November 4, 2019 at 10:19 pm · naltadonna · 0 comments
Sometimes we paint a picture that the Christian faith is all about the mountaintops, and we expect Christians to be good and happy all the time. But we all know that the Christian faith is not all sunshine and mountaintops. The Christian faith does not mean that we get to avoid suffering or pain. In Psalm 23:4 we find a promise, “Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The operative word is “through”- God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. This Sunday we began a three-week series called Through the Valley, about faith in the midst of the struggle, pain, and darkness. This Sunday was All Saints Sunday, which meant that we remembered the saints who have gone before us. In light of All Saints Sunday, we began our series talking about grieving loss of loved ones.
We often deal with grief by numbing or avoiding it, but those two ways of dealing with grief cause more harm in the long run. Ruth 1 can teach us some important truths about grief. In Ruth 1, we encounter a woman named Naomi who endures much grief- she loses her homeland and extended family in a move to Moab because of a famine. Then, her husband and both of her sons die. In the midst of all the grief, she decides to return home to Bethlehem. When she is greeted by her community, she doesn’t hide her grief, she gives voice to her deepest feelings. She is honest with God and with her community about her grief. She expresses emotions of anger, bitterness, and emptiness. While we tend to numb or stuff down our grief, Naomi teaches us how to lean into our grief. When we lean into our grief, God begins to lead us through the darkest valley. After Naomi’s outburst, the scripture says that Ruth and her arrived during the season of the barley harvest. New life was bursting forth at the harvest. God is at work redeeming Naomi’s tears. In time, as she journeys with God through the darkest valley, she becomes instrumental in match-making for Ruth and Boaz, and she has grandchildren, who are a part of the lineage of Jesus. Grief and loss do not have the final word, God does.
There is something powerful in how the community responds to Naomi’s grief. They don’t criticize or question her or share unhelpful platitudes. They allow her to feel what she feels. They engage in a ministry of presence with her. Ministry of presence is simply being present to someone who is grieving. It is not necessarily saying anything, for there isn’t anything we can say that will fix the pain. Ministry of presence is listening to them and telling and showing them that you are there for them in the midst of the struggle. Ministry of presence lets people know that they are not alone and that God and their community cares for them in the midst of the valley.
Henri Nouwen shared a thought-provoking quote about loss: “And still I also believe that absence might lead to the awareness of a new presence. Lately, I have found much comfort in the words of Jesus: ‘It is for your good that I leave, because unless I leave my Spirit cannot come.’ Jesus’ leaving meant that he would become more intimately present to us, that he would unite himself in a new way with us. Because of his death we can say: ‘Not I live but Christ lives in me.’ I have a feeling that this is not just true of Jesus, but in and through Jesus of all people who leave us. In their absence we can develop a new intimacy with them and grow. We even can become more like them and fulfill their mission in life until the day comes that we too have to leave so that our spirit can stay with those we love. In this way mourning can slowly turn into joy, and grief into rebirth.”
- Monday- Ruth 1
- Tuesday- Ruth 2
- Wednesday- Ruth 3
- Thursday- Ruth 4
- Friday- Psalm 43
Questions to Consider and Discuss:
- In your own experience, how have you dealt with grief? What does it look like to “lean into grief”?
- How is God inviting you to engage in a ministry of presence with someone who is hurting?