She left her home and traveled with her mother-in-law into a world that was new to her. Her name was Ruth. Why would you do that? Why would you leave the land where you were born, where you had grown to adulthood, where you had married, and finally, where your husband had died? Why would you leave the land of Familiar for the land of Unknown? The answer is quite simple, and yet- complicated, for love is always at its core- quite simple and yet amazingly complicated.
The reason, I think, was love. Ruth loved her mother-in-law most devotedly. Listen to the committment in Ruth’s words to Naomi, her mother-in-law:
“…’Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.’ ” -Ruth 1: 16-17 NKJV
Basically, Ruth is saying, “You can’t get rid of me, because I am going to follow you. So don’t even try.” Honestly, I think these words would make more sense if Ruth had been talking to her husband, or a child, or even her own parents. But this was her mother-in-law! We live in a time in which in-laws are often not treated with the value they are worthy of. So, to see this level of care for an in-law is rather incredible. More so, because (and this is just speculation, but stick with me here) I don’t think Naomi was as dedicated to Ruth as Ruth was to Naomi. Did she love her? Yes, I believe so. However, I also think she underappreciated Ruth.
Listen to what Naomi says when she gets back to her homeland.
“I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty…” -Ruth 1:21 NKJV
Maybe it’s just me, but if I had forsaken all to travel with someone to a land I didn’t even know, and we’d get there, and that person would say to everyone, “When I left I had my family, but now I’m back, and I have nothing,” I would be deeply hurt. Yes, I realize Naomi had lost a lot, but she hadn’t lost everything. She had Ruth. I feel like that was an unkind thing to say considering the immense sacrifice Ruth made. Also, forgive me for this statement, but I’m rather impatient with Naomi. She was really good at feeling sorry for herself. Ruth had lost a husband, too, and she had forsaken her Familiar, and I don’t hear her complaining.
Ruth took a risk for love. A huge risk, considering all the circumstances. I applaud her for that. But, she’s not finished taking risks. The story becomes even more complicated.
Ruth meets a man. Oh yes, that always complicates things. It just so happens that this man is a relative of theirs, and suddenly Naomi has a brilliant idea. She wants to play matchmaker. You see, in the Israelite world, when a man died without children, that man’s brother was to marry the widow and produce an heir to carry on the line of the deceased. Well, obviously, in Ruth’s case, her brother-in-law could not do this for her, as he was dead, too. So the duty would have gone to the nearest relation. Looking at it from this perspective, though it is strange in today’s world, we can see why Naomi is thinking about marriage for Ruth. Naomi gives Ruth the following advice:
“ ‘…wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.’ ” -Ruth 3:3-4 NKJV
Okay, maybe you’re not feeling awkward about this whole situation, but I am. Talk about vulnerability at its best! Basically, Ruth is taking her heart in her hands and laying it at the feet of a man whom she only has a slight acquaintance with, and saying, “Will you marry me?” What?! I’m an introvert; I don’t walk up to a guy and ask him to marry me. I just don’t. I don’t see Ruth as being that kind of person either. From the story, she definitely does not give me the impression of being an extrovert at all. And this is her heart we’re talking about! At this point, I would’ve started making excuses.
“I hardly know the man, Naomi! What is he going to think of me if I ask him for such a huge personal favor? Will he laugh in my face? Above all, will he love me? I just can’t take the risk. He could crush my heart if I offer it to him.” But this is not what Ruth says. She agrees to the plan.
I imagine Ruth felt a good many nervous butterflies in her stomach as she got ready to go. I imagine she felt a certain level of fear as she came near to the place where Boaz was. She was risking a lot to offer this man her heart, when he had not even offered his to her. Fear of rejection, people? You know what I’m talking about? We’re so afraid to take risks for love, because what if we are rejected, hurt, pushed aside… We’re afraid to be vulnerable. We like control.
In Ruth’s case, there was a happily-ever-after. The story ends well. I encourage you to read it. But to bring this back to our present time, when is the last time you took an actual risk for love? Are you afraid to love someone, because to love them could mean to lose them? It happens. Do you know someone with a terminal illness, and you’re afraid to get close to them because it’ll hurt when they die? We open our hearts to love, and death steals.
We love and the love is not reciprocated. We love, and they move to another state. We love, and they don’t handle our hearts well; we end up feeling betrayed. I’m not just talking about romantic love, either. I’m talking about love in general. It’s a risk. People do move away. People do hurt us. People do ignore us. Vulnerability is scary. Very scary. So, should we just become robots, without love and without pain? Is the risk of love too great?
You know the answer. Ruth knew the answer. You love anyway.
At the risk of starting to sound like a Lord of the Rings fanatic, I will remind you of a scene with Elrond and Arwen.
Elrond tells her, “I looked into your future, and I saw death.”
Arwen says, “But there is also life. You saw there was a child. You saw my son.”
Elrond replies, “That future is almost gone.”
And Arwen says with conviction in her voice, “But it is not lost.”
We have a choice in this matter, as in all matters of our lives. We can choose to love, knowing that love is painful, or we can choose to close ourselves to love and lose the joy as well. Your choice. Will you stay in Familiar, or will you walk into Unknown? There just might be a happily-ever-after waiting for you.