Staying to Clean Up

Ruth | Day 2
Reading | Ruth 1

“Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17

There Were Other Options

Good friends listen to your music.

Best friends support you dedicating the whole week to celebrating Taylor Swift in honor of the release of reputation.

t swift.gif

Ruth’s commitment to Naomi is a tad more sacrificial than suffering through Speak Now (sorry, T Swift, it’s your weakest album), and she gives us the perfect example of true friendship. She chooses to follow a bitter, old woman to a new country even though Naomi has absolutely nothing to offer her.

Naomi settled in Moab with her husband and two sons after a famine covered her home country of Judah. Shortly after starting their new life, Naomi’s husband died, leaving her to care for the two sons. Both boys eventually marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, and life is good for the next ten years.

Then death comes again. Naomi’s sons passed away, leaving her without any income. Completely desolate, Naomi decides it’s time to move back to Judah. She’s heard that the famine in her homeland is over, and without a husband or sons to take care of her, there’s nothing left for her in Moab. Although they are born Moabites, Orpah and Ruth begin the trek to Judah with Naomi.

I love that the Bible doesn’t record Orpah or Ruth questioning Naomi’s decision to leave. It’s almost like they just assumed they were going with her. They were young women who had lost their husbands; their situation wasn’t much better than Naomi’s. The three women had been a family for ten years, so Orpah and Ruth probably looked to their mother-in-law to guide them through the difficult circumstances they were facing.

I imagine Naomi standing at the boundary line of Moab and realizing what following her would mean for her daughters-in-law. Although she’s facing a life of loneliness and desolation, she knows that life would be better for Orpah and Ruth if they returned back to their families. The girls were probably in their mid-twenties; they had their whole lives left ahead of them. There was no reason for them to throw their options away to keep her company.

At first, Orpah and Ruth both reject Naomi’s advice. They beg her to take them with her, but Naomi assures the girls that they need to go home. She has absolutely nothing to offer them. Orpah decides to leave, but Ruth stays, clinging to her mother-in-law. Again, Naomi tries to persuade Ruth to go back. After all, Orpah went back to her people and her gods to start her life over again, and Ruth has the same option. But again, Ruth refuses. In perhaps one of the most touching passages of Scripture, Ruth swears her loyalty to Naomi:

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where 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. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

We don’t know much of Ruth’s history, but we know she was willing to leave everything to stay with her mother-in-law, even when Naomi had nothing to offer. She was willing to journey to a new country with new customs and a new God, with nothing accompanying her besides a bitter woman.

3 Characteristics of Friendship

Through Ruth’s story, we are able to see three major characteristics of God-intended friendship.

Companionship

Despite our American “Do It Yourself” mentality, we are not designed to live this life alone. We have been created for community. In the very beginning of time, God made a companion for Adam because it wasn’t good for man to be alone. Throughout the Old Testament, Solomon is pretty adamant about the importance of friendship. Our friends pick us up when we fall down (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12); they challenge us when we need a push (Proverbs 27:17); they stick with us when life gets hard (Proverbs 17:17).

We need people to spend time with, to keep loneliness at bay. The social-media-saturated culture we live in has taught us that the number of followers we have equals the number of friends we have. However, there’s no replacement for actual human-to-human contact.

Loyalty

The thing I love most about the book of Ruth is Ruth’s absolute loyalty to Naomi. I think we have a tendency to overlook that Ruth was hurting immensely during this time as well. Her husband of ten years had just died! But instead of making the logical choice to go back home and start her life over, she committed to staying with Naomi.

For those of us who have read Ruth, we know that Ruth’s story has a beautiful ending (sorry, #spoiler), but all she knew at this time was that she was following Naomi into a potentially hopeless life. She was willing to throw away the security of returning to her family in order to stay with a friend who was hurting.

Sacrifice

The sacrifice Ruth makes for Naomi doesn’t stop within this first chapter; throughout the rest of the book, Ruth continues to show up, supporting and caring for Naomi. And even though Naomi has literally nothing tangible to give Ruth, she guides Ruth through her transition into Israelite customs and her relationship with Boaz. These two women didn’t just sit expecting friendship to happen; they actively made sacrifices to care for one another.

The New Testament is pretty adamant about the sacrifices we’ll be asked to make as we follow Jesus Christ, but one common theme is the sacrifices we’ll have to make on behalf of one another. We are commanded to carry one another’s burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ, which is, simply put, to love God and love people. Similarly to how Ruth takes care of Naomi’s needs, we’re told to look after others the same way we would look after ourselves.

Real friendship takes work. The ultimate sign of friendship is being willing to lay down your life for your friends. It’s the willingness to care for them even if it costs something on your behalf. This isn’t always going to be in super exciting ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as laying down an extra five bucks and bringing Starbucks for your coworker. Other times, you may have to give up sleep because your friend needs you. Sacrificing might even mean choosing to sit back and give it to God when you so badly want to fix the situation.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the amount of work that goes into relationships. Making friends isn’t as passive as it was when I was in high school or college. During school, friends were basically thrown into my lap. I was friends with the people who were in the same activities I was, the people I naturally spent time with.

Now it takes effort. It’s the worst.

exasperated emma stone

My closest friends are all at different stages of life. Friendship isn’t as simple as just hanging out anymore. It takes sacrifice on everyone’s part to make our relationships work.

Because I can be extremely lazy and selfish, I don’t always want to put work into relationships. If I’m being super transparent, there are times I want to be selfish and just not deal with people. My roommate and I have been friends for at least 8 years, and we’ve lived together for the majority of that time (maybe 7? I don’t remember). When you’ve been around someone that long, you’re going to get on each other’s nerves. There are times I’m super annoying. I know this – I’m very self-aware. And there are times I get frustrated with her, too. It’s just how life is. But we both make tiny, daily sacrifices to let things go.

To be a little more raw, there are times I assume the worst of my friends. Not when it comes to what other people say. I’m fiercely loyal. But I struggle the most with my thoughts and what my friends think of me: “Ugh. They clearly don’t want to talk to me. They haven’t snapchatted me all day.”

(Don’t lie about this either. I know you all have these thoughts.)

But my friends aren’t like this at all. They love me completely and unconditionally. They’ve shown up for me at my darkest times. They’ve always answered my texts or made time to talk when I need a listening ear. They know the worst parts of me, but also know the best parts and who I aspire to be. To quote Taylor Swift:

We are never just good or just bad. We are mosaics of our worst selves and our best selves, our deepest secrets and our favorite stories to tell at a dinner party, existing somewhere between our well-lit profile photo and our driver’s license shot. We are all a mixture of our selfishness and generosity, loyalty and self-preservation, pragmatism and impulsiveness.

Human beings are a mess of situations, celebrations, and regrets all mixed together. Rarely will you find people who try to see every side of your story and choose love you anyway. The ones that do? That’s your tribe. Keep them. They’re the ones who love you for you. They hear the haters, but they don’t care because they know the real you. They’re the ones who see you, really see you.

True friends are the ones that stay after parties and help you clean up. They’re the ones that aren’t just available for the fun things; they stick around for the messy things. Ruth didn’t bail on Naomi because it would be hard. She stuck around to help pick up the pieces Naomi had left. I’m sure Ruth had thoughts telling her to go home, to let Naomi figure everything out on her own. But she pushed past those and sacrificed. She chose to lay down her life, expecting nothing in return.

Reflection

  1. Which of the three characteristics of true friendship challenged or encouraged you the most? Why?
  2. Is there a friend you might need to love better? A friendship you feel like you need to reconcile?
  3. Have you listened to reputation yet?! AhhhhhHHHHhhh!

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below or send me a message here.

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