9 May 2019

How A Mother and Daughter-In-Law Can Teach us Hope

Recently I spoke about a mother and a daughter-in-law at a women's conference. More than six hundred women gathered to hear stories, and I was given the privilege to wrap up the conference.

But for me, the conference did not wrap up. This pair of women lingered on in my consciousness. I have thought about the story of this mother and her daughter-in-law for years now...but they surprised me by granting me keener insights.

The story of Naomi and Ruth is told in the Bible is four short chapters. It's not a pretty story when we take time to linger over what happened... .

Naomi had left her ancestral home with her husband and two sons to a foreign land. This may not strike us as tough today due to our movements. Yet if we sit with it for a while, we all know that moving is tough. There is so much to adjust to. Modern city-to-city move may seem relatively bearbable since our cities have many similar features with global culture today, but the realities are lives are abjectly lonely in crowded, busy cities.

Her sons mature and reach marriageable age, and they take on foreign wives. This is particularly significant for ancient Israeli culture as God had wanted them to keep their genealogy pure. But even today with cross-cultural marriages becoming more commonplace, it is easy to see the difficulties that attend it.

The story is told from Naomi's perspective and these bare facts are laid out quickly, and then it quickly goes south!

Naomi's husband and both sons die, too soon, leaving her a widow and childless, with two foreign daughters-in-law. Then famine hits.

In a fix, Naomi decides that her best option is to return to her ancestral land and relatives. But her daughters-in-law could be a real liability. They will be a living testament to Naomi's earlier decision to leave and the tragic outcomes of that choice. So Naomi tries to persuade them to go home. It sounds sensible too, as the women were still young and could potentially remarry and secure a future.

Then the story throws us a real spanner, for one of them, Ruth, not only refuses to leave, she makes this strange exclamation about her conviction that she actually shares Naomi's faith and sees herself as a part of the Jewish people:
 “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!” ~ Ruth 1v16f


Many have speculated as to how Ruth came to hold such a view. Some suggested that Naomi must have been a shining example of faith.

But the story hints otherwise. The story records this heartbreaking revelation that many of us can identify with. Naomi laments over her life, where she tells those around her to call her 'bitter'. She saw the trajectory of her life as one that is afflicted and filled with misfortune. And don't we like her, sometimes run out of tears and find our lives in the valley too?

The thing is, Naomi actually means 'pleasant'.

This is a powerful literary cue for us.

All of us long for a pleasant, trouble-free life.

But Naomi's rather basic expectation from life was totally upended as her life basically fell apart.

So if it wasn't Naomi's shining example, we are left with a mystery as to RUth's faith and loyalty. The only clue we have is found in her name: friend.

Providentially, through this unsuited union, Naomi has been given a friend. And what do we most need in our darkest times? A reliable friend who would go the distance with us.

There is a palpable sense of hope - at least Naomi is no completely alone and desolate, having to fend for herself. Two women traveling miles to get anywhere would still be a dangerous idea, but it's far superior to a lone, old woman!

The two then reaches home safely and Ruth proceeds, with initiative to seek out a living for them by doing what she could: picking up grain that is being dropped during harvesting. From here on, the story unfolds with flow upon flow of Providence and Grace.

Eventually, Ruth is married to a rich relative who treats her honourably and they have a son who would become the ancestor of Jesus Christ!

1. When God sends a lifeline, take it.
We can say that Naomi is the Christian while Ruth appears not to be. Christians often feel the weight of being the ones to bless others. But there may be seasons when we are in dire need, and God will send us a lifeline that may seem unlikely. I hope we learn to reach for it.

Is there some uplifting resource, encouragement or direction that God is sending you? He can use a bird on a branch, the sunset, a poster, an article, music, solitude, or a human (even a stranger).

Never insist God serves you an answer the way you want it at the time you need it.

Provision and Timing are God's sovereign domain, and it is what builds faith and develops our relationship of trust in God.

2. What God has established, work within it.

In her desperation, Naomi could have begged, manipulated and stayed a victim. But as her circumstances clue her in to God's activity, she chose to trust afresh in God's order. One of which is that in ancient Israel, legal decisions are made by men. But she needed to communicate her need and sense if God has indeed opened a door. So she waited to sense what kind of man Boaz was, and then she tutored her DIL to seize the opportunity to convey the message of their need.

In our individualistic and fast-paced culture, it is hard to wait and see how others may be involved in the larger tapestry of what God is seeking to do. Also, we are often too impatient to understand what is truly going on and rush into our own solutions. Our solutions are often quite limited in wisdom and scope. But God's perspective and help is vastly different.

Are you under authority? Is there a channel for communication? Have you been given a word from Scripture (which God will not contradict!)

3. Witness God move you from your ideals to His destiny

Naomi could never engineer becoming related to Jesus Christ! Her ideal was a life of safety and relative ease. But God's destiny for her was different. Yes, it needed her to go on a path filled with sorrow - and it is not that God sends those sorrows. Life will hand us sorrows. But God kindly provided Ruth to help her transition to a whole different future - which included what she longed for: safety and security!

Naomi moved from pleasant, through the vale of bitterness and emerged hence:
The town women said to Naomi, “Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life. May this baby grow up to be famous in Israel! He’ll make you young again! He’ll take care of you in old age. And this daughter-in-law who has brought him into the world and loves you so much, why, she’s worth more to you than seven sons!” ~ Ruth 4v13-15

These thoughts fuel me with an equanimity and confidence, and gives me Hope.

I offer this Hope to you my friend.