Today I was thinking about the book of Ruth and the lives of the courageous women for whom it is written. To give a little background in the story, Naomi, the older woman, had moved with her husband and two sons from Bethlehem in Judah to the country of Moab due an outbreak of a famine. While the family resided there, the couple’s two grown sons married women from Moab. The names of these two women were Ruth and Or-pah. At some point during their residency in that place, Elimelech, Naomi’s husband died. Then somewhere around a decade later, both her sons Mahlon and Kilion died also. As a result of this tragic circumstance, Naomi was left alone.
Some time after that, Naomi heard that the famine had lifted in Judah, so she prepared to leave Moab with her two daughters-in-law, but they could hardly get going before Naomi changed her mind. Now instead of taking these two young ladies with her; she attempted to persuade them to return home to their families, their customs, their traditions and their gods. It took some time, but after a great deal of persuasion, her daughter-in-law Or-pah decided to heed the advice of her mother in-law and reluctantly return home to her family. But not Ruth. Not only would Ruth not budge, the Bible says, “she clung to Naomi.”
Until that point in her life, Naomi had developed her life-outlook and sense of personal identity based on the immediate context of her life. By that I mean, in the context of marriage and motherhood. And it was life in that context that necessitated the development of the person she had become. After the death of her family however, things were not the same. For Naomi, this new way of life was difficult, uncomfortable and sad. The life in which she had found a sense of belonging, her feeling of self- worth and usefulness, her value, in fact the very definition of who she was, no longer existed.
In Ruth 1:11-13, we can see one of the impacts of this major life event in the life of Naomi as she is trying to get her daughters-in-law to see things her way. She tells them, “Why should you go on with me?” Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters!”
Something that stood out to me about this passage is the fact that when the context of Naomi’s life changed, when she no longer had all that gave meaning to who she was, she felt as though she had nothing to offer. In her mind, she had given Ruth and Or-pah all she had to offer when she gave them her sons as husbands. But she had not. While I do not have time for sake of space to go into all the details leading up to both Naomi’s and Ruth’s redemption as a result of their relationship with one another, I will say this: what you and I have been through is not who we are. It is what we have been through. And what we have been through does not determine our self-worth, our value or even what we have to offer this world. God does. Who you are and who I am, our gifting, our talent, our make-up and our respective purpose was established by God. And no external happening in our lives can change that.
If you were to read the book of Ruth, what you would find is that in the end, Naomi and Ruth did make it back to Bethlehem in Judah. Through Naomi’s wisdom, Ruth found love, peace and joy in the home of another husband, and Naomi became a grandmother. Contrary to her own belief, Naomi did have something to offer. She had wisdom. She found purpose late in her life because of the beautiful relationship she shared with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Given that day and time, in most circumstances, the lives of these women would have all but ended with the death of their husbands, but that did not happen. Instead of allowing the circumstance they were facing destroy them, they grasped the opportunity it presented, they rose to the occasion and met it head on. As individuals, the changed, they grew and they developed.
Adverse circumstances do not define who we are. What we have been through is simply that, what we have been through. It is not an indicator of who we are. God was able to work wonders in the lives of both Naomi and Ruth because these two women ultimately realized regardless of their circumstances, they were who they were as individuals, only in a different context. After nearly twenty-five years of marriage, I am facing divorce, and I am okay. What I have gained from this ordeal, what God has taught me about who he is, about his love for me and about who I am is not something I would trade anything in the world. Has separation and divorce been a life-changing experience? Without a doubt! But I am healing, I am growing, and I am free. It’s still me. It’s still my life, only in a different context.
Suggested Bible Readings: The book of Ruth, Romans 4:18-20 and Hebrews 11:11
Blessings and Peace,