Mary Beth Keenan
Naomi's Lesson: Accepting Accompaniment in Grief
Ruth is one of my favorite women in the Bible. I love that she has an entire book named after her. I love her fortitude in family and example of accompaniment. I get so excited when people talk about Ruth. We even have a child named after her.
I used to get anxious and downcast when people talked about Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law. She used to simply be a bleak catalyst for Ruth’s story in my eyes. Recently though, I have been praying with Naomi and starting to see the beauty and depth of her story.
At first glance Naomi is in the middle of throwing herself a pity party (albeit, a well justified one). She has lost almost everything she holds dear in this world. She and her husband moved to Moab during a time of famine in their homeland of Judah. There, in that foreign land of Moab, her husband and both of her sons died. She and her Moabite daughters-in-law are heading back to the land of Judah as widowers. Towards the beginning of the journey she changes her mind about them joining her. She encourages them to head back to their own mothers’ houses because she cannot imagine how she can care for them in the land of Judah. She fears what other tragedy will strike her life. She has lost trust in the goodness of God and does not want to bring her daughters-in-law into that dark place with her. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, does turn back to her own mother’s house. Ruth however, refuses to leave Naomi’s side, claiming Naomi’s people and God as her own.
Naomi presses Ruth three times to leave her before yielding to Ruth’s accompaniment. While trying to protect her daughters-in-law from further pain, I perceive that Naomi's grief moves her to try to shut out the last few people she can call family. Grief can send us into a spiral of “survival mode” or depression where our fears, loneliness, and negative self-talk take over. It is easy to push away those that are trying to help. These feelings and struggles are valid. Grief is a complicated and individualized experience. While everyone will grieve during their life, our experiences of grief vary from person to person and situation to situation.
It can be so hard to invite others into the depths of grief with us. This is one of the ways that I relate to Naomi. I feel like a burden, knowing that my timeline of grieving is unique. Sometimes I react positively to accompaniment and comforting messages and other times I might snap at the well-intentioned person sitting with me. It takes vulnerability and patience from both people involved to walk through grief together. Ruth’s choice to stay with Naomi, as well as those that have stuck with me in my grief, show me that I am not a burden, that grief cannot be rushed, and that we cannot carry its weight alone.
I pray that you may have “Ruths” in your seasons of grieving - those that refuse to leave your side and care for you in the way that you need. I also pray that you do not push everyone out of the process. That you may take after Naomi’s toleration of Ruth’s accompaniment, allowing those that are safe, to stick with you through the journey.