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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?

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?

“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?

“For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.”

Most likely, you learned Newton’s third law of physics in school as it related to physical objects.  A swimmer pushes against the water, pushing it back while the water pushes against the swimmer propelling her forward.

But Christian Psychologist Richard Dobbins of Emerge Ministries likened this to what happens in a person’s emotional life. When aar125494496947596 problem pushes against us, we react to it with equal force. Take the Biblical account of Ruth for example. After her husband died in Moab, she was faced with a decision to leave Moab with Naomi or to stay in her homeland. Read the account in Ruth Chapter 1

Naomi became an exertional force, trying to talk her two daughters-in-law into staying in Moab. Naomi was angry at God, depressed, grieving – displaying very strong raw emotions at leaving Moab. After all, she had lost a husband and two sons there. She feared she was about to lose everything else when she returned to Bethlehem because she had no grandsons to inherit her dead husband’s property. Her emotions were running VERY deep.  With that same depth of emotions she tries to push her daughters-in-law away, even though she desperately needs them to stay with her.

Now look at the girls’ reactions. Naomi didn’t have to push very hard to get a response from Orpah. The young woman reacted quickly by  running back to her family – almost without hesitation and with great relief evident in being “freed” from her ties to Naomi. She was as anxious to get away from this bitter old woman as Naomi seemed to be to push her away.

But Ruth reacts by pushing back with equal force against Naomi’s emotional attempt to push her away. The more vehement Naomi became that Ruth should stay in Moab, the more determined Ruth became to stay with her mother-in-law. Both girls displayed this law of physics, but with different end results.

For those who have been hurt by abuse, grief or loss, emotions run deep. We tend to react to a lot of situations based on those deep emotional scars when a new situation triggers these old fears and feelings. This could be one reason we over react. The current problem might not be so big, but years of built up/pent up emotions cause us to blow it  up out of proportion. We end up erupting all over everyone around us.

Others learned to hide their hurts well. They also react in inappropriate ways  – by minimizing their emotions  and giving in to avoid a conflict or deeply emotional reaction, even if the current situation warrants it; even if it hurts them. While it may look like they are under reacting to the situation on the surface, they most likely are over reacting by doing some major damage to their own hearts.

As you look at the way you react to situations and people in your life – is your reaction to them proportionate to the situation or the problem? Do you over react or give in too quickly?  Why do you think you react the way you do? Ask the Lord to teach you new ways of dealing with  so that you can react appropriately to situations or people instead of over or under reacting to them.

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?

Sometimes I just need a little extra reassurance to strengthen my trust in God.  Call it a return to “Lessons in Trust 101.” Maybe that’s why the fate of this little bird seemed so important to me.

After being  shaken out of its nest during last week’s gusty thunder storms, I found this little guy perched on a fallen limb right outside my front door late Friday afternoon. He  looked so sad,, cold and alone that I  couldn’t help but worry about him. Being so close to the ground and away from the safety of the nest, I feared my dog, a cat or some other rural predator might be able to get him. I didn’t think he would survive the night.

Suddenly it became urgent to me that he survive – maybe because his forlorn appearance triggered a kinship with the way I felt inside. I don’t know, exactly, but   I felt helpless and unsure what to do for him. If I moved the branch, he might fall off onto the ground and lose the meager safety and camouflage of the branch. I didn’t want to pick him up. because I was afraid his mother bird would abandon him and I  didn’t know where his nest was to put him back. Yet I knew he wouldn’t survive without help.

As I pondered his situation, I remembered this verse:

Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. Matthew 10:29-30 (CEV)

Though it might seem a little silly to some, I began to pray for this little guy.  I already knew God cared for him, but at the core of my being,  I needed to see my big, strong God prove his care for such  a small, defenseless bird – especially  right at that moment because of things going on in my life and in the lives of those closest to me. I sensed God saying, “Watch and see what I will do” as this  precious object lesson about his protection unfolded right before my eyes.

Friday night turned into Saturday morning and  when I looked out the window to check on him, the little bird  was still there. I also saw a second bird perched on the branch with him.  Through the day when I glanced out at the branch, he was still there, sometimes alone, but often with his guardian-angel bird, even after the Saturday afternoon downpours.

When night fell again, I prayed the same prayer for him, encouraged that God had protected him for one night, and believing he could protect him again. He did. I looked out early Sunday morning and the little bird still huddled on his perch, his guardian-angel bird close by.

But 2 hours later when I went out the front door to walk to the church, he was gone. I walked closer to the branch, looking for feathers or signs of an attack (oh faithless me!) but saw nothing to show that something “got” him. Apparently he had finally flown away on his own to a safer perch.

I may never know whether he had been dazed by the fall and finally recovered  or if he had finally developed enough strength  to fly away on his own, but the lesson af the sparrow will stay with me for a long time. God cares for the sparrow and he  will take care of me too because I matter to him.

Thank you Father for  sharing such an important lesson in trust at a time when I  needed it the most. Amen.

“So then, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us, too, put aside every impediment — that is, the sin which easily hampers our forward movement — and keep running with endurance in the contest set before us,”        Hebrews 12:1 CJB

Why does it feel like we never get anywhere when we’re trying to make changes in our lives? Probably because we always seem to take 2 steps backward for each step forward.

Lot’s wife in Genesis 19 is a great example of this. She hated living in the country so she persuaded her husband to move to the city of Sodom. After all, her husband was a wealthy man with flocks and herds. His servants could care for the critters and she could live the life of luxury she wanted.

City life wasn’t perfect either, but she overlooked the problems because she had the life she wanted. Until two angels came with a message to leave the city so God could destroy it. Lot’s family would be saved with one condition – don’t look back.

But even though she wanted to live;  even though she held her husband’s hand and fled from the coming destruction, the lure of her dream life beckoned to her. All her hopes and dreams were back in the city. Fear of the unknown future and feelings of overwhelming loss stared her in the face.  Even as she was pulled forward, she planted her feet in the ground and resisted the forward pull. Then she’d stumble and try to regain her footing, only to resist again. Finally, the forward motion against the grief in her heart hurt too bad. She gave in and actually looked back at what she’d left behind and she lost her life because of it.

Often, we know what God wants for us. We know the right things to do and how to do them. But  there is this resistance to our forward movement, pulling us two steps back for every step we struggle to take forward. We stumble and feel like we’re not making any headway. The past may not be perfect, but it feels safe because we know what to expect. And so we eventually give up the forward struggle for change.

Realistically, change will never be a straight line forward. It will be this up and down, back and forward kind of motion. But the key is to make forward progress – to take two steps forward and only one step back to reach our goals:

  • Acknowledge the resistance to forward movement in our lives. No, I don’t mean to look back on  the past and mourn for it like Lot’s wife. But we do need to recognize the effect of the past on our lives, so we can consciously find ways to  push forward against it.
  • Be willing fail. In our forward motion to grow and change, we will fail at times. Cultivate an attitude to get up and keep going to say, “OK, that didn’t work, let’s try something new.”
  • Set our eyes on the goal. That way, even if we fall down, we’re still pushing forward and will eventually make visible progress. Each time we push forward against the inertia of the backward pull, we’re strengthening our resolve to move forward.
  • Most important, hold the hand of the One who can help you make the changes you need to make in your life. That way, even if you resist, he can help you make forward progress.

We’re not alone in this life’s journey. All those who’ve gone before are cheering us on, urging us  keep moving forward, to live a victorious life in Christ!

Help me Lord to keep moving forward with my eyes on you until I reach the goal:  a life pleasing to you. Amen.

 

 

 

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