This morning, I’m sitting on the balcony of my room at our community’s summer camp – reading my favorite morning devotion. Today, the topic is the story of Ruth.
Long story short: Ruth is a Moabite woman who is married to an Israelite man. Then – her husband dies (along with his brother and his father), and she has a choice to stay home in Moab with her parents and start over or to follow her recently widowed mother-in-law back to her home town. Ruth goes with Naomi, the mother-in-law in question. And ultimately, she re-marries super well and actually becomes part of the family tree which leads to Jesus. (You can read the whole story here)
It’s a beautiful ending. But it’s the in-between I’m stuck thinking about this morning. It’s Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law that I can’t seem to get out of my head.
Here’s why: Naomi faced incredible loss – and it rocked her. Do you feel permission to be rocked by your pain? It’s ok to spin a little. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s just not ok to stay that way forever.
I have felt that way before, and sitting here on this balcony, I feel an incredible burden for those facing pain.
Naomi went through a process – and it started out really rocky.
There are 2 dangers when you face loss or suffering.
- The DANGER of ISOLATION
“But on the way, Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes.” (from Ruth 1:8)Naomi tried to send away the only 2 people who could understand what she was going through. She told them to go away and leave her alone in her grief. (Ruth didn’t listen, as the story shows . . .)
The Danger of Isolation is that you may remain stuck in an unending cycle of pain and grief. It is so easy to push people away in your pain. Don’t do it. Reach out. Accept the love and hope offered by those who know what it is to hurt.Sometimes the fact that someone “knows” is the hardest part. It’s easier to reform your life around people who won’t remind you of the loss, isn’t it? What we forget is, the “knowing” also allows for the deepest “caring.” Love is always a risk.
- The DANGER of COMPARISON
“Things are far more bitter for me than for you . . .” (from Ruth 1:13)I know I am not alone in this . . . I come home after a long day. Husband comes home after long day. Then, the time-tested battle of WHO IS MORE TIRED ensues.This is a battle that has lasted for years! It’s important for me to help you understand how bad it is for me. That I have literally solved all the world’s problems today – and I still look cute . . . This is harder for me than it is for you.This is true in the mundane and it’s even more true in pain. Listen, your pain is real and true and hard, and it’s yours. No one can feel exactly what you are feeling, nor is any one person’s response to hurt the same as someone else’s. BUT, that’s a good thing. We are a community. We are diverse in our ability to feel with and for each other.
The Danger of Comparison is this: the more I compare my pain to yours, my experience to yours, the greater the chasm of community between us.
We have to get to the place in which we can individually experience all our own stuff without pushing away those who want to love us through it.
Naomi had a rocky start. She started to spin in her pain. She allowed the bitterness of the darkness around her to build within her – to the point that she started asking everyone to call her Mara instead of Naomi. Mara means bitter.
This is important: This season didn’t last forever for Naomi. She caught a glimpse of the light of a new mission – a way to bring life back into her story and into Ruth’s. And, that mission propelled her out of the pit of bitterness.
She threw off the bitterness and took back her name.
Friends – I have, in my story, let bitterness define me at times. And, at times, I have allowed the community who loves me to pull me out of the pit.
It’s OK to not be OK – but, don’t stay there. Don’t lose yourself to the pain – don’t lose your identity in the darkness.
Look for the light. Allow others to point you to it. Take on a mission that leads to healing.
Here’s the promise: In Jesus, the light wins. The pain ends. The tears stop.
Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” JOHN 8:12 MSG
You don’t have to stay in the pit, my friends. You’ve never belonged there anyway.