On Mother’s Day of last year, I was asked to speak at my mom’s church in Cape Girardeau, MO. The pastor of the church told me to “take my liberty” and speak whatever I thought I should speak and not let the fact that it was Mother’s Day sway my message. I prayed and studied and had my notes all prepared. At the same time I was studying for this message, I was also reading the book of Ruth in my “Read Through The Bible In A Year” plan. However, this was not a coincidence that this book of the Bible was where I was reading. In fact, God had a different message than I had planned that He wanted me to share and this message was not only for the church, but for me (of course).
I was driving home from getting groceries the week before I was to speak my “prepared” message for Mother’s Day and the Holy Spirit began to speak to my heart about Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law. If you have read the book of Ruth in the Bible, you will know it is the story of a woman who became a widow that God redeemed through a man named Boaz who became her husband. I hear single women say, often, “I’m waiting for my Boaz.” That seems to be the resounding theme around this story in the Bible. However, this day, God made Naomi the star of the story for me. See, Naomi was a woman who, with her family, had to leave her home in Bethlehem because of famine. I can just imagine how Naomi must have felt. I’m sure she was praying for the famine to go and for God to provide food and water for her family. But, that did not happen and in order to survive they had to leave their home with their two sons and whatever they could take with them and move to a strange country. I’m sure Naomi wondered if God was hearing her prayers and was he just ignoring her?
If having to leave your home for a strange new place was not bad enough, Naomi’s husband, Elimelech died after the move and left her with her two sons. Naomi’s son’s found wives from the people of the area where they had to move (Moab). These women were from a completely different culture and religion than Naomi and her husband. Ok, mom’s! You know how we judge those our children choose. Can you imagine how Naomi was feeling at this time? If that wasn’t bad enough, 10 years later, her son’s died, too! Now, this was not a time or culture that was friendly to widows and here were three in the same household. Naomi told her daughter in laws that she was going to go back to her homeland and hope that her family would take her in. She advised her daughter-in-laws that their best option would be to go back to their fathers and hope that they could marry again and take the disgrace of widowhood from them. Both women refused to leave her at first, but it didn’t take much convincing for her daughter in law, Orpah, to heed her advice and head back to her father’s home. Ruth, however, was not going to be swayed. In fact, the Bible tells us:
“. . . Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But, Ruth clung tightly to Naomi.” (Ruth 1:14b NLT)
Naomi continued to try to convince Ruth that her best option was her father’s house. But Ruth replied to her:
“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.” (Ruth 1:16 NLT)
If Ruth returned to her father’s house, she would have to give up the God that she had grown to know and love. The One True God! She was ready to take the risk of literally starving to death than to give that up. Ruth was truly looking to something far more valuable than earthy gain.
Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem and everyone was glad to see them. As they greeted them Naomi said:
“Don’t call me Naomi . . . instead, call me Mara for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21 NLT)
Let’s break that down a little bit. First of all, Naomi means “pleasantness”. Mara means “bitter” or “sorrow”. Naomi also says that she left there “full” and has returned home “empty”. Yet, standing beside her was her beautiful daughter in law, Ruth, who had vowed to stay by her side and care for her. And, I guess Naomi had forgotten that there was nothing left for her in Bethlehem when she left, thus the reason for leaving in the first place. She had just determined to be a victim in this situation which led to bitterness and sorrow. Naomi was seeing everything happening around her with her natural eyes, but Ruth was seeing from a spiritual place of promise. Ruth had found that following hard after God was far greater than focusing on what was going on in the natural.
When the Holy Spirit hit me with that revelation driving down the road in my car, I knew He was speaking to my heart about my current situation, as well. If you continue to follow the story of Ruth, God does redeem Ruth’s widowhood situation and provides abundantly for she and Naomi so that they would not go hungry. But the real message lies in the fact that Jesus, the Messiah for all mankind, came through the lineage of Ruth and her new husband, Boaz. Had Naomi not gone through everything that she had, Ruth would have never met Boaz and that piece was so important to the future of all of us. So let’s put it into perspective: Naomi was low on food and water and had to move away from home for a while. During that time she lost her husband and her sons. However, the entire world was saved from the forces of satan and hell and we all now have direct access to God and are promised eternal life. That may be oversimplifying it just a tad, but you see where I am going with this?
My goodness! I do not understand, AT ALL, why some of our prayers don’t get answered like we think they should. I completely understand why we feel like God is just ignoring us sometimes and that he has left us empty. If we focus on what we lose in this life and the ugly of it all, we will certainly become bitter and sorrowful. But, if we can see past the natural and into what God is doing through all of the negative around us, we can see great promise and hope, like Ruth did. When we focus on Him and not our situations, we will be willing to risk it all and He will take care of us.
When David and I got to Mexico and the Hope4Cancer Clinic in Tijuana, we were not sure that we had made the right decision. It was not exactly what we had expected. The street the clinic is on was very dirty and everywhere you looked there was trash and decay. We sat in a small room awaiting our orientation with another patient wondering just what was in store for us. In talking with other patients later in the week, we realized that this was actually their first impression as well. One mother who was there with her adult daughter said they didn’t even unpack until day three because she kept planning how they would escape. We had a good laugh over that one. But through the three weeks that we were there, we became less and less distracted by the dirty and ugly things around us and more and more aware of the beautiful things that were around us. I would go for walks on the beach and there was so many dilapidated buildings and trash. But, the beauty of the ocean, the works of art on the beach and graffiti on the walls showed that beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. Inside the clinic were beautiful people battling a terrible ugly evil. The toll it was taking on their bodies sometimes disfigured them. Yet, we all were determined to focus on the beautiful things around us and not the ugly. What hope that brought to all of us. Day one I just thought we should turn around and go home. Several months after being there my heart is filled with warmth as I think about the friendships that we gained, the hope and healing that David received and the spiritual lessons that we learned while we were there. I cherish the fact that David and I got that one on one time to reflect on our lives and our future together, even though we didn’t realize how short our future together was. As I look through the pictures of that trip, I’m overwhelmed with precious memories of our talks and walks on the beach. These pictures are beautiful to me. I could look on that as one of the worst things to ever happen to us, but I’m going to choose to see the beauty in it all and not let bitterness and sorrow overtake my heart.
Friend, I don’t know what you are going through. As I write this, my heart is overwhelmed with pain from the reality that is starting to set in that I will never be able to talk to my sweet David on this side of Heaven, again. The busyness of planning his memorial and entertaining family is starting to end. Life is starting to become normal again, however, I’m waking up without him there beside me. The months of planning his meals and making sure that he had taken all of his supplements and done all of his treatments has passed. I’m planning a future without him by my side. While I’m still grieving, I’m so glad that I have the promise that God has not forsaken me or my kids and I don’t feel like Naomi that “the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me.” I don’t think anyone would blame me if I felt like that right now. But, what good would that do anyone. I know God is not my enemy and I won’t believe for a minute that He caused all of this to happen to us. Instead, I believe that He will use this ugly and make something absolutely beautiful out of it, if we will just trust Him and cling to Him.
I believe that God started preparing me and our family long before today because He is Almighty God and He does know the beginning from the end. He knew that I would be sitting here writing this today and that what I write could go two different ways. I could be like Orpah and choose to go in a direction that seems to be best for me and my family for our provision on this earth. In her case, that was rejection of the one true God in place of her earthly father’s provision. Or, I can be like Ruth and cling to the One True God and His unforeseen purpose, knowing that He won’t fail me. I could be like Naomi and focus on my pain and what I have lost and become bitter or I can be like Ruth and focus on the fact that I have a relationship with the One True God who will not leave me or forsake me.
You have choices, too. If you are reading this and you are having a hard time trusting God because of the circumstances around you, let me tell you something! He is an all loving God and He does not cause this hardship to come upon you. He will, however, carry you through it, if you will cling to Him.
God, I cling to you today. I choose to see the beauty in everything that has happened to me and my family. I choose to trust you, in spite of the way things seem. I choose You, God, over all and I know that you will not fail my family.