Grief, Family, and Faith

I have talked about the loss of my great-grandmother in previous posts, including my latest post before today, Love, Loss, and Dreams. This is the first significant loss of my life. As cliche as it may be, it has driven home that death is inevitable. We will all have to face only more loss as life goes on, of people we truly love and want more time with, and our own death. I am a Christian, but the journey of going deeper in my faith is new to me, and I have had a lot to learn about the faith perspective on death, grieving, and the afterlife. 

I was too shocked to cry much at the hospital as my great-grandmother was dying. My family, and the hospital chaplain, all took note of this and expressed concern. In some ways, my journey of realizing that she is truly gone has been an internal tsunami in slow motion. However, all of my loved ones are devastated in our own way. 

Today, I thought of the Biblical story of Ruth from a new perspective. One of the Old Testament’s great matriarchs, an ancestress of Jesus Christ, I have always seen a lot to admire in her story. I related to how hard-working she was: Ruth was up at dawn to work in the fields with the wheat gleaners in Boaz’s fields, and she quickly became endeared to her new community for how hard she worked to support her mother-in-law, Naomi.

I admired that she got a fairy-tale ending. I have also discussed being unlucky in romance, and of course I see a reflection of my hopes in the romance between Ruth and Boaz. Boaz saw Ruth’s admirable qualities and loved her not just for her beauty but for herself, every woman’s dream. He also provided Ruth and Naomi comfort and community. He solved their dilemma and gave them a good life.

However, now I am praying to imbibe from Ruth’s story some of her spirit, some of the generous way she handled grief.

Ruth lost her husband, whom she had wed when she was young, been married to happily for some years despite the fact that they were childless, and she loved his family who were her in-laws, too. When her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law died, she and her sister-in-law Orpah stayed by their mother-in-law Naomi’s side. Eventually, Naomi told both young women to leave her side and start their lives over, and Orpah obeyed.

However, Ruth chose differently. Even though Naomi cursed her fate, was deeply depressed and in despair and renamed herself “Marah”, meaning bitterness, to express what she saw as her hopeless fate, Ruth didn’t leave her side. She traveled with Naomi to her home, even though she knew she would be considered a foreigner there. She worked hard labor to create a new life. Ruth’s work in Boaz’s fields was hard, but her life at home with Naomi must not have been without its difficulties, too.

Naomi was ravaged by her losses. She did not feel like her old self. She was visibly despondent, and spoke negatively. Surely this was not the content, kind-hearted woman that had first welcomed Ruth to her family. But, she didn’t forget that that woman and this new Marah were one in the same, Naomi just needed love, time, and patience. Ruth also had losses and was grieving, but she did not selfishly take Naomi’s new personality to heart as a slight against her, or feel abandoned by her. Well, even if she did, the Bible doesn’t feel it’s important enough to tell us. What is important, what it does record, is that Ruth stayed loyal to Naomi and in the end, they were both renewed and redeemed with blessings by the Lord who knew their hearts, knew their deeds, and knew what was best for them. There was a greater plan at work, too because Ruth’s descendants were King David, and later the Lord Jesus Christ. As much as she loved Naomi’s son, her first husband, it was her line through Boaz that was meant to change the world by bringing believers closer to God.

I acknowledge, and I repent, that I have not had a Ruth spirit when faced with the grieving. In the past, I have had friends who lost loved ones. Anger is a part of the grieving process, but when they lashed out and directed that anger at me I was horrified, perhaps understandably, and I did silently intuit that grief must have something to do with it but I didn’t know how to address it and be supportive. I merely withdrew my friendship. Years ago on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show I heard the phrase, “If you don’t want to be wanting me, I don’t want to be wanting you.” I took this as a maxim to live by: if someone seems to want my company and accepts me in their life, I reciprocate, but if someone seems to be rejecting me I withdraw.

However, in many instances I am still worldly. I think as the world does, do what is taught and accepted in and by the world. In so many instances, a faith perspective, the Christian thing to do, seems to be directly contradictory to the worldly perspective.  The world says that in these uncertain times, it is prudent to avoid your neighbor; the Bible says to love your neighbor. The world says “Once bitten, twice shy”; the Bible says forgive. The world loathed outcasts of Jesus’s day, like tax collectors in the employ of Rome, prostitutes, Gentiles and lepers. Jesus accepted them, and to this day Christian outreach accepts those who have troubled pasts and are trying to reform.

I accepted the world’s logic, to pull away when you feel rejected. This, however, only made one of my loved ones feel rejected in turn. They have supported me through great ordeals, and my tactic of pulling away because they seemed to be angry and short-tempered made them feel I was not supporting them, in return. Just as in the case of my friends who lashed out in their grief, I didn’t really know what to do. This level of loss is new for me, but it is new for all my family.

Naomi had never lost two sons and a husband before.

Orpah had never lost a husband before.

Ruth, and her mother- and sister-in-law were facing an unprecedented grief. But Ruth did not upbraid Naomi for her personality change, nor did she rage at Orpah when she made the decision to leave. Ruth didn’t waste time feeling unwanted, or slighted, the way I did.

I pray to emulate her grace and generosity in grief, and in supporting her grieving family. Ruth did not know what would await her when she took on the hard labor of gleaning Boaz’s field, but she trusted the Lord as she had when she left her homeland. I, too, am a stranger in a new land, a new land of grief, but I pray that renewal will come to my family as it did Ruth’s.

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