It occurs to me that many of the singles who read this blog might be spending Thanksgiving awkwardly and anxiously dodging questions about their lack of a life partner. Holidays can be filled with unsuitable moments for people who happen to be single. I’d like to use this platform to address both those who are excited about Thanksgiving and family, and those who are dreading it.
Stylistically, this blog will be a bit of a departure. Instead of a personal anecdote, I’m going to talk about a story from the Bible, mainly because I’m in one of those mythical Sasquatch families that doesn’t pressure me to get married or have kids. Don’t worry, we have plenty of other dysfunctions. I don’t want to speak generically or hypothetically about something so raw and vulnerable.
Let’s talk about Ruth. I know, classic Christian lady move. I’m right there with you. I avoided the book of Ruth for a long time because of all the cheesy stuff I’d heard about it. But when I started writing my book, I decided to dive in and y’all… Ruth is a boss. If you think that Ruth is just a nice love story about a poor woman faithfully following God and being rewarded with a husband, I strongly encourage you to read it again and ask different questions of the text. Because this is just a blog and not a full blown sermon, I’m hoping to peel back a layer or two and ask questions that encourage you to keep digging into this story on your own.
Ruth opens with a family that leaves Bethlehem to live in Moab because of a famine. We don’t have a ton of context as to why this family left when there isn’t any indication that the Israelites were fleeing en masse. In fact, the implication is that most families did not leave Bethlehem in spite of the famine.
The dad and two sons die within five verses, but not before the sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. By verse six, we now have three single ladies as protagonists, one displaced by ethnicity and two by their conversion to Judaism, all living in a world that was often hostile to women in their situation. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are now almost completely reliant on the generosity of their neighbors for survival.
In verses six and seven, we read:
Then [Naomi] arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. (ESV)
There is an initial presumption in these verses that Ruth and Orpah are in it to win it, ride or die with Naomi. They are bound together by their vulnerability and their commitment to men who are now dead. But in verse eight, Naomi relinquishes Ruth and Orpah from their familial obligation, and gives each permission to go back to her “mother’s home”. After much weeping, Orpah leaves. Ruth unfathomably stays.
In verse 15, Naomi pleads, “Look… your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her” (ESV). Ruth ups the ante, saying, ““Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV).
Ruth and Orpah would have both converted when they married into this Jewish family. Both women were part of this family and this religion for ten years before their husbands died. So why is it that Orpah and Ruth react so differently to Naomi’s plea?
To me, Ruth’s proclamation sounds like she is a woman with nothing to lose. We don’t know the details of Ruth’s family or religious background. Maybe her family was abusive, or they disowned her when she married a Jewish man. After all, the Moabites and the Israelites have a contentious history. No matter her specific reasons, Ruth was willing to leave behind her culture, her religion, her family, and her homeland to live a life of certain poverty with her grieving mother-in-law in a hostile culture. Ruth could have gone back to what her life was before; she could have gotten remarried. Moab was not as picky as Israel when it came to the terms and conditions of marriage.
Ruth must have been compelled by a sense that the risk was worth it. She either felt so connected to Naomi and her God, or so disconnected from her birth family and gods, that she left everything she knew. Ruth made a conscious decision to make herself vulnerable, to make her home and belonging with Naomi.
When these women arrived in Bethlehem, they caused quite a stir. Naomi tells her friends, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (1:21, ESV). In spite of her anger with the Lord, and the fact that she passive aggressively changed her name to “Bitter”, the chapter ends with a glimmer of hope and promise of abundance. We read that “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning” (1:22). Naomi couldn’t see it, but things were looking up.
I want to point out just a couple of things before I let you go enjoy your turkey. Naomi is understandably consumed by grief and hopelessness. In spite of this, Ruth stands by her and constantly puts her safety at risk to provide for Naomi. Ruth meets Naomi in her grief and takes care of her. Naomi can only see what she has lost and cannot fathom the abundant provision that’s about to come her way. And yet, her needs are met by a woman who also knew what it was to be vulnerable. In fact, Ruth later puts herself in considerable danger of harassment and assault by going out to the barley fields to collect grain behind the reapers.
Whether you are joyful or mourning, married and single, vulnerable or secure,I pray that we would surround each other, and be willing to risk being inconvenienced for each other. We follow a God who meets us in our pain, who has been rejected and scorned, who can handle both our bitterness and our delight. Regardless of what we feel and see, we are promised his love and grace. If you’re in a good place, consider reaching out to a friend who might not be. If your family is joyfully preparing for a time of thankful feasting, think hard about who around you can invite to join you. Sometimes, you are God’s plan for abundance for someone else.