Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Suffering Well Part 3--The Road Home (Ruth)

I love the story of Ruth because it contains characters both transparent and strong. It opens as Naomi and Elimelech move their family, which initiated a season of suffering for Naomi. She  left her home, her familiar God-worshipping community, and her extended family because the rains had ceased, thirsty plants were wilting, cows were starving, and her family  was experiencing  hunger they couldn't ease. They landed in Moab, a culture flooded by pagan worship. I imagine Naomi hoped the move was temporary, just until the rains began to fall again. While in Moab, her husband died and her two sons married Moabite women, killing her hopes of returning home.

After ten years Naomi had buried her husband and both of her sons. Her grief was unbearable and she wanted to move back to Judah. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their families so they could remarry. At first both protested, but she reminded them she was too old to bear sons to be their husbands. In her pain, she shared she believed the hand of her God had come against her. The three wept together and Orpah rose, kissing Naomi's cheek she returned to her family. But Ruth refused to leave, declaring allegiance to Naomi and her God. I love that in the pain of widowhood Ruth was willing to go with her husband's mother. Maybe by holding on to Naomi she held on to a bit of her husband. Maybe she had grown to love Naomi and didn't want her to leave her alone. Maybe she simply wanted to serve the older woman who had suffered even more loss that she had. What ever her reason, Ruth went even though she knew she might not be accepted.

The two women arrived in Bethlehem as barley fields were ready to harvest. Naomi was remembered and greeted and grieving deeply she asked to be called Bitter. I love her honesty. I have had friends who buried children and their were times their sadness was so deep and so raw they could barely breathe. There were times their anger felt like it would erupt like a volcano. There were times the anger and grief resolved into shame because they believed, as Christians, they shouldn't grieve so deeply. Naomi shows us the way out of the pain and the bitterness. It is to acknowledging it and walk through it with compassionate people who don't judge.

Ruth volunteered to glean the fields of Naomi's extended family to provide for Naomi, Boaz showed her favor by providing safety as she gleaned and by arranging for her to glean extra barley. Naomi realized Boaz had been gracious and devised a plan, seeking Boaz as a kinsman redeemer. He agreed and Boaz and Ruth married and had a son who was in the lineage of Christ.

I love this story because it is an honest account of real people like you and me. Naomi, had faced so much hard she had become bitter and openly acknowledged it. I understand bitterness. I've experienced it--it is that slow burning anger and pervasive negative point of view that clouds the ability to see good that resides with the bad. It takes crazy courage to acknowledge it aloud and it takes even more courage to admit we've lost our way in the midst of pain that taints our view of God.

I admire Ruth, because she chose to follow a bitter woman to a different culture, even though she herself had suffered huge losses. She didn't let Naomi's bitterness deter her and didn't let Naomi's tainted view of God deter her from trusting Him. She didn't let Naomi's desire to push others away deter her from loving her with a steadfast love.

I love Boaz and his great big heart. He treated the foreign woman with kindness and integrity. In the face of all the kindnesses being shown her, Naomi had a choices to make. She could remain bitter, deep complaining, and keep pushing people away, or she could acknowledge the  kindnesses, plan for the future, and trust the sovereignty of her God. Despite her pain, Naomi chose to acknowledge the love and grace she was receiving. And out of that she healed enough to remember she could initiate the kinsman-redeemer process. As a result of her choice, Naomi had the joy of bouncing a grandson on her knee. I can't help but think Naomi really took her first step out of the sea of bitterness back in Moab. She knew she was returning to a culture that worshiped the God by whom she felt abandoned. To go home meant she would be forced to deal with her feelings about God. Each step towards home was a step towards God.

When we face the loss of people we love, the loss of security, the loss of possessions, the loss of health, or the loss of dreams and our pain runs raw and threads of bitterness dig deep, we too can choose to suffer well by choosing to take a step towards the Savior. Maybe our step is going to be going to church when we least feel like it. Maybe it is attending home group where it is hard to conceal the truth of who and where we are. Maybe it is reaching out to a friend and telling her the truth about the negative mess running through our head, the hot feelings overwhelming us, and the desire to give up. Those things may be the path that leads to our suffering well. For bringing our darkness into His light allows His light to dissipate the darkness inside. Being honest about pain is not just a protest of our reality, it is a declaration that we believe our God is big enough to bear our pain, understanding  enough to show us His grace, and faithful enough to comfort us with His love. Being transparent  exposes the lies tainting our views and allows us to realign our thinking with His. Moving towards God allows God to insert His joy in the midst of our hard. Moving towards God keeps us on the road home.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!