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Do you need permission to grieve?

I want to be as transparent as I can so that you can avoid a trap I’ve fallen into. Bitterness has me in its bonds and I’m fighting to get out.

As we come to the anniversary of the first time most of us heard the word coronavirus, I am bitter. I honestly did not realize that I was, but today it began to make sense to me and I hope maybe my clarity might help you discern if this is happening in your heart, too.

You probably have heard of someone becoming bitter towards another person when they refuse to offer forgiveness to the offender. But is it possible we can become embittered by painful circumstances?

I think the answer is yes. If you need a biblical example, I’d point you to the book of Ruth to check out her mother-in-law’s heart. Naomi doesn’t just feel bitter. She tells everyone to start calling her Mara, or bitter. In doing so, she’s identified first and foremost by this rogue emotion.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me."

Ruth 1:20

Rather than leaning on God for comfort, Naomi blames Him and becomes bitter. We, too, become bitter when we blame people, circumstances, or God for the disappointments and pain in our life rather than leaning into others and God for comfort. (Massive spoiler alert: we cannot seek consoling if we’ve not recognized our pain.)

We’ve been tested in a refining fire as of late. The heat didn’t seem so great at first, did it? And let’s be honest: some have endured much more painful testing than others. But, it seems the fire isn’t dying out anytime soon. 

Here’s the thing: you know that fable about the frog being slowly boiled alive? While some 19th-century experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true, contemporary biologists have declared the premise false. A frog that is gradually heated will jump out.

Friend, I cannot control how hot the heat will get but I’m jumping out of the slow-boiling pot of bitterness!

In the next four weeks, I’ll release to you the lessons I’ve been learning from the book of Ruth as I seek to live according to God’s Truth as we enter year #2 of a global pandemic. I hope you’ll find them helpful. 

Life Lesson #1 from Ruth: It’s OK to grieve.

One year ago, my career was the stuff my childhood hopes and dreams were made of. I was writing my first Bible study for women, Habakkuk.  I had recently become the co-host of my friend Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Revive Our Hearts program and was packing my suitcase to go speak at a conference for several thousand Latin women. (For a girl who dreamed of being a missionary and Bible teacher, it seemed like things were finally falling into place!)

My personal life was pretty neat and tidy, too. All my friendships were on track and—get this: we were unified in our opinions on major life issues. (Who knew how frail that was to become.) 

Fast forward to February 2021, and I just feel...empty. And that’s how Naomi expressed the way she felt after a year of heartache that was, admittedly, far worse than the one I’ve just experienced. She articulated her pain this way:

"I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty." 

Ruth 1:21

Oh, that feels like my year.

Do you feel empty, too?

One specific place that feels so vacuous is my writing and teaching opportunities. They’ve been swallowed by the day-to-day grind of necessary administrative duties at True Girl along with other new responsibilities I did not see coming. It’s been a full year since I’ve had the luxury of regularly scheduled days to research and soak in what God is teaching me so that I can share it with others. I called my publisher and delayed a book that was set to release this year. (Insert big sad sigh.) Asking a teacher not to learn and package what she learns for others...well, it’s like asking a fish not to swim! But I wanted to wear my “big-girl-pants” and do whatever needed to be done to get us all through this thing.

What have you lost this year? What corner of your life or heart feels empty? I bet you put your “big-girl-pants” on and did what you had to do, didn’t ya? 

But, I have to ask: did we forget one important thing on our personal “respond-to-global-pandemic” to-do lists? Have we forgotten to grieve?

What’s happening in our world is very sad, and God gifted us with an appropriate emotional response. People are lying, fighting, killing, and dying. We’ve lost jobs, chances, vacations, and relationships. Our children and grandchildren need to see us use the emotional tool God created for us to process disappointment and loss. We need to grieve.

The Scriptures are full of advice for us to weather trials and testings. Today as I combed through some of them, I found this precious treasure:

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials."

I Peter 1:6

Peter was writing to believers who’d become refugees as they fled persecution. They missed their friends, their families, their jobs, and their “normal.” Though our circumstances are surely different, it seems like they might have been missing some of the same things we are. And while this chunk of Scripture points us towards the hope of Christ, it’s also embedded with permission to grieve.

I wonder: would Naomi have avoided bitterness if she’d just taken the time she needed to cry and ask God to hold her heart tenderly?

Earlier in this article, I basically said we become bitter when someone has wounded us or when circumstances cause pain in our lives. That’s not exactly true: we become bitter when we don’t have an appropriate biblical response to people who wound us and circumstances that disappoint us. 

The beginning of a godly response is sadness.

I’ve been doing so many of the right things to get myself and others through this painful season but I forgot one. It didn’t occur to me that I needed to grieve the losses. After-all, they came so slowly. One-by-one I lost little things. Day-by-day my life changed ever-so-slowly. And here I am: sitting in one that looks quite different from the one I was living just one (very long) year ago.

When I left my office the other day, I realized how much I miss my work as a writer. 

And I cried.

I cried about it today, too.

I have a feeling that this might be the beginning of something good.

What have you lost? What do you need to grieve? I’m not just talking about the really big things, because I did “Cry Out” to God over some of those. It’s just that I missed the little things that needed to be grieved. And they deserve to be acknowledged, too. 

Take another quick look at I Peter 1:6. We don’t just process grief in “really big trials” or “truly horrific ones.” God’s grace and kindness makes room for us to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 

Even the seemingly small ones.

Ready to go deeper into the book of Ruth? Here are some tools for women of all ages!

For Women & Teen Girls!

Do you want to dive deeper into the book of Ruth? Revive Our Hearts has some great tools for you and the teenager in your life!

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth recently broadcast an in-depth podcast series on Ruth to coincide with the release of an ALL-NEW Women of the Bible study on Ruth featuring a familiar True Girl teacher: Erin Davis. 

Here’s a sneak peak of that conversational and contemporary six-week study.

This six-week study with Scripture memory, daily study, and group discussion questions is ideal for both individual and group study.

For Tween Girls!

Do you know a True Girl who might like to go deeper in the story of Ruth? True Girl has released an all-new study on the book of Ruth for girls ages 8–12. Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty. She'll explore topics like true friendship, finding joy in hard times, dealing with mean people, and seeing God in painful circumstances. You can even sign up to go through the study online with Dannah Gresh and Staci Rudolph! 

True Girl Bible Studies feature important women in the Bible so girls can learn from their example. We created them to help moms—and grandmoms—teach their daughters and granddaughters how to study God’s Word.