Maybe we were a strange family. I always assumed everyone in our family was afraid of the dark. In retrospect, I think it was just me and they didn't want to make me feel bad. For as long as I can remember, the bathroom light in our hallway was always left on overnight, with the door just slightly ajar. It served as a whole-house, whole-family night light that I found supremely comforting – right up until I got married and moved out of the house at 24. I guess I’ve always been afraid of the dark.
Appearances would indicate that is no longer the case. There are no lights left on overnight at our house. I don’t have any cute little nite-lites plugged into the outlets in the bedroom, or hallway. As a matter of fact, at this more “mature” stage of my life, I actually have a hard time sleeping if any light seeps into my bedroom – or the house makes a noise – or I drank too much water during the day – or it gets way too hot and sweat starts pouring from my body – or, well you get the idea. That’s a story for another blog.
Even so, I've come to realize I still suffer from fear of the darkness, only now it’s a soul-crushing, tear-producing, fetal position hopelessness that no bathroom light will chase away. The darkness descends when trust is broken, relationships are lost, God goes silent, and the pain seems too much to bear. It’s a darkness that I can’t navigate my way out of, nor do I have any idea where the light switch is. I've found myself in that darkness consistently in recent years and struggle to understand what that says about my faith, about my understanding of God. Is the God I thought I knew a product of too many whitewashed Sunday School stories, or am I just a failure at faith?
Revisiting the story of Ruth in the weekend services several weeks ago was HUGE for me. Or, should I say, revisiting the story of Naomi has been huge for me. I know I should want to be Ruth in the story – the problem is I already AM Naomi. When I first realized my face was on her body when I pictured her, it really bummed me out. Naomi’s the one who whines about her circumstances, yells at God, throws a tantrum and changes her name just to make her point that God has not been nice to her. It’s easy to look backward at Naomi and judge her inability to “just have faith,” but much more difficult to dismiss her as wayward if we imagine those same crushing blows in our own lives. Naomi is a woman who is plunged into poverty, forced to leave the home and culture she knows, live in a hostile land, suffer the death of her husband – and then the death of her only two sons – in a time and place where a woman’s value ONLY exists in her husband or male offspring. I can’t imagine a darkness more black or less reason to see hope for the future.
Naomi speaks to God and about God in a way I often have:
“the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21) You've brought me to this place of pain and desperation and then you walked away and left me – no explanation, no comfort, no future, no hope of rescue. Shouldn't mature followers of God, those with a longer history of faith be stronger, and less inclined to give up and start arguing with God? I find comfort when I read Job’s conversations as he, too, waits in the dark for rescue – or at least some understanding of what God is doing.
Even Job, another famous sufferer in darkness, is left with what seems like no alternative but to wrestle with God about the inexplicable darkness in which he finds himself: “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1)
The truth is, both Job and Naomi end their lives with as many questions as answers. Yes, God ultimately brings Naomi and Ruth back into a family. He gives them provision and protection. God has even set them apart as crucial pieces in His story of redemption for this world. The Bible tells us that the second half of Job’s life was even better than what he had started with before all the calamity, but there’s nothing to indicate that either Ruth or Job looked back and understood the pain and despair they had walked through, or that they easily made peace with and were grateful for the darkness.
Interestingly, the book of Ruth doesn't end with Ruth and Boaz walking off into the sunset. It ends with Naomi holding and caring for her grandson, who is the great, great, great, great, . . . etc., grandfather of the Savior of humanity, Jesus. Imagine the wisdom she imparts to her grandson about the God that she knows, not a God she knows something about, but one that she KNOWS, the one to whom she’s cried out in sorrow, the one she’s yelled at in anger and frustration, and the one who listened and loved her in the DARK, even when she couldn't see it.
By Karen Berge, Flatirons' Women's Pastor