No matter how tragic my story of grief has been I am quite often confronted with stories of losses more tragic than my own. I am left muttering, “I can’t even imagine.” Losing a child is a unique grief, a fraternity of sorts whose dues are higher than we ever wanted to pay. I don’t have to imagine what that is like, I know the depth of sorrow it brings. I felt that weight again today, I felt it for a woman who lost her husband and two sons.
Today I read the heart wrenching true story penned many years ago but it reads like front page news. It is a story that has all the right components and intrigue to keep my attention. There is crisis, tragedy, grief, love, rescue, romance and a wedding leading to a happily ever after. I read the ancient biblical book of Ruth and found myself captivated as though I was reading it for the very first time.
Naomi is a grieving widow who left Bethlehem with her husband and boys because of a famine. They settle in Moab but she loses everything and decides to return home to Bethlehem alone. The events in her life were part of a bigger picture that she could not see.
There are some things I noticed about Naomi’s grief that brought me to tears today. As I walked in Naomi’s skin I picked up on a couple of helpful reminders for the broken hearted.
Beware of bitterness
Naomi becomes bitter at the fact that her daughters in-law have no husbands and no children. Naomi’s (whose name means pleasant) life is unpleasant and bitterness is setting in. She loves her girls and is willing to lose them too so that they might have a new start in life. This was just another bitter pill for her to swallow. She said to them, “No my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13b) She pleads with them to go back to their people and marry, but Ruth insists on returning with Naomi to Bethlehem.
Naomi believes God is against her because of her hardship and the bitterness grows. She in danger of making bitterness her new identity. When she arrives in Bethlehem with Ruth she actually renames herself. God renames many people in the bible, he names Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel and Simon to Peter. Each name given by God has their new identity weaved in the meaning. God did not rename Naomi, she took it upon herself and defined her new identity and gave herself a new name. I asked myself if I have taken an identity that God has not assigned or given me?
The town was buzzing at the return of Naomi, she must have looked much different because of her grief. “The whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; (pleasant) call me Mara (Mara means bitter) for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity on me?” (Ruth 1:19-21)
Anger towards God and circumstances is a real dangerous place to stay. I was reminded that I must guard my heart and not allow grief to make me an angry and bitter person. There is a temptation to blame God, blame others and blame myself when life gets dark and difficult. Was Naomi right in her conclusion? No, there was much more happening that she could not see. The same is true for me as well. I constantly need to be reminded that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Difficulties in life are going to come and rob us of happiness but joy is different than happiness. Joy is not connected to our circumstances but is anchored in hope, a hope that sees the future. Paul speaks to this matter, he said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) How can joy be found in a life filled with pain, grief and sorrow?
Joy is rooted in a historical event. The friends of Jesus were going to grieve terribly after the crucifixion of their friend. Jesus knew this and spoke of a joy that no man or circumstance could alter or take away. Jesus said to them, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) The Lord walked out of his tomb and appeared to the disciples. Thomas needed to see for himself and Jesus did just that. “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” That was good enough for Thomas but what about us who don’t get to see? Do we get the same joy that they received? Jesus also said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed (happy, joyful) are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:28-29) For the Christian our hope and joy is anchored in a historical event.;The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter says to us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8)
When I think of genuine joy rooted in a future hope I think of my mother in-law Linda Philo. 15 years of serious sickness and the death of 2 grandsons 10 months apart brought her much sorrow and pain. She died 6 weeks after my son Jacob and she died with a joy that could not be taken from her. She was known, and is know for her encouraging smile and her sincere joy despite the many hardships she faced in this life. When I get down I think of her spirit, I remember her joy that was rooted in our shared hope in the risen Lord. He is our hope and joy that no man or circumstance can take away.
This is much bigger than me
Snap shots and intagram is about all we get in the big picture of what God is doing in our lives. This is another lesson I was reminded of in the story of Ruth and Naomi. Who knew what God was going to do? This is true for me as well in my story of grief and pain. What I learn from this book is that there is a bigger picture that I don’t see and it’s not all about me. Actually the short story of Ruth really isn’t about the people in the narrative. It’s a quick peek into the providence of God working in humanity to bring about his promised Messiah. This is a story about Jesus and his family tree. This is the big picture that Naomi could not see.
God promised childless Abraham a son and through his lineage the entire world would be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3) Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.
Naomi, a Jewess, loses two sons and her husband then returns to Bethlehem bitter. Ruth comes with Naomi and marries Boaz. Ruth gives birth to Obed, Obed has a son named Jesse, and Jesse gives birth to king David. King David is promised that the Eternal King (Jesus) would be in his lineage. (2 Samuel 7:16) Jesus was conceived by the Spirit in Mary (as promised in the garden of Eden Genesis 3:15) and in him every nation has the promised blessing of eternal life in his name. Peter said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The promise to Abraham and to David are being fulfilled in the Instagrams and snap shots found in the book of Ruth. There is a purpose in the pain, this is much bigger than them. Little did Naomi know that he Canaanite daughter in-law would be a part of the big picture that God was painting.
If you like happy endings and a great story read the short book of Ruth. In all the grief and pain there is a good God working his plan together to accomplish his desired good end. (Romans 8:28) I will give you the ending but there’s allot of good stuff in-between chapters 1 and chapter 4. Take the time to read it, you will be glad you did.
Naomi’s bitterness left her and she became joyful once again. “And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:17) I noticed that the name Mara that Naomi chose for herself was never used in reference to her. Life became pleasant for her again, she was not bitter and she was given joy from God despite all the sorrow. This is my great hope in my troubles as well.
The book of Ruth reminds me of many things I need to consider in my journey of grief. I don’t know why God allowed my son to die at 22. What I do know is that God is good and has good intentions for me all the time. I cannot see the big picture but God does. I am reminded to not allow anger and bitterness to be my identity and to rob me of the joy of the Lord. In the end I am again reminded that I am just a snap shot in history and this is His story and it’s all about Jesus and not me. There is a big picture that I cannot see but someday I will, and on that day I will no longer walk by faith. On that day my faith will be be sight.