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The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Reman

 

At first glance, the Book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love and loyalty. But when I began to dig further, I found a rich source of life lessons for dealing with emotional hurts.

As Dr. Reman’s quote suggests, unresolved grief can lead to other problems including depression.  Perhaps it was the sheer volume of Naomi’s grief – moving away from friends and family, then losing her husband and two sons in a foreign land – that caused her to lapse into such a deep depression. We know she was depressed because she tells her friends to call her “bitter” (Mara) when she finally returns to Bethlehem.

Because Naomi felt responsible for her two daughters-in-law, she may not have allowed herself to fully grieve the lthCAJAZKZFoss of her  sons. Her depression may have escalated into anxiety and desperation causing her to push the girls  back to their own families – to ensure that they would have a future and to relieve herself of the burden of responsibility.

When Ruth refused to go back, the weight of responsibility for the young woman’s welfare must have hung even more heavily around  Naomi’s shoulders. She truly loved Ruth and wanted only the best for her, but in her depressed state of mind, Naomi couldn’t even imagine a solution. She became anxious and  desperate grasping at any small hope for a future for Ruth.

The Lord was orchestrating events for the two women in response to Ruth’s faith. He pointed her to the fields of Boaz, a perfect candidate to become the kinsman redeemer, a provision of Jewish law which ensured the care of widows and allowed the deceased family to retain their inheritance. But in Naomi’s depression she was unable to trust the Lord. When she realized Boaz could be a potential savior for herself and Ruth, she saw a glimmer of hope. But as time dragged on and Boaz didn’t follow through, Naomi became desperate and took matters into her own hands. She prostituted her daughter-in-law, hoping nature would take its course which would  force Boaz to “do what was right” by the women.

Because Ruth’s marriage to Boaz was part of God’s plan, there was no need for Naomi’s anxious and desperate measures. It would have worked out in God’s time with or without Naomi’s help.

God is in control of our lives as his daughters. Can you think of any times where you felt so desperate for something that you took matters into your own hands? What lessons have you learned about peace, rest and trust from these experiences?

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tears-depressionAll of us will experience grief in our lives – through losses like homes or jobs or in other ways. We will all experience the pain of losing someone dear to us. Death is a fact of life.  For some, if left untreated, their grief will morph into serious depression. That’s where we find Naomi in  Ruth 1:19-22.

Naomi had lost everything. She lost contact with her extended family and support system when she travelled to Moab with her beloved husband Elimelech during the severe famine in Bethlehem. She lost her permanent home, replacing it with a nomad’s tent.  But, she grieved her losses and carried on with her life. She was able to cope because she still had her husband and sons.

While in Moab, her husband died. Once again, Naomi grieved her loss. She felt the loneliness of losing a spouse, partner and best friend. She wept and probably wailed as was the custom of her people. But Naomi was able to cope because she still had her two sons and hope for a future generation to carry on their family name. Her family still could be part of the promised Messianic line to come and her sons could once again possess the lands of their father when the famine was over.

But when both of her sons died without fathering sons, Naomi lost her ability to cope. Life became too dismal, too hopeless as she slipped from grief into the black pit of depression. She would have to sell her family’s holdings in Bethlehem because there were no sons to manage them. There was no one to take care of her in her old age.

As she traveled back to her extended family and support system in Bethlehem, she was too numb to feel the support everyone offered her. She admitted her depression, instructing her friends to call her “bitter” rather than “pleasant” as her name implied. With what little emotional energy she had left, she blamed God for her circumstances and curled up into a ball, waiting to die. No doubt she wondered often what she had done to make God so angry with her that he would take away everything that mattered to her.

Naomi’s story has a happy ending though. She got through her depression. Through the Bible narration, we see the Lord  at work in the background of Naomi’s story the whole time, orchestrating the events of her life to help her grieve while providing and caring for her. God made a way for Ruth to gather food for her mother-in-law. Ruth’s faith, love and prayers supported Naomi, especially when she couldn’t pray for herself.

As the story unfolds, Ruth marries Boaz and later through the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, a son is born.This child is a significant part of Naomi’s healing because at last she felt like God cared for her again. She let go of her anger at God and was able to trust him – understanding that he wasn’t angry with her.

Her story helps us to understand that we’re not totally alone as we go through our grieving process. No matter how deep our pain or extensive our loss, the Lord is always there working in the background  circumstances and events of our lives to help us grow into stronger, mature believers. Even when we cannot see him, he’s helping us, gently guiding us along the path to healing. In the end, Naomi’s hope is restored as God’s plan comes together.

We have the additional advantage of seeing into Naomi’s future – the Bible tells us that her grandson was indeed part of the Messianic line, an ancestor to Jesus. Wow! What a wonderful message to boost our hope as we go through difficult grief and depression.

Have you ever experienced loss like Naomi and given up hope? How did you cope? How did the Lord and others help you to heal?

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“Until the pain of change hurts less than the pain of staying the same, people prefer to stay the same.” Psychologist Richard Dobbins

In the real world, this is so true. 99% of people who come to know the Lord as their personal Savior, do so because of inner pain that hurts so much they cannot stay the same. Most people make health-related lifestyle changes for the same reasonthMBEN5S1D.

In the world of stories, this is true too – our characters and our plots are motivated by conflict. Both inner  struggles and struggles with the world around them move our characters to action, growth and change.

Consider the Bible account of Ruth and Naomi in Ruth, chapter 1. After losing her husband and two sons in Moab, the pain of remaining there was too great for Naomi. Even though her future looked bleak in Bethlehem, it looked even bleaker in Moab, so she packed up what she could and sold the rest of her belongings.

Naomi offered the same choice to her daughters-in law, although her description of life in Bethlehem was undoubtedly colored by her depressed state of mind. She painted it as bleak as possible, perhaps in an attempt to drive Ruth and Orpah from her. For Orpah, the move was too hard. She opted to stay in Moab. But for Ruth, the pain of remaining in Moab outweighed the pain of a bleak, uncertain future. She chose to return with Naomi.

Ruth’s choice piqued my curiosity – Why was it more painful to stay in Moab? Based on her family history,  it could have been an abusive past. Perhaps she had never known the love of a mother like Naomi. Most likely, it was a combination of factors. Whatever her reasons, the fact remains that it was too painful to stay in Moab.

In fact, the “pain of staying the same” was so great for Ruth, that she made a powerful, vehement vow to remain with Naomi until she died – a promise that was taken very seriously by the culture of that day and age. Understanding the depth of her determination to go with Naomi, leads me to believe the pain of life in Moab may have been life-threatening.

Naomi faced the pain of change with a grim determination that transitioned into deep depression the closer she got to Bethlehem. She told her relatives on her return to call her “Mara” which means “bitter.” Yet Ruth faced her pain of change  with determination and hope in spite of the bleakness of her choice. She was willing to do whatever it took to survive from the arduous work of gleaning to prostituting herself if necessary to ensure a future for herself and Naomi.

But it was Ruth’s attitude as she faced the pain of change that made all the difference. Because of her hopefulness, her dedication and desire to remain with Naomi, she became respected by Boaz as well as everyone in Bethlehem. Her ultimate wedding to Boaz was a joyful community affair.

Think about a time when crisis forced you to face a painful change in your life:

Did you choose to stay the same? Or did you choose to make a change?

If you decided to make a change, what kind of attitude did you display through the painful change – one of anger, depression and bitterness or hopeful acceptance?

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Has God ever challenged you with a simple question?
Fifteen years ago, I began researching the lives of women in the scripture to find any who may have experienced emotionally damaging events in their lives. I needed to find those who had experienced hardships and come through victoriously to bolster my courage during a difficult time of emotional healing.
I was about ready to gloss over Ruth’s …story because I thought there was nothing mentioned about shame and abuse. Then the Lord asked me a series of questions:salt_pillar
God: Have you considered Ruth’s life?
Me: No – it’s a story about love and loyalty, not shame and abuse.
God:  Where did Ruth come from?
Me: Duh! Lord, everyone knows she was a Moabite!
God: Well, where did the Moabites come from?
Me: (humbled that He kept after me) Okay, God, I’ll find out.
What I found blew me away! I found the answer in Genesis chapter 19.   Moab was the child of Lot and his elder daughter – a product of incest, a sin that was taboo in most cultures. I was perhaps made more palatable because of the prevailing attitude of sex among the inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorah where Lot’s two daughters were raised. In desperation and fear of the future when they fled from the destruction of their life-long home, the girls turned to what they knew, passing a destructive legacy to all the female descendants of  Lot who followed them.
It raised a question in my mind – what if Ruth had also been a victim of incest, given their culture’s views that such relationships were permitted or at least overlooked when certain situations called for it?
Learning about Ruth’s family heritage cast her  in a whole new light and helped me to look at her story through new eyes which led to the writing of my first novel, Daughter of Lot.
What questions has God used to challenge you?

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“Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner
like mercy and love.
Souls that converse much with sin and wrath,
may be much terrified;
but souls that converse much with grace and mercy,
will be much humbled.”

~ ~Thomas Brooks (1608 – 1680) ~

A Touch of Mercy
Bonnie Winters © 6/5/2006

A short story based on John 8:1-11 (NIV)

Gritty dust caked on her teary cheeks as she lay panting on the ground where she fell. It mingled with blood seeping from the cut on her mouth where a heavy-handed man slapped her to quiet her protests.

“Get up, harlot. Let’s see how Jesus judges you today.” A rough hand hauled her to her feet and shoved her forward. She willed herself to keep silent against the pain as she stumbled into a circle of leering men. Regaining her balance, she lifted her chin in an attempt at a haughty pose. Her clenched teeth bit back the retort she would have made to the Pharisees who dragged her here.

Fools, she thought, raking the circle with her eyes. She masked her fading bravado as she realized there was nowhere to run. The bawdy crowd blocked her escape, calling for the Master’s decision.

“Stone her. She was taken in the very act of adultery. She is guilty!” A sallow man, dressed in the gaudy robes of richness, stroked his beard with one hand while he shook his other fist in the air. She recognized his beady eyes and harsh features; he was the man who had been spying on her every move, waiting and baiting her.

She spat her contempt in his direction as the crowd took up his accusation. “Stone her! Stone her. It is the law.” She could almost see their fingers twitch in anticipation against the rocks in their hands.

On the fringes of the tense crowd, enterprising young men lay odds on the outcome of the spectacle. Anger and fear warred in her breast as her breathing quickened through her clenched teeth.

The icy bitterness in her eyes focused on the one they called “Master.” Go ahead. Condemn me, just like everyone else. What’s it to you if I die? There will just be one less harlot in the world. Why should you care that a Roman soldier stole my virginity before I was even a woman? You are a man just like all the rest, taking what I offer, then spitting in my face. But at least when I ply my trade, I hold the power.

Jesus met her glare. Like the warm wind of spring blowing over the land, His gaze melted the ice in her eyes. The catcalls and demanding shouts from the crowd faded until He was the only one in her world. Suddenly the air grew thick as she gulped back the tears, trying to steel herself against the searing compassion in His eyes. Her heart burned as though a flame had scorched it – burning away all her defenses, her hatred and bitterness, leaving her soul naked before Him. She pulled her torn cloak tighter around her shoulders, grasping it about her neck. If only she could run and hide her shame from His eyes.

Unable to break the hold of His powerful gaze, images of her life flashed through her mind. She was a cowering child with a tear-stained face, an angry adolescent declaring she would overcome her oppressors, a haughty woman taking control of her life in the only way she knew how. His eyes reflected a frightened and hurting lioness ready to turn back toward her enemy in self-preservation and rip him to shreds. The total love and forgiveness she felt in his visual embrace shamed her to the core of her being.

How can He love me with all the bitterness and hatred I see in my heart? I can never be good enough – never be clean enough to be worthy of Him. She held her body rigid, fighting against His love. The only evidence of her inner struggle was the trembling of her lower lip.

When He turned his gaze away and stooped nearby to write in the dust, the burning faded. The air chilled as though the sun had disappeared behind a gray cloud. Her soul was alone again with its icy bitterness.

She became conscious of the crowd once more. “What is he doing?” Necks craned to read His words. “Why isn’t he doing something?” The crowd began to shift nervously. “He must call for stoning. It is the law!”

When the woman’s accusers continued to badger Him, He rose and met each man’s eyes with a level gaze. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

“No!” Fear swallowed her last shred of hope as she raised her arms to cover her head for what little protection she could muster. He had deceived her! Lulled her into a false hope that He was different, caring. This Jesus was throwing her to the ravenous Pharisee dogs. She tensed, closing her eyes and waiting for the first stone to pelt her body. But the pain never came.

Nervous feet scuffed the ground, as the crowd dispersed man by man. Silence. She opened her eyes; slowly lowering her arms, daring to glance around her, yet ready to cover herself if needed. The Master still wrote on the ground, but the men were gone.

Her eyes stared at the man drawing pictures in the dust. She willed him to look at her, to face her and explain why – how He could move her heart to repentance in one moment then turn on her the next. But she dare not voice her thoughts. He was after all a man with the power to break her.

Finally Jesus stood and gazed around the empty street. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

The dragon of self-protection rose in her heart, spewing haughty words. “No one, sir.” As their eyes met for the second time, she flushed with self-condemnation for her shameful actions. She sniffed back the tears. Her lips trembled again, awaiting His judgment.

Why don’t you condemn me? Why don’t you stone me? You know what I am. You know the anger and hatred I feel. Do something! Please don’t just stand there staring at me. I deserve to die.

“Then neither do I condemn you.” He smiled, His understanding and love reaching out to her lonely heart. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

She turned and fled from His presence, running until her breath came in hard gasps. Nausea roiled in the pit of her stomach. Bile burned her throat as she retched onto the hard-packed earth. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

Kneeling there beside the road, she poured out her sins and hurts to her God. I am so sorry, God, so sorry. She wept bitterly.

“Neither do I condemn you.” His words reverberated in her mind. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

A feeling of lightness, newness, seeped into her soul. She could never, would never go back to that life again. He had seen the raw nakedness of her soul and showed mercy in spite of it. Behold, He made all things new

***

Today’s In Other Words is hosted by Twinkle Mom at her site SunflowerFaith.  If you’d like to participate, share you thoughts on your blog site.  Then, visit Twinkle Mom’s blog  and share a  link to your blog.

Be sure to visit the others who have also written on it and leave a comment for each one as well, so they know you were there.You will be blessed!

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A Short Story Based on Genesis 16:1-15

“You worthless slave! You have caused me so much trouble; I almost wish you had died out there in the wilderness. If you weren’t carrying Abram’s child… Humph!  I would beat you senseless for your insolence.”

Hagar clamped her lips together in a thin line and stood tall in the face of Sarai’s rageShe wanted to blurt out every detail of her experience in the wilderness – how Abram’s God had seen her lying there on the ground with her face covered in muddy tears because of the older woman’s harsh words and abuse. How He comforted her and told her the baby she carried was a son. Yes, she…Hagar… a worthless slave, would bear Abram a fine son when her mistress couldn’t even conceive!

A hint of a smirk played on the young slave’s lips. The old familiar arrogance bubbled up from the pit of her stomach. When my son is born, we’ll see who’s worthless, she thought

Submit to your mistress.” The force of the whispered words in her heart left her emotions off-balance just as Sarai raised her hand, striking the young slave’s cheek.

Hagar staggered backwards. Her cheeks paled and black spots danced before her eyes. She grasped her bulging abdomen and breathed deeply to keep herself from fainting.

The eyes of her mistress narrowed. “If anything happens to that child because of your foolishness, you will pay! Now, go to your own tent and get out of my sight!”

Submit to Sarai.” The Voice spoke again as Hagar stumbled back to her own tent.

Shadows crept over her soul, like the darkness swallows the desert at twilight. She feared this inner darkness more than anything her mistress could do t her.  Would Abram’s God kill her unborn son because of her foolish pride?

“Forgive me Lord. I know you told me I must come back and submit to Sarai, but you see how she goads me.  I don’t know how I can bear her abuse until this child is born. “

Tears pooled in her eyes as she sank wearily into the pile of goatskins in one corner. Though she was able to maneuver her body into a comfortable position, her heartache increased. Sleep refused to come. “I guess I thought it would be different. I hoped you would change her heart and things would be better. But she hasn’t changed at all! Why did you make me come back here?” She sobbed, unable to stem the flow of her tears.

Things will be better Hagar. You’ll see.”

El Roi, the God who sees, was still watching her, hearing the cries of her heart!  An overwhelming shame blanketed her soul and she wept bitterly.  “I am unworthy of Your care, my Lord. After all You did for me in the wilderness, my only thought was to flaunt it in the face of my mistress. Help me to lay aside my foolish pride and arrogance. Help me to please you with my attitude.”

Once again, the Voice spoke to her heart. “You cannot come face to face with the God who sees you and remain the same. Your mistress has not changed, but you have.”

Hagar struggled to sit up, dashing the tears from her cheeks as a cocoon of love enveloped her. A sense of wonder swelled inside for His words to her heart rang true. El Roi was not just the God of Abram; He was her God too!  He saw the ugly condition of her heart and cleansed it, made it new again. He forgave her!

The young slave knew what she had to do. She bowed her head and surrendered her will wholly to her God. “No matter what my mistress does; no matter how she treats me; even if she never changes toward me or the son I carry, I will serve Sarai as an offering of love to You.”

by Bonnie Winters – January 21, 2011

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