Sometimes I have to chuckle at how God answers our prayers. We expect a letter of reply, telling us of a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer. And instead, we get a firework display that leaves us breathless and wondering how we ever doubted Him in the first place. And then I wonder, is my faith so little that I doubted that God could give me a response greater than what I asked?
These past few weeks for me have been rough. Not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. It feels like Satan is throwing everything at me at once, unravelling me one lie at a time. I was a broken mess three days ago, and ‘mess’ is putting it nicely. I was angry, doubtful, afraid, and was feeling utterly alone. I felt so empty and apart from God.
Feeling alone has to be the worst feeling ever. There’s a huge difference between being ‘lonely’ and ‘alone’. While I thought I could handle feeling angry and doubtful of God, feeling utterly alone was almost more than I could handle. I thought a lot of things that night, but I remember pleading with God, “God, don’t leave me here alone”. I was ready to give up on a lot of things that night, and in the midst of all that, it was as if a still small voice whispered, “You aren’t alone, Carmen. You’re never alone”.
I found my Bible and started reading through Psalms, and Psalms 121 stuck out,
I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, He who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)
It was such a relief and a blessing to be reminded that our help will always come from God, and that He is there for us, regardless of what lies we believe and how we feel in that moment. Always there! What a joy and comfort it is to know that every day, even every minute, that God is there for us.
For the last few days, I’ve been clinging to the reminder that God is always there for me. A few months ago, I felt very led to read the Bible from cover to cover, and in chronological order. While I’ve learned quite a few things that I’ve never known before, I’ve been continually struck with the notion that God uses unlikely people to do amazing things. They’re ordinary people with nothing particularly ‘special’ about them, and yet with God’s direct hand in their life, the end result is breath taking.
Today I read the story of Ruth. Before I read something in the Bible, I like to sit back and ask myself about what I think I know about the story. Though I’m sure my sunday school teachers did teach me diligently, all I could remember about the story of Ruth was something about an old woman, a young woman named Ruth, picking wheat in a field, a guy named Boaz, something about romance and a sandal. It wasn’t much to go on, but after plodding my way through Numbers and Deuteronomy, a story about romance and somehow a sandal was rather intriguing.
Now the book of Ruth is set in the time of Judges. If you haven’t read Judges, it’s about an age gone awry-the Israelites are fighting wars and once again not wanting to listen to God and needing to be rescued. It’s a rather grim read.
The story of Ruth starts off with a deep feeling of despair. There’s a famine in the land of Moab (not to mention war), and a woman named Naomi loses both her husband and two sons. She has nothing left but her two daughters-in-law, Orpah (Not Oprah!) and Ruth.
Naomi hears that God is taking care of his people, and decides to return home to Judah. Naomi tells her daughter in laws to return home to their parents, as she feels she is too old to remarry and does not have any more sons for them to marry. Orpah leaves, and Ruth decides to stay with Naomi and continue to Naomi’s home with her (v.6-16).
Ruth’s commitment to stay with Naomi is full of love and loyalty, even though they both know that if Ruth comes with her, they’ll only share in the desolation of having nothing. Ruth has every opportunity to go back to what is familiar, and instead, she steps out in faith and walks into the unknown.
Naomi returns home to Bethlehem with Ruth, and renames herself ‘Mara’, which means ‘bitter’. Her choice of name and her explanation for it reveal her utter sense of desolation-that she has lost everything, and even God is against her. (v. 20-21).
When they arrive, it’s the time of the harvest. Knowing she needs to provide for them both, Ruth undertakes the job of going to the fields every day to pick up the leftover pieces of grain behind the men harvesting it. Not only in doing this does Ruth put herself into a vulnerable place (as a young woman alone surrounded by men), she humbles herself to the job of collecting grain that would otherwise be left for the birds and poor.
From here, the story blossoms into one of romance. Boaz, who is a relative of Naomi and who owns the fields being harvested, sees Ruth from across the field and asks his men about her. (ch 2, v.4-7). Boaz goes to Ruth, and tells her to follow after the servant girls collecting the grain cut by the men, and that he has told his men not to touch Ruth. He is drawn to Ruth’s commitment to care for her desolate mother in law, and seeks to protect both her honor and her reputation (v. 8-13).
Ruth and Boaz share a meal together (Woo woo, date!), and then after she leaves, Boaz gives his men further orders to leave behind some of the better grain for Ruth to collect (v.14-17). How romantic is that?
Ruth takes home the grain to Naomi, who questions her about the abundance of it (v. 18-20), and is delighted to know that the grain is from Boaz. She refers to him as a kinsman-redeemer, who in those times, was someone responsible for protecting the interests of needy members of the extended family-whether it be providing an heir, marrying a brother’s widow or selling/buying land.
Ruth continues to work with Boaz’s servant girls in the fields until the harvest is completely done, taking home the grain every day to Naomi (v.23).
One day, Naomi tells Ruth to put on her clean herself, put on her best clothes, and go lay at Boaz’s feet while he rests (ch 3, v.1-5). It’s a rather forward thing to do, I mean, how would we react to a Motherly figure telling us to have a bath, put on our best clothes, and go lay at the feet of a prospective husband? My first reaction would not be to go and do just that! But Naomi’s advice to Ruth is clearly for the purposes of appealing to Boaz’s kinsman obligation-not one of seduction. Ruth’s actions were a request for marriage, and an act of obedience.
Naturally, Boaz startles in the middle of the night when he realizes someone is laying at his feet! (v. 7-8) He tells Ruth that while he will honor her request for marriage, he would not bypass the directions of the law, which clearly gave priority to the nearest relative (v.9-15). In the morning, he sends Ruth back to Naomi with some harvested grain (v.14-18), while he goes to speak to the relative.
It’s here that Naomi has a critical instruction for Ruth; wait. (v.18)
And so Ruth waits.
Boaz goes to the city gates and meets with the kinsman-redeemer (who is more closely related than he is) and some city elders. He reminds the man of his obligation to buy the land of Naomi’s, and that the man must marry Ruth as the law dictates. The man refuses, on account of not wanting to endanger his own estate. (ch4, v 1-7).
I still don’t entirely understand this part, but the process of renouncing one’s property rights and passing them to another was publicly attested by taking off a sandal and transferring it to the new owner. The kinsman-redeemer does this, thus allowing Boaz to marry Ruth (v. 8-10).
I’m not sure how a dirty, stinky sandal represents that transfer, but it did then. I can only imagine Boaz returning to Naomi’s house and saying to Ruth, “He gave me his sandal, my dear! We can marry!” Do they keep this sandal? So the other guy would go home with one sandal? Or do you switch sandals? So everyone who had participated in such a trade would have mismatched sandals? Anyways, back to the story..
Boaz and Ruth marry, and they have a son named Obed (v. 13-22), who eventually becomes the grandfather of King David.
While this is a story of love and part of the ancestry of David (and eventually Jesus), the book Ruth is also of two women’s transformations from despair to happiness through selfless, God encouraged acts. I could quite easily spend a lot of time writing on love after reading the story of Ruth, but today when I read it, three very different things stood out to me.
Firstly, we can’t give up on God when we think He has given up on us. He never gives up on us! While we’re waiting, He’s doing much more than we could ever dream. Like I said before, we’re waiting for the ‘yes/no, move/stay’ type of answer. We never expect the firework display that catches us by surprise, and thank goodness for that. In the story of Ruth, Naomi is caught in bitterness because she thinks God has abandoned her after the death of her family members and left her in the midst of war and famine. She can’t see past tomorrow. She can’t see past the anger of being the only of her family left. She can’t see past the doubt of not having any provisions to survive. She is left with two daughters in law that she can’t provide for, and then is left with one, whom she knows will face the same fate as her. In her eyes, she has every right to be angry, doubtful, and feeling utterly alone.
Ruth, on the other hand, is in the same boat. We aren’t told how old she is, or how long she was married to Naomi’s son before he died. We don’t even know if she and her husband loved each other deeply or why they didn’t have children. At the same time as Naomi, Ruth loses a father in law, a husband, a brother in law, and in turn a sister in law, to say Ruth was broken and hurt as well is a fairly safe assumption.
We have it easy, we can read the entire story of Ruth and know what happened. We see the redemption and the hope at the end of the story. But like Ruth and Naomi, we can’t see the end of our story. In the middle of our despair and trials, we don’t know what God has planned for us at the end of all things. But we can be rest assured that God does have a plan for us, and we are safely in the palm of His hand. I read a quote from an unknown that said,
“In my deepest wound I saw Your glory, and it astounded me”.
These words just struck a chord with me. Here I was like Ruth and Naomi, feeling angry, doubtful, and apart from God. But, even in the darkest of places or thoughts, God was there, and His glory was still shining so brightly. I might be in the middle of trials now, but I can take hope in the knowledge that God is doing something.
Secondly, God always provides a place for us to belong and people to help us through hard times. As His children, we belong to Him, and what a great thing that is! He is our heavenly Father, and cares so deeply for us. In the story, divine providence is clearly at work when it turns out to be Boaz’s field that Ruth has gone to pick grain in. Ruth was literally led to the field of a Godly man, whom God had chosen for her. Not only would this man become her husband, but he recognized that Ruth was caring for Naomi, and in turn, he cared for both of them.
If we go back to the beginning of the story of Ruth, we see Naomi giving Ruth multiple opportunities to leave. This is where we see the true heart of Ruth, a young woman who has lost everything. She has been hurt deeply, but perseveres and chooses to walk out with Naomi in love and faith and into an unknown future. What a woman! In those moments of trials, it’s so hard to be a Ruth, when it’s easier to be a Naomi. Do we get angry and bitter with God? Or do we have the courage to leave behind what’s comfortable, and follow God’s plan for our lives? When I read Ruth, I felt so encouraged that while Naomi had such a great hurt, she had Ruth and Boaz, both of whom encouraged her in their own ways. It made me so thankful, and was such a reminder that in those moments of pain, God is always with us, and He will put people in our lives to help us.
Lastly, God brings us to our next step in His time and in His way. This is such a hard thing to swallow sometimes, isn’t it? Naomi gives Ruth such a simple instruction; wait. I don’t know about you, but I have such a hard time waiting for God’s answer sometimes. (Well, most times). When we’ve had a time of feeling apart from God and being so uncertain of what is to come, and have begged for an answer, the last thing we often want to do is to ‘wait’. Ruth has done everything Naomi has asked of her. She’s asked Boaz to marry her, and now she’s told to simply wait.
Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens”. (Ruth 3:18)
Ruth trusts Naomi and God so implicitly, that she patiently waits for an answer. She’s taken a huge leap in faith by stepping out, and does not get an answer right away! She trusts God for a better future. When we’re waiting for God, do we trust that He will provide what is better for us? Or do we waste time worrying about what the answer might be? I’m reminded of a verse in Psalm that says,
“Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Could that verse be any clearer about what we’re to do while we’re waiting for God to answer? Wait, be strong, take heart, and wait.
I don’t know why I’ve felt so spiritually attacked and emotionally drained. I don’t know what’s to come in the days ahead. But I am certain of this-God’s love will always move us from emptiness to abundance. He is all we need, and will always be there for us.
God, lead my heart and affections to the field I need to be in.
I know I will face trials and hardships, but if that’s what I have to go through to be where you want me, then lead me. I can’t see the end result of the young woman you’re molding me into, but I am so blessed and thankful that you can use someone as ordinary as me. I am so relieved that you take the broken pieces of who I am, and can make something utterly, and completely beautiful.
Take my anger, doubt and fear, God, and remind me that I am never alone. Thank you for the people you’ve placed in my life, and for their willingness to do Your will and not their own.
Thank you for doing things in Your own time and ways, God. I know my patience wanes thin sometimes, but I ask that you would make me steadfast and focussed on You in those moments. Burn in my soul and deposit your passion, Your will and Your purpose in me. Make me lionhearted and patient as I wait for Your answers. Amen.