Help with Grief - Midtown

Help with Grief - Midtown

January 21, 2024 • Rev. Mindie Moore

A Little Help Here: Grief

Ruth 1:19-22

We’re in week three of our series “A Little Help Here” and today we’re talking about a topic that is probably the most tender thing we’ll look at over these five weeks. Today we’re talking about Grief. Now, last week, we talked about change, and if you weren’t here, I want to invite you to check out the podcast recording of that sermon. Because as I was thinking about these two things, change and grief, there’s a lot of overlap. There’s a lot of loss, of navigating, and trying to figure out what life looks like in the midst of these things.

But I think even as challenging as change can be, grief can be a lot harder to talk about. Because there have been SO many unhelpful things that have been said about grief and to grieving people. Maybe you’ve had this experience, or you know someone who has, OR you’ve been in the position where you’ve tried to figure out WHAT to say or how to be around someone who is grieving, and it feels kind of overwhelming.

Death and grief are really hard for a lot of us to talk about and process. There’s even a Bluey episode about it (SLIDE) —so that’s how you know it’s a challenging topic that adults need help with! But seriously- what do we do when grief comes our way? How do we process and heal and keep going?

You know, one of the things that makes me saddest as a pastor, is that I have heard SO many times—way TOO many times—that for grieving people, of all the places they can go, that

sometimes church can be one of the least safe spaces to bring their grief. I hope you haven’t had that experience, but if you have, I want you to know that today, we’re going to try and MAKE this place just a little bit safer for it. For all the nuances and complications that grief brings, you can bring them here today.

And as we talk about this today, I just want to acknowledge at the very top- (SLIDE)

Grief is complicated because relationships are complicated.

And so today’s message, it might bring up some weird, hard stuff for you. If you’ve lost someone or you’ve lost something, it’s just not a clear cut easy to follow process. It involves unpacking hurt and misunderstandings, and missing someone and figuring out what life looks like now. So this isn’t going to be a “5 easy steps to overcoming grief” sermon. I’m not sure we DO overcome it. But it will be a message about how we move through grief in a way that believes hope might be possible and lets God be part of the picture.

And one of the best documented stories of grief in the Bible is the book of Ruth. If you’re not familiar with this book, it’s a pretty short one, only 4 chapters, and it’s in the Old Testament, between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel- right after the story of Moses and the Exodus and before the Kings come on the scene. And the book of Ruth, sandwiched in between these really big historical accounts, is the story of a family. And it’s the story of a family going through a season of massive loss.

Naomi is the matriarch, and in a short period of time, she loses her husband and both sons. And not only is that a relational blow, I mean, it’s hard to imagine that level of loss, but in their context, it was a huge moment of instability. Naomi and her husband had been driven from their homes as refugees because of a famine, to a neighboring country called Moab. They settle down, the sons get married, they are living their lives. But then Naomi’s husband dies first, and later, both sons die too.

So you’ve got not one, but THREE widows—Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. And when we meet Naomi, she is in what I would call survival mode. Maybe you’ve been there, when you’ve lost someone. You are sad, and your heart is broken...but also you need to get some stuff done. And so that’s where Naomi is at first. And she KNOWS her culture, she knows that these three women sticking together might sound great, but there’s not much of a future for any of them if this is the plan. So she tells Orpah and Ruth, her Moabite daughters in law, she says—look, this is your home, not mine. You have a chance to start over, to find new husbands, to have a future. The clock is ticking, so let’s go our separate ways.

And Orpah listens...but Ruth says no. She’s sticking with Naomi. No matter what that costs, no matter how hard it is. Wherever Naomi is going, Ruth is going too.

And so we see these two women go on a journey of grief and healing together. And there’s a lot more to this story, but I

want to start here in this place that we heard read earlier. Because a lot of the time, when I hear the book of Ruth talked about, we kind of fast forward through this first part, where grief is raw and real. And there’s so much hope, so much redemption at the end, and we will get there! But today, I want to spend some time HERE first. Because if you’ve been in a place of grief, my guess is that the words Naomi says might have landed with you. Now, some of you might have heard the Scripture and thought, “wow! We’re blaming God! This is uncomfortable and not the uplifting message I thought I’d be hearing at church!”

But honestly...when we’re able to be THAT real with God...when we’re able to tell the truth like THAT about what we’re holding in our hearts...that’s a sign of some pretty powerful faith. And if you’re in a place where you ARE angry at God, you absolutely don’t NEED my permission to feel that way, but I’m going to tell you anyway...God can handle it. God can handle that part of our grief, so we don’t have to be shy about it.

And God can handle the slow, messy journey that grief is. As long as it takes, as complicated as it might be, God can hang in there for it. Because God understands a pretty unfortunate truth about grief, and that’s the fact that: (SLIDE)

Grief is not quick.

You know, I say this at every single funeral I do: “there’s no express route through grief.” And for those of us that like to fix

things or have a nice neat and tidy checklist that we can just plow through...this can be one of the MOST frustrating parts of grief! Because you think you have it handled, and then it just shows up and messes up your whole day. As Pastor Rob and I were working on this together, he shared a really great metaphor with me. He said grief is like standing on a beach, right by the water, maybe you’ve got your ankles in and you’re just kind of relaxing enjoying the calm water, and then all of a sudden, there’s a wave. And now you’re not just up to your ankles, but you’re soaked and cold and you didn’t see it coming.

It’s one of the hardest parts about the whole thing. It’s not linear and it doesn’t usually follow the kind of timeline we would want to see. There's something about the way grief works in our lives...I don’t know if it’s the shock, or the unexpected nature of it, the way things come up that you thought were ok but maybe they’re not ok, but there’s something about the way grief works that can make it hard for us to know what’s true in our lives or to even recognize who we are on the other side.

And no matter what our grief looks like, (SLIDE) Grief can change us. It can change our habits, our worldview, our personality, even our relationship with God.

And this change makes itself known with Naomi. When she gets back into town, people are excited to see her. When they say “Can this be Naomi?!” it’s excitement. It’s like a reunion.

Naomi’s back! So they’re so glad she’s home, they’re ready to pick back up where they left off...but Naomi’s like: “Not so fast. I’m not the same. I’ve gone through this horrible thing, this stunning loss, and my grief is bigger than I even know what to do with. In fact, I don’t even want you to call me Naomi anymore. Naomi means pleasant and that’s not me. Call me this other name, Mara, because it means bitter and I am exactly that.”

So this is honest and it’s heartbreaking, but there’s also a glimpse of hope that I see for Naomi here—she has this whole monologue about who she is and how God has done this terrible thing to her, she lays her truth all out there...and the Bible just sort of lets that sit. Her friends don’t all start comforting her saying, no that’s not you! Or it’s all going to be ok! Or, every grieving person’s favorite- God has a plan.

They don’t do that.

AND—they don’t ever call her Mara.

If you read through the book of Ruth, Naomi is never called that name. Not one time.

Now, maybe it’s because I’m a Bible nerd or maybe I just love a good redemption story, but I almost have to sit down when I think about that. It’s incredible to me. She has her truth, she has her space, and she can be as bitter and angry as she wants to be. That is ok and welcome here in this story. But as hard as this moment is, as devastated as Naomi feels, as many

legitimate reasons as she has to maybe give up on hope and God and everything she knows...God and her people don’t give up on her. And the fact that she is still called Naomi, not Mara, that fact is such a powerful reminder that:

(SLIDE) Grief changes our stories, but it doesn’t end them.

Five years ago one of our St. Luke’s families experienced this firsthand. Cameron Powell was 18 years old, and took a Xanax tablet he had gotten to help settle his nerves before going to school. His family didn’t realize he did this. And Cameron himself didn’t realize that what he’d been given was a tablet laced with different forms of fentanyl. He started feeling bad at school. His symptoms weren’t recognized. He stayed with his grandmother that night and it ended up killing him.

Cameron had been a lively, outgoing, teenager with lots of gifts and potential. His family, members of St. Luke’s, were thrown into unimaginable grief—they never thought that this would be their story. His mother, Amy, spent the first bit of time after Cameron’s death just trying to make sense of what happened and try to see that the person who did this to Cameron was brought to justice. Realizing that she couldn’t control that she was left with, “What now?”

Through a friend she learned about an organization called Overdose Lifeline, that provides support for families that have experienced a loved who overdoses and also awareness about how to prevent this from happening. She learned that a lot of work needed to be done in the schools to help teachers and

nurses recognize the symptoms and carry the right medication that can prevent deaths.

(SLIDE) Amy’s story was told on a front page article in the Indy Star just over two weeks ago on January 4. Through her work, she’s become a peer mentor, walking with families who have been through the same kind of loss as the Powells. She wants her family’s story to be used to help other people heal or even prevent them from going through what they did.

Amy has found a new chapter to her story. And it’s true- it's not easy to get to this place when it comes to grief. But even in our hardest times—God isn’t done with us. There might be something beyond what we can see in that moment.

With Naomi and Ruth, there was a new beginning that they couldn’t even have imagined. Their story continues and we find out that as Ruth was trying to get leftovers from the fields so that she could feed herself and Naomi, she meets the owner of that field, a man named Boaz. And Boaz, it turns out, is part of Naomi’s family line—called a Kinsman Redeemer—a perfect person to step in, marry Ruth, and restore the family line. So Ruth and Boaz get married, they have a son, and there’s is this beautiful part of the story, in chapter 4 where it says: (SLIDE)

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin,[i] and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne

him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Naomi was literally holding a new beginning in her arms. It wasn’t how she imagined, it wasn’t what she hoped for, but by letting something new come out of her deepest grief, she was able to find a new story. She was able to find a new hope. She was able to find a new purpose.

I wonder how we might be able to do that too. I wonder what hope might be waiting to be found or might be waiting for us to even create. If you are wondering this for yourself, and you’re looking for people to share these questions with or just to know that you’re not alone, we’re going to have a Grief Share group starting here at Midtown in March. Lynn Gale is going to be leading it, and she would love to talk more with you about it...

Because if you are grieving...your story isn’t over. Changed, yes. Harder than you thought was possible? Maybe so. But it’s not over. And no matter what your story is, God can work in it to create something good.