During my first year of college a life-long family friend and
mentor tragically lost his son. Separated by distance, I assumed
that his Christian friends, the staff at his church, and his
Sunday school class would step in and wrap their arms around him
and his wife. Needless to say I was surprised, one year later,
when we were able to finally meet face to face. When I asked him
how he and his wife were doing the first words out of his mouth
were, "Brian, the church failed us during our greatest time of
need." Knowing first-hand his maturity and emotional soundness,
I was taken back. I thought, "If he said the church failed them,
the church must have really failed them."
Those who experience tragic loss, which I'm sure will include
all of us by the time we leave this planet, experience sorrow
that defies explanation. C.S. Lewis, struggling to put into
words how he felt after losing his wife commented,
"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not
afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same
fluttering in the stomach, the yawning. I keep on swallowing."
(A Grief Observed , p. 19)
And if there was ever someone besides Lewis that couldn't put
their finger on the depth of their grief, it had to be Naomi.
The Book of Ruth tells us that Naomi was happily married to a
man named Elimilech and together they had two strong sons,
Mahlon and Kilion. As life goes, business took her family to a
foreign country-a place called Moab. But even in that distant
land their family blossomed. Life was good. Then, without even
the faintest hint that heartbreak was standing at her door,
Naomi's husband didn't return home for dinner. Who could have
known that their kiss that morning would have been their last?
Her sons eventually married, but even their weddings and talk of
children couldn't take away the emptiness she felt. Finally, in
a cruel twist that even Hollywood wouldn't script, she lost both
of her sons. She was devastated, alone and bewildered. Naomi was
so broken that Ruth 1:20 tells us that she began asking people
to not call her Naomi (meaning "pleasant") anymore but Mara
The bright spot, if there can be a bright spot in someone's
tragic loss, is that there was someone who didn't leave her. Her
name was Ruth, her daughter-in-law. We're told she didn't offer
any deep theological explanations. There's no record that she
tried to provide the "right word" at the "right time." All we
hear is Ruth's promise in Ruth 1:16, "Where you go I will go,
and where you stay, I will stay." And that's exactly what she
I never asked my friend what his church could have done
differently. I didn't feel that it was my place.
My guess? Unlike Ruth, there were probably too many words and
too few visits.