I boarded the airplane feeling like such an adult. I was all alone and heading to a new city for an awesome job interview. My arms and legs were electrified with excitement. I had complete assurance in what God had planned for me, so taking these steps seemed so easy. The young girl next to me turned and offered me a piece of gum which I kindly refused, but asked, “Are you from Nashville?” She said, “No, but my family is. I go to school in Virginia Beach. Are you?” I replied, “No, I’m actually just heading there for…” My throat closed. Water spilled out from my eyes. “Oh gosh, I am so sorry. I didn’t expect this emotion to come up right now, forgive me.” Humiliated, I took a minute to get myself together and finish our conversation.
Grief. It’s unexpected, inconvenient, and heavy. It bombards our thoughts, our actions, and our hopes in ways that we can’t plan around. It is present with every heartbreak, every loss, and every transition.
I know transition all too well. The Lord knows my life has been full of them. When it’s time for a transition, I know how to process what I am leaving, and how I typically respond to the discomfort of newness. The frustrating thing is that it’s not any easier to grieve. The pit in my stomach still occurs. The tightening in my chest is just as consuming. The uncontrollable crying remains relentless.
I discovered most recently that I’ve learned how to deal with change by myself and with God. I can handle it if I can retreat, take my time, and then very slowly re-enter into normal life and relationships. This pattern is a well thought out way of dealing with grief the way I know how. But what if God has something more for me? What happens if I am so busy processing my own grief that I neglect the people around me?
I am moved by the story of Ruth. A woman whose faithfulness surpassed her grief. Her husband dies, her brother-in-law dies, and she turns to Naomi to say, “I will follow you.” Even when Naomi turns to bitterness, isolation, and inner turmoil, Ruth remains steadily focused on her purpose. It is absolutely crucial that we reflect on Ruth 1:14 because we miss the point if we miss this verse.
In verse 13, Naomi lays out the reasonable truth that the two girls really should return to their homes to find refuge after such a tragedy, and prepare for their next marriage and family. Anyone would agree that this is the wise choice according to every standard of the world. The Spirit then reports, “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (v. 14). It is not that Ruth denies the tragedy or the real grief that came after. She feels the pain of loss. She lifts her face and shouts out cries of angst, and she unapologetically weeps. Notice it says, “they” lifted their voices. They expressed together. The difference is that after this outward expression of grief, Ruth doesn’t isolate into inward grief. She clings to her mother-in-law and conveys, you won’t do this alone- I’m going with you. I’m going to the deepest, darkest places with you. I’m going to share shelter, I’m going to share community, I’m going to share fellowship with God. Ruth responds with overwhelming humility. She refuses to take personal refuge, but insists on shared refuge.
God intends for grief to be healed both personally and in community, but it seems like our society has lost the humility it requires to share grief. Instead, we look like Orpah. We cry for a minute then get up, dust off our knees, and go home to take care of ourselves. We have lost Ruth’s beautiful depiction of humbly submitting ourselves to community. We have something to learn from her willingness to abandon herself and cling to someone. I want to be the person who can shamelessly cling to someone who knows my heart, is trustworthy, and is following God even through the pain.
I have seen my tendencies to isolate inwardly in this season. I am a nanny, and my life looks unbelievably different than it has for the past few years. It is humbling, it is exhausting, and it is also rewarding. I often feel hope, defeat, and loneliness in the timespan of an hour. One hour. When I have time to take for myself, I could easily retreat to process these things in the safety of my own home. I could find comfort within the small spaces of my own inner struggle. Or I could find fellow warriors who will be a support in this crazy transition. I could invite people into the process of grief, hope, and new rhythms. If I don’t do it now, then I may lose a lot of opportunities God has planned for me.
On my third day being a nanny, I was on the verge of a breakdown. My sweet little one ate something spicy and had a complete meltdown in the middle of the place we were eating. I made her plate, so it was clearly my fault. I was embarrassed, exhausted, and at the end of my rope. All I could think was, “Oh gosh, take me home.” After she calmed down a little, we began playing with toys, and she was recuperating from the meltdown, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t get myself out of the funk. I just wanted to escape home. In this exact moment, she curiously looks up at me and says, “Do you have a family?” Taken off guard, I replied yes. To which she said, “Can you tell me about them?”
The girl is three. She can’t know how this spoke to me. It was God saying, “Hey, it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. It’s not okay to believe that you’re all alone.” The Spirit knows us in our grief, the Son knows us in our grief, and the Father knows us in our grief. Let’s allow God’s people to know us in our grief, too. We would experience fellowship in ways we’ve never known it. We will also experience disappointment, because people don’t know how to do this just like we don’t. No one is capable of carrying your grief, and we should never have the expectation that they can. Ruth didn’t carry Naomi; she just walked with her. Our lives would change if we humbly submitted to community. If we had the boldness to invite people to follow us into the grief.
The beautiful part about grief is that we share intimately with the suffering that Christ endured. He didn’t bypass the painful reality of sin and death, of loneliness and betrayal, but he took it on himself to feel deeply. He cried out to the Father in desperation. It’s my belief that when we grieve, we’re actually experiencing a deep union with Jesus that we can’t feel anywhere else. We get to know him and be known by him, and it’s a surreal thing when we can see a glimpse of that process in someone else. There’s a grace in patiently and quietly walking with someone in their process because we see God’s nature. It takes fearlessness and such trust to do this, and to prayerfully endure. It is so worth it when we get to see the Church walk in dependence first on God and second on one another. I hope the toil of our grief results in the fruit of our community.
Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725) is currently living in Nashville but has spent time in Texas, Thailand, and Australia. Obviously travel is a passion, along with hours in the kitchen or across the table from good friends. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.