Naomi didn’t even feel like herself anymore. After the shattering loss of her most precious and beloved family, she saw herself as nothing more than the shell of a woman who once had a joyful life. She couldn’t see any possibility of even an ounce of that joy returning to her life. All of her faith and hope had been obliterated.
As some of us know all too well, we cannot prevent the suffering that comes packaged with human life. The people of Grace Church have witnessed our own suffering traumatic losses that are difficult to comprehend and impossible to make sense of. We’ve experienced how the pain of one family’s tragic loss ripples through the whole community and leaves us all feeling a little helpless and needing the love of God more than ever.
God weaved each person’s life together in distinctive ways, meaning that our individual response to suffering will be as unique as our fingerprints. It will be influenced by factors such as the nature of our trauma, our personality traits and mental health, our personal history of loss or traumatic events, where we are in our spiritual journey, and the people surrounding us in our lives.
Despite the individual differences in our responses, it seems to be universal that the experience of traumatic loss is profoundly disorienting for all of us. Looking back on my own experience, I feel like I could have easily gone in one of two directions: toward the light or sucked into the darkness. I definitely straddled that line for a period of time before fully trusting God and choosing the light. I understand now that suffering creates the kind of fertile ground that is well prepared for the seeds of spiritual growth—or on the flip side, appealing to the weeds of spiritual demise.
I think what led me back to the light when crisis wrecked my joyful life is that I had begun to cultivate the faith that I needed to withstand the storm. If I hadn’t chosen the love of God as my life’s foundation by the point in which my trauma hit, I may have very well tried to destroy all of the goodness I had left in life.
Perhaps that’s where Naomi found herself when she lost so much that was precious to her. She couldn’t see the possibility of any light being left in her circumstance. We don’t get many clues about whether she had cultivated any faith or what she considered to be her foundation in life. Considering the social structures of those ancient times and her response, I imagine that she may have seen her family as her foundation—which is exactly what she lost. I believe we do have the evidence that her traumatic loss set her up for spiritual demise. In her hopelessness, she tried to send away the two daughters-in-law she had left. Causing herself to end up completely alone would have been very self-destructive for a woman in those times.
God designed us to share community with each other, and for good reason. Human life is all intertwined whether we’re engaging in community or not. When one of us suffers, we all ultimately get hurt. Unresolved trauma can be passed from one person to another and from one generation to the next. So when someone loses all hope and can’t find the light, those of us who still have it should share it.
In the absence of faith to lead her back to the light, Naomi needed someone in her community to love her enough to pull her out of the quicksand of darkness. Although Ruth was suffering her own loss, she responded differently. Something in her spirit held onto the hope that they could build a new life together. Perhaps she was holding onto the memories of happier times when they were all a family. She may have felt that letting her mother-in-law slip through the cracks of society would be dishonoring to the husband she dearly loved and she anticipated an overwhelming sense of guilt if she took no action to stop it. Her soul knew that their lives should be intertwined, and she could feel that new possibilities were on the horizon with God. She had faith, and she loved Naomi enough to share it.
Because Ruth demonstrated her faith to Naomi by staying by her side, Naomi opened her eyes to the fact that anything is possible with God. Once her eyes were opened and fixed on the hope Ruth shared with her, they worked together to reestablish a life in which they could both thrive together and honor the important things they had lost.
You’ll have to read the story to get all of the fun details about how they built that new life (no spoilers here!), but I will say that Ruth’s seed of faith took root and grew into something really beautiful. In the short term, Ruth’s small bit of faith restored a joyful light to Naomi’s life. But God took that small offering of faith and performed grand works with it. In the long term, Ruth’s offering grew into the cornerstone of every Christian’s faith in the whole world today. The way she lived her life led to Jesus. I hope her story inspires us to do the same.