If you have been in any of my classes for very long, I’m sure you have heard me say “this is one of my favorite scriptures” or “this is one of my favorite books of the Bible” or some similar claim. It doesn’t take long to realize that no matter what I’m reading or teaching on, if it’s from the Bible I’m claiming it as “one of my faves.” I love it all! I can’t pick just ONE life verse because I need every single word of scripture in my life. I don’t have just ONE favorite book because I need them all to fully understand the Christian life. I couldn’t possibly choose just ONE favorite character, because every single name in scripture has its place and there are too many who have taught me some very valuable lessons.
Having explained that, the book of Ruth is one of my favorite books in scripture and Ruth is one of my favorite characters! The entire account of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz is fascinating. The picture that it gives us of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is beautiful to watch unfold. I highly recommend that you do a study through the book of Ruth sometime. Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) story begins with a whole lot of trials, sorrow, loss and pain. Both women experienced significant loss. Naomi first lost her home along with her friends and family during a famine. She and her husband make a new home and eventually she loses her husband and then both of her sons. Ruth was married to one of those sons. So, Ruth has lost her father-in-law and brother-in-law along with her own husband. Naomi decides to go back to her home among God’s people and Ruth insists on going with her. This act has now cost Ruth her own home, family and lifelong friends that she will leave behind. Loss. Grief. Heartache.
Most of us have experienced some sort of big loss in our lives. We have all experienced trials that have the potential to weigh us down and steal our joy. God has used this story of Ruth and Naomi over the years to help me have some perspective when going through these major sorrows. Even though the loss and trial were nearly identical for these two women, they responded in two completely different ways.
Naomi became so wrapped up in her sorrow that she felt cursed by God and became very bitter. She says in chapter 1 verse 13 that “things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord Himself has raised His fist against me.” Then, when she arrives back home to Bethlehem, she tells her friends and family in verse 20 “Don’t call me Naomi… instead call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me.” The name “Mara” actually means “bitter”, changed from her given name, “Naomi” which means “pleasant.” Naomi allowed the trials in her life to completely change her identity! Bitterness will turn you into someone that you never wanted to be. Bitterness happens when we blame God instead of trusting God. It takes root in our lives when we act like we are alone in our suffering and don’t let anyone in to help. She was miserable, just existing through the rest of her days, dwelling on all she had lost. She was so caught up in the past and her own hurt that she couldn’t even enjoy the beauty of the relationship God had given her with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. That is a sad existence.
I don’t want to be like Naomi. I want to learn from Ruth and follow her example. In the middle of her hurts and sorrows, she strives to be an encouragement to Naomi. She refuses to leave her bitter Mother-in-Law. Her famous monologue is seen in chapter 1 verse 16 when Ruth pleads with Naomi saying “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” While Naomi was blaming God for her wretched circumstances, Ruth was running to God and finding comfort with His people. The book continues to show Ruth as a hard worker, providing for her Mother-in-law and herself. I never see her complain. Rather, I see her faithful resolve to trust God through the circumstance, come what may. I want to be like Ruth. Eyes on my God, not on my problems.
I shared briefly in my last blog that my childhood was filled with change and trials. There were seasons where it was really good, but then there were seasons where it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. One of those seasons came when I was 15 years old. I was already two years in to a struggle with some major trials happening in my home and family. I had already immersed myself into the church, surrounding myself with Christian leaders and friends. I spent every minute possible at my great grandparent’s house. They were the two people that I was closest to in my life. Then, suddenly, with absolutely no warning, my grandmother was gone. There are certain moments in your life, good or bad, that are so etched in your memory that every detail feels like it happened yesterday. This is one of those memories.
I went to church on Wednesday night like I always did. As was my custom, I went to grandma and grandpa’s house to hang out before and after church. They lived right next door, so the two were almost synonymous to me. When it was time to leave, I gave her a huge hug, told her I loved her, and we went home. The next day, Gramps shows up at the school to pick us up at 3:00 like he nearly always did. Except, this time grandma wasn’t with him. One of my cousins had come to pick up his nephew, and before we left he stopped by the car to talk. He asked about where grandma was and the only answer was a shaky, “she’s in the hospital”. Wait, what? So we all hopped into my cousins car and he took us home so that Gramps could get back to the hospital. At this point all I knew was she must be sick and we’d find out later what was going on and when she’d get to come home. I prayed for her but wasn’t really worried. Then the phone call came. My aunt called my dad later that day to let him know that Grandma had a ruptured aneurysm. She had been unconscious since they ambulance picked her up and she never woke up. They kept her on machines long enough for everyone to say their goodbyes. I remember running over to my best friend’s house and just crying and crying. I couldn’t handle this, not now. I desperately needed my grandmother. It’s been 24 years now and life is still so hard without her. I came back home after a while and asked to go to the hospital to see her one last time. The turmoil going on in my teenage self was more than I could handle. I was completely broken and faced with a Ruth and Naomi situation. I had to make a choice about how I was going to get through this. I remember spending a lot of time alone in my room for a while. I didn’t really want to talk about it. During that time, I read my Bible. I wrote out my thoughts. I prayed. I listened to Christian music. I kept going to church and youth group, continuing to grow and rest in God’s truth.
I wish I could say that I always respond to my sorrows the way Ruth did. Sometimes, I am far more like Naomi. There have been many times throughout my life that I have given in to bitterness. Thankfully, there’s more to the story as you’ll soon discover when you study the book of Ruth. Here’s the punchline: JESUS REDEEMED IT ALL! He redeemed the bad attitude of Naomi. He redeemed the sorrow they were both living in. He has redeemed my life, forgiven my sins, given me the promise of eternal life with Him one day. So, even when I fail and wallow in my bitterness sometimes, I can ALWAYS crawl up in the arms of my Savior and remember that He has already taken care of all the details of my life. I can trust Him completely, regardless of my circumstances. I can live in full obedience, even when life is tough. His way always has a better ending then our way.
If you are living in a season of sorrow, make a choice to leave it all behind and run to God. Go where He says go, stay where He says stay, surround yourself with His people, and if you haven’t already done so, make Him your God! The Bible is clear that there is only ONE way to get to God, and that is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wasn’t just a good teacher. He wasn’t just another prophet. He is the Son of God, who died and rose again to pay the death penalty that you and I deserve for our sin. Believe on Him today! Make Him your God today, you will never regret it! Then, follow His ways no matter what the cost.