is a choice you have to make.” I get it; it’s a hard choice; it’s easier to be bitter.
Ron: It’s a default choice.
Dave: And you can get a whole crowd around you to go, “Yes, I’d be bitter too.” But man, to make the choice—and to speak out, like you said, to somebody to get help to become better—to become defiant in your hope, where it’s like a visceral hope that I’m going to hang onto, is the choice you’ve got to make.
I’m thinking there is a listener, right now, that is stuck. Ron is saying, and we’re saying, “You have a choice right here,”—right?—“Right now, I’m going to dig out of this hole. I can do it, but I can’t do it alone. I need God’s help, and I need people to get me out of that hole.”
And here’s what I would say: “Get your [Ron’s] book!” [Laughter]
Ron: Well, that’s where that broken heart—that is now wide open, because it’s broken—again, if you will say, “Jesus, whatever You do, do that in this broken heart of mine.” The Bible says He was a man of sorrows. He’s acquainted with grief; He suffered pain, loss, grief at a level none of us will ever understand; but He understands us.
At that point, you’re receiving super natural strength; because somebody goes: “I can’t get up; I can’t. Thank you; it sounds good; I can’t.” You can’t—good—that’s the starting point to say, “I’m all Yours, Jesus. Whatever You do—You’re the living hope; You’re the death conqueror; You’re the resurrected; You’re the Easter Jesus—I need some Easter in me. I need to be resurrected; I’m dying inside.”
And it could be from a lost loved one; a lost/a marriage that’s in trouble; it could be a dream that has died; it could be bad news from the doctor; whatever—this is a moment of danger, and it’s a moment of opportunity—and which one wins. Don’t say, “Well, you know, I’ve never been the same since,”—well, that’s probably true—but what kind of different are you?—it’s not because of what you lost; it’s because of what you chose.
Dave: I just heard you say—and I’m going to say it to the listener—“If you want to get up, get down—down on your knees and surrender—and say “God, I can’t get up; I just can’t. I’ve tried, and You know I’ve tried. I need You to lift me up.” Let me tell you: He will.
Ron: When I was a little boy, I learned a chorus. You know it, too: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,”—good so far—“Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me!” It took me a lot more years to learn that part and what that meant. Losing my anchor love in my life—but realizing I had one love I would never lose and one unlosable hope—name anything you put your hope in, my friend, other than Jesus, and you could lose it any day. Boy, if the pandemic, and all of that, and all that came out of that—if that hasn’t demonstrated that we could lose anything anytime unexpectedly—but you’ve got, in Jesus, a living hope, who is unlosable.
The Bible says nothing/nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I can say, if I gave a three-word testimony, it would be: “The anchor holds.” And that anchor is identified in Hebrews 6:19; it says about Jesus: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Dave: That’s a good word.
Ann: Thank you, Ron; so good.
Bob: I have to think that some of you have been profoundly touched by what Ron Hutchcraft has shared with Dave and Ann Wilson today, talking about loss, and grief, and about hope/our need for hope. In fact, Ron has written a book called Hope When Your Heart Is Breaking: Finding God’s Presence in Your Pain. It comes out of his personal story that he shared with us but, also, his faithful walk with Christ for decades. Many of you can quickly identify someone you know, who has been through a profound season of grief. Maybe you’d like to give them a copy of this book as a gift.
We’re making Ron’s book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners who can support this ministry with a donation of any amount. Your financial support helps us advance the work of FamilyLife to reach more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and for their families. When you make a donation to support that ongoing work today, you can request your copy of Ron Hutchcraft’s book, Hope When Your Heart Is Breaking. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how you cling to Christ when the cause of your heartache is something in your marriage. When you’ve lost hope for your marriage, how do you hang onto Jesus in the midst of that? Dave and Ann Wilson will have that conversation with Ron Hutchcraft tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Join us back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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