Gracefully Truthful

Desperate,Emptiness,Faith,Fear,Hope,Meaning,Provider,Purpose,Redeemed

Read His Words Before Ours!

Ruth 1:1-22
Exodus 15:22-16:8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Revelation 21:1-5

As Naomi entered Bethlehem, her heart was breaking. The sight of the familiar streets cast her mind back to happier times when she had walked them with her husband, her sons playing alongside. 

How joyful and carefree they had been! But then, everything had changed . . .

First, a severe famine had forced them to leave Bethlehem. (Ruth 1) It hadn’t been easy to leave their homeland, but they had settled in Moab and been happy. At least they had one another. 

But then Naomi’s husband, Elimilech, had died, followed around ten years later by not just one, but both of her sons. They had left as a family of four. Now as Naomi returned, alone, the sense of loss was overwhelming.

Sadly, loss is something we all encounter at some point. It may be the tragic death of loved ones, as with Naomi, but there are other losses – divorce, life-changing illness, redundancy, loss of a friendship . . .

The last couple of years have brought so much loss for us all due to the pandemic. We’ve grieved the loss of celebrations with family and friends, cancellations of long-anticipated plans, the loss of “normal” in gathering and traveling, all of which we once took for granted.  

Sometimes, even “smaller” losses hit us hard.

In Naomi’s case, the devastating losses were so overwhelming they affected her whole sense of identity. As her old friends greeted her on her return to Bethlehem, her bitterness poured out.

“‘Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,’ she answered, ‘for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?’” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Several years earlier, as the Israelites travelled through the wilderness, they found themselves in a similar place of bitterness. (Exodus 15:22-27) After three days of searching for water, they finally found some, only to discover it was too bitter to drink. Just as Naomi identified herself by her bitterness, the Israelites identified the place by its bitterness, naming it Marah.

While God miraculously removed the bitterness from the water, the bitterness in the Israelites’ hearts remained. They continued their journey, complaining about the lack of food, even looking back fondly to their days of slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 16:1-8)

Their bitterness blinded them to the reality of God’s provision. They had recently witnessed the Red Sea parting before them, enabling them to escape the Egyptians, and they had personally known God’s presence leading them every step of the way!

Similarly, Naomi’s bitterness blinds her to the truth that she is not alone. God has not brought her back empty. Her faithful daughter-in-law, Ruth, is beside her, and although Naomi has unquestionably suffered devastating losses, it is not the end of her story. God still has a good plan for her.

In Naomi’s return to Bethlehem, we see a glimmer of hope. On hearing God has blessed His people in Israel by providing food once again for “the Lord had paid attention to His people’s need,” (Ruth 1:6) she chooses to go home. It is a physical return, but perhaps it is also the beginning of a spiritual return, of turning back to God, of turning toward hope in His promises and His goodness, even in the midst of loss.

What about our response in our times of loss? Do we become stuck in the wilderness of bitterness and isolation, or do we turn back to God? Do we choose to return to “Bethlehem” and remember that, in Jesus, God entered our pain and suffering to deal with sin and brokenness and offer us hope?

A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a friend’s husband. It was a tragic loss; he was a wonderful, godly man who seemed to have been taken far too soon, leaving behind a wife, four children, one grandchild and another on the way. There was great sorrow, of course, and a huge sense of loss, but not a trace of bitterness.

Instead, the whole service was a beautiful testimony to God’s faithfulness and presence even in the midst of loss, and it expressed a determination to hold onto Him and His hope.

One of the readings was from 1 Thessalonians 4, which encourages followers of Jesus that we do not “grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

We will grieve, and we will experience loss of various kinds, but, in Jesus, we always have hope. Ours is an unshakable hope that comes from knowing Him as He walks with us through loss and reminds us that, no matter what losses we face, they are not the end of our story.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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Tammy Kennington
Tammy Kennington
10 months ago

Lesley,

Loss is, regrettably, part our story this side of heaven. I love that end with hope–just as our lives will if we know Jesus as Lord.

Peace and grace,
Tammy

Lois Flowers
Lois Flowers
10 months ago

Lesley, your ending brings to mind a favorite song by Phil Wickham, “Living Hope.” Loss is hard enough; I can’t imagine having to grieve without the promise of heaven and that God will one day make all things new.

Maree Dee
Maree Dee
10 months ago

Yes, we will have losses but we can still have hope. Thank you for the encouragement today.

Linda Stoll
Linda Stoll
10 months ago

Oh how easily bitterness seeps in til it defines our very beings. Yet another subtle tool of the evil one. May we mourn our losses well, yes, even the small ones. And in doing so, not give the evil one a foothold.

Thanks for this, Lesley.

Nancy Ruegg
Nancy Ruegg
10 months ago

Hallelujah, in Christ we always have hope! I too have witnessed joy in spite of tragic loss. The presence of God in a life makes all the difference. A wonderful reflection, Lesley!

Barbara Harper
Barbara Harper
10 months ago

I wonder if bitterness sometimes comes from our tendency to view everything as ours, that we’re entitled to, instead of gifts from God. Viewing everything as really belonging to God doesn’t make the loss hurt any less, but it reminds us all is safe in His hands and He has a purpose, even though we don’t see it. Thank you for this reminder not to let loss turn into bitterness, but to keep our hope in God.

Sara Jane Kehler
Sara Jane Kehler
10 months ago

I agree, we’ve all lost so much during the last 2 years. Everyone’s story is different, yet it seems that each story includes loss. And then we wonder where God is.

But God never left. He’s still there in the pain. He always proves Himself faithful, even when my human self feels disappointed with Him, which I wrote about here: http://saralivingfree.com/2020/12/27/disappointment-with-god/

Thanks for the reflection today.

With love, Sara Jane Kehler

Lisa notes
Lisa notes
10 months ago

I’m sorry for your friend’s loss. It’s always hard to lose people we love. Thank you for reminding us that even in grief we don’t have to fall into bitterness.

Joanne Viola
Joanne Viola
10 months ago

This >>> “Their bitterness blinded them to the reality of God’s provision” and “Similarly, Naomi’s bitterness blinds her to the truth that she is not alone.” Bitterness will rob us from more than we realize. May I realize quickly, and focus on the truth of how Jesus enters every circumstance with me. A most encouraging post!

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[…] Join me at Gracefully Truthful as we reflect on how we can avoid bitterness as we deal with loss and explore how God can give us hope, even in the midst of grief and pain. […]

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