Why you can’t do grief alone

I’ve been re-reading Ann Voskamp’s book on Advent, “The Greatest Gift.” The entry for December 12th drew from the book of Ruth with the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi’s story gives a glimpse of real life, life with death and disappointment. Naomi’s husband has died, as well as both of her sons. She has been through famine and a subsequent move, and is preparing for yet another move. Her life hasn’t been easy. I know some of you can relate. However, Naomi does have her two daughters-in-law. But, seemingly strange, she tells them both to return to their mothers’ homes. Her words to them reveal much, I think, about her state of mind.

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1)

Even if she thought there was still hope, Ruth is still hopeless. What happens when hope is gone, you wonder? Ruth’s words leave no ambiguity. Bitterness slides in when hope evaporates. With all her heart, she believes God is against her. Do you feel like Ruth, Friend? Listen as Ruth continues:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1)

Wow. That’s strong stuff, right? Naomi doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s clear who she thinks is to blame. Bitterness doesn’t hold back, and neither does Naomi. Bitterness blames, but God’s favor (and character) are not dependent on our circumstances. Circumstances do not dictate God’s character. I believe that’s where Naomi got it wrong. While she’s correct that the LORD has afflicted her or allowed these things to happen, her response to these tragedies, albeit honest, is wrong. She, like many of us, missed the obvious truth: God is sovereign. He reigns. He alone has supreme power and authority. Pastor and theologian J. Vernon McGee put it this way: “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.” 

Grief has a way of clashing with sovereignty. We want our way. We want things done sensibly, understandably, neatly. But heartache, catastrophes, and sorrow are never these. Seeds of bitterness, watered by hopelessness and despair, grow quickly if one disregards the soil of sovereignty. Many who have lost a loved one can tell you how how swiftly the temptation towards bitterness sweeps in, how the temptations to choose bitter over better keep rolling in like waves upon the shore, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Friends, left to ourselves to deal with our grief all too easily creates ripe conditions for bitterness to take root. Naomi wanted to be left alone with her bitterness. She wanted to nurse the wound, reject healing. Like bitterness does, it wants to complain. Naomi doesn’t lament; she complains. She complains about God rather than lament to Him. Complaint blames God. It demeans Him and separates us from Him. Lament draws us to Him with honest cries and a yearning for Him. Lament draws closer despite not understanding.

Thankfully, Ruth refuses to leave. Ruth stays and Naomi is ultimately blessed through her. Naomi couldn’t do it alone. She had Ruth and the women around her to remind her of the truth. They reminded her that God had not left her, that He was, indeed, the restorer of her life and her sustainer.

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4)

Grief will do its best to isolate and embitter. Allow those around you to carry hope for you until you can again. Don’t push away the hand of healing, but embrace the One who died for you. Accept that though He wounds, He also heals. Ruth stayed with Naomi, and there are “Ruth’s” who will stay with you. Compassionate Friends is one Ruth. If you’ve suffered child loss, CF is there to make sure you “need not walk alone.” GriefShare is another Ruth. For loss of any kind, GS is available to provide hope and healing through a Christ-centered perspective and video seminars.

Grief was not the end of Naomi’s story, and it is not the end of yours. Naomi’s God, your God, proved Himself faithful. As He sustained Naomi, trust that He will sustain you. You are not alone. This holiday season may you be reminded, most of all, that Emmanuel, “God with us,” is with you. Yes, in even the grief.




Mother’s Day for the bereaved mother

Ann Voskamp wrote a profoundly moving post for Mother’s Day: The most life-changing thing a woman can do for herself this Mother’s Day…What a mother really wants. It’s powerful and truthful and speaks to probably every mother on this big, amazing planet.

But after reading it, I found myself thinking, “No. No, that’s not all what every mother wants.” Because, for bereaved mothers, Mother’s Day is painful. Mother’s Day is just another public, neon-flashing sign that declares “Your child is not here!” It is salt to an open wound.

What does every bereaved mother really want?

They wanted to be out-lived by their child(ren).

Ann’s right, however. Every mother needs a “truckload of Grace.” Especially the bereaved mother.

Friends, this Mother’s Day, will you remember the mother whose child is no longer here? Will you give the best Mother’s Day gift you can give to a bereaved mom?

Speak their child’s name. Talk about them. Ask her about him/her. Acknowledge that Mother’s Day is hard for her. Tell her she is still a mother.

The hardest thing about Mother’s Day for a bereaved mom? Their child is gone.

The best thing about Mother’s Day for the bereaved mom? Love remains.

And their love for their child yearns to be recognized this Mother’s Day, every Mother’s Day. Give the bereaved mother grace this weekend. Pray for God’s grace to overwhelm her. It doesn’t matter if she has other children. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 30 years since her child died. I can guarantee you she still loves that child, still misses that child, still longs to celebrate Mother’s Day with that child. She’s not being ungrateful for what she has. She’s not “stuck” in the past. She’s doing what she does best for that child: loving him/her.

This Mother’s Day it’s okay to tell the bereaved mother, “Happy Mother’s Day…to all of your children.”


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Nobody puts Baby in the corner

If you’re a certain age, you know where this line comes from. No 80’s movies pop quiz today, though, folks. Instead, I wanted to throw the line out there, but jerk it a bit. Here’s what I mean and where I’m going with it:

Have you felt, like Baby, that you’ve been put in the corner lately? Perhaps there’s a situation in your life where you’ve begged God for deliverance, but instead, He’s put you in the corner. The corner isn’t a comfortable spot, is it? Sometimes this isolation in the corner feels a bit like we’re being punished. We think our Father is ticked off at us, that we’ve done something wrong. We feel as if He has abandoned us.

I know how that feels. I know what it’s like to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” “Why is God mad at me?” “Isn’t this enough punishment?” “Where is He?”

Friend, that simply isn’t true.

God has not put you in the corner to punish you. He has not abandoned you.

You feel isolated and alone, and it would seem all of your friends are too busy for you or are dealing with their own kind of hard. You look out at the landscape of your life and all is empty, the horizon barren. But, Friend, though your feelings are valid, they are also misleading, a red herring. You can sink fast if you swim after them.

A “time-out” in the corner isn’t what it appears to be. Could it be that God is seeking an audience of one with you? Could it be He is drawing you away to Himself? Could it be He is revealing Himself to you, proving to you that He is all you need? That He alone is enough?

This isolation, solitary confinement? It isn’t a form of ostracism, Friend. It’s an invitation to enter the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies. It is a call to meet with Jesus, to trust Him in the midst of the storm that rages on around you. Your life has become a slippery, hard dance floor, and the spinning of your world has left you dizzy and breathless. But you are not without a partner, my friend. Keep your eyes on Him, follow His lead, and trust Him to lift you higher. He will not drop you. He won’t let go.

He will meet you in the corner, on the dance floor, or anywhere. Dance like you’ve never danced before.


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The world is reeling today, the day after the election. Many are reeling with shock, disbelief, and rage. Others are rejoicing, praising the heavens, and exhaling with relief. One event, two incredibly different reactions.

Me? I’m doing neither: no shock, no rejoicing.

Just peace. Perfect peace.

How is that possible, some wonder? Friends, it’s possible because my hope was never in us, our country, or it’s leaders. My hope is in God. He alone is the only one who will never disappoint. He alone is our peace. He alone sets up kingdoms and authorities. He alone is sovereign.

My hope is not of this world for I know that this world is not my home.

When your faith is in Him, the things that shake this earth cannot shake your faith. Elections come and elections go, but Christ remains. Peace is possible because the Prince of Peace presides.

What about you, friends? Where is your peace and joy? I’m praying for us all.

Ann Voskamp


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