Finding Hope When Empty

This week I read the Bible book of Ruth, a beautiful short story of tragedy, grief, and rescue. The story begins in Bethlehem with an Israelite couple who was being forced to move away because of a famine. The couple was named Elimelech and Naomi, and their two sons were named Mahlon and Chilion. To escape the famine, the family moved to the nearby land of Moab, where they lived for about ten years.

But during their time in Moab, Elimilech died. Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women, but then both Mahlon and Chilion also died. Only Naomi was left, along with Orpah and Ruth, her two Moabite daughters in law. When Naomi heard that Bethlehem had recovered from the famine, she decided to return there, and told her daughters in law to go back to their Moabite families. Orpah expressed her grief and then left, but Ruth refused to leave her. So Naomi, crushed and bitter, allowed Ruth to accompany her back to Bethlehem.

The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
     “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20-21 CSB)

Naomi held God responsible for what happened to her, and the story never comments about whether Naomi’s sentiments were right or wrong. Perhaps they were a bit of both. In one sense, Naomi was wrong to blame God for the deaths of her husband and sons, for the story says nothing about God wishing their deaths or directly causing them to die. But in another sense, Naomi was right to acknowledge God as the all-powerful One who controls all things, for if God had wished them to remain alive, then no one could have stopped him.

I think thoughts like those get us stuck in grief when tragedy strikes. We wrestle with our loss, wondering who to blame and how to resolve our pain. We can tire ourselves out trying to make life work again, and sometimes it can seem impossible to get unstuck and move on. Maybe we wonder if we will ever find hope.

But Naomi found hope, through the faithfulness of two people: Ruth and Boaz. Ruth set to work supporting Naomi in any way she could, although at that place and time there wasn’t much that a woman alone could do to earn a living. Boaz was a nearby relative of Naomi, and when Ruth arrived one day to gather leftover grain from his field, he showed Ruth extraordinary kindness and protection, and invited her back.

Eventually Naomi woke up to the possibility that Boaz might be willing to take them in and marry Ruth, even though she was a Moabite. So Naomi guided Ruth on how to ask Boaz. When Boaz realized what Ruth was asking of him, he did not hesitate. He accepted her completely, and wasted no time in making sure that he could legally marry Ruth and accept Naomi and Ruth into his family. The story ends with a happy scene, with Naomi’s grandson Obed (the son of Boaz and Ruth) sitting on her lap.

I see some of myself reflected in Naomi, but I see some of God reflected in Ruth and Boaz. God hasn’t abandoned me, even in times when I was conflicted or lost in grief. God’s rescued me through the good news of Jesus and given me a home in his family, when he could have simply left me alone. And when I am confused about what’s going on in my life, and I’m struggling to find hope, I usually don’t find it until I’ve laid the struggle down and let it go. It’s only then that I’m able to look around and see what God is doing, and how he’s showing me grace even in the most unlikely places.

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