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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taking off our mourning clothes...

I am about 3/4 of the way done with a Bible study I've been doing on my own in the book of Ruth. I say "on my own", but it's actually been with the help of author, Kelly Minter, and one of her titled "Living Room Series" study books. I can honestly say that this has been the most revealing and fulfilling studies I've ever done. And that says a lot being that a) I've almost completed the study, and b) I've been doing this alone, EVERY morning, in the mornings, with a cup of coffee, a notebook, and my God. It is that good!

If you're like me, and have never really read the book of Ruth, I highly recommend it. It's only 4 chapters long, but in those chapters you will find a heart warming story about enduring serious loss, finding love again, and creating lasting legacy in life. And I also recommend reading through it with the help of this study book. The study is split into six sessions (or weeks), one study per day, and there are even recipes included, created by the author herself - many of which I've tried and thoroughly enjoyed. Anyhow, like I said, I'm almost at the end of the story, and my lesson this morning really hit home with me.

I'm at the part where Ruth is starting to experience the possibility of falling in love again (she's been widowed for some time now). Well, there's a verse in chapter 3 where, Naomi (Ruth's mother in law), has devised a plan to set Ruth up with this prospective guy named Boaz. Naomi gives Ruth some directions on how to go about "presenting herself" to him. In these directions, she includes for Ruth to "put on your best clothes". My first time reading it, I thought nothing of it. Soon, though, as I read it again, and also what led up to this point, some things were made clear to me. I was reminded of the similarities to how we are today. For example, when I really want to impress my husband, I shower, put on my best perfumes, fix my face with my best make up skills, fix my hair so that every strand falls perfectly into place, and put on my best clothes. The intent is to be the most attractive and presentable to him, and I believe that was also the intent for Ruth, too. 
What really struck me, though, is what "putting on your best clothes" entailed for Ruth. Ruth was a widow. Ruth had experienced the loss of her life companion, her best friend, and probably her first love. And here she was, with the possibility of doing it all over again. I imagine she was probably still mourning that loss in her life. I would be. You probably would be too. Losing someone close to us is something we never "get over". It's something we never forget. But when Ruth "put on her best clothes" for Boaz, to me it symbolized taking off the old, and putting on the new. God had brought her to a place to start over. He had brought her to a new land, surrounded her with new people, and presented her with a strong, loving, and noble new guy. I read a commentary that stated it like this:

"It appears that Naomi is hereby advising Ruth to end her period of mourning over her widowhood and get on with normal life...It may well be that until this time Ruth had always worn the garments of widowhood, even when she was working out in the field. Perhaps this was the reason for Boaz's inertia. As an upright man, he would not violate a woman's right to grieve the loss of her husband nor impose himself upon her until she was ready. We know too little about how long widows would customarily wear their mourning clothes, but it may be that Naomi is now telling Ruth the time has come to doff her 'garments of widowhood'."

Though many of us have not experienced the incomprehensible tragedy of losing a spouse, or maybe just someone very close to us, I know many of us are familiar with a time of mourning something...of clinging, hoping, waiting, wishing, even praying for something. And I think, like Ruth, God is bringing many of us to a place and time of taking off our mourning clothes, and putting on the clothes He is giving us for a new day. That's not to say we forget our past, or give up memories of our past. Growth happens inside of us when we endure times of grieving. But I do believe that God is bringing us to that place where the thoughts and memories of what we've endured in the past do not sting anymore. Moving forward.

I think it's pretty clear that when we hold on to the hurt and bitterness of losing something, or someone, we shut ourselves off to letting God work in our lives. Don't get me wrong here - I think grieving is absolutely crucial in life. It's been very important to me in dealing with infertility. We are human, after all. We were created to feel things. I think it's unnatural not to feel sadness through loss and longing. And our grieving processes are all different. I don't think there's a stamp you can put on the process of how long to grieve, and I don't think it's something to be dealt with lightly. You don't just grieve for a bit, then miraculously wake up ready to move on. Loss is definitely something that has to be dealt with between us and God. I've found through my struggles, you cannot just keep covering things up. God has to heal us through loss. However, when we wrap ourselves up in our 'garments of mourning', we're unavailable for whatever else God has for us. In the study, Kelly Minter stated it perfectly by saying, "My simple hope is that when God has held us, healed us, and lifted our heads, that we'd be ready to move forward with Him; and though our hearts may always ache, we won't stay in our mourning clothes forever." 

I've referenced Isaiah 54 in a previous post, but I'm gonna reference it again because it applies here. In verse 4 of this passage it says "...and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood." It doesn't say we won't remember our widowhood, it says we won't remember the reproach of it. God may not remove the memory, but I know He is perfectly able to remove the sting out of it. And that's important because we'll never be able to move forward until we let go of the hurt and bitterness of what we've lost. But God makes us able to.

In the familiar passage of Isaiah 43:18-19, God says "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." My prayer is that we perceive it. God is handing us some new garments. He's taking us to a place where we remove the garments of mourning, and put on the garments of praise. We all have our past losses, heartaches, and stains. But I pray that when God brings us to that place of readiness, we can lift our heads and let go of our old clothes and enter into our new life.

II Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"


Rachel said...

Wow, Jess - this is speaking to me about several things right now in my life - it is so timely! Thank you, friend. Love you.

Cicero Sings said...

I lost my husband in June -- suddenly and unexpectedly of an acute heart attack. Your post was very interesting. One thing that has come to me is the thought, now wait and see what I shall do -- you've put it very well. I can't imagine marrying again but I still need, like you said, to put on fresh garments and Sally forth. My D would have wanted me to.