Fuller Fullness

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “When you reach the end of yourself, you come to the beginning of God.” Though we like to think ourselves sufficient in our wisdom and ways, life has a way of proving otherwise. Striving produces riches that don’t enrich, willpower is openly mocked by addictions, mortality emerges through dreaded diagnoses, and one person cannot sustain a relationship alone. For Naomi and her family, self-sufficiency meant living by sight and not by faith. Amid famine, they left the promised land for seemingly greener pastures, and when Naomi’s husband and two sons died, she assessed the situation within the limitations of her own abilities, urging her daughters-in-law, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?”1 And who was God but someone to blame? “I went way full,” Naomi lamented, “but the Lord has brought me back empty.”2 At least He had her attention, and she would see His love.

She would see it through Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who in the words of Naomi’s friends, “loves you and who is better to you than seven sons.”3 God’s love would shine through Boaz, whose integrity and compassion would bring redemption and closure: “The Lord bless him!” said Naomi to Ruth, “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”4 She would touch and feel God’s love through the grandchild laid in her lap and through these tender words from the women of the town: “Naomi has a son.”5 No longer would they call her “Mara” [bitter]; she was renewed, she was Naomi again.

It hurts to lose those we love; it stings like nothing else possibly can. Yet God uplifts us with the promise of a greater glory, “an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.”6 As we wait, He leads us to fuller fullness through stronger faith in Him. Writes Paul, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.”7 It is in this confidence that we are transformed to become to those who follow us as those who came before us were to us—lovers of our soul—people like Ruth, Boaz, and now, Naomi.

Yes, Lord, renew us, that we would become like these, trusting in you and useful to others. Amen.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14)

1 Ruth 1:11
2 Ruth 1:21
3 Ruth 4:15
4 Ruth 2:20
5 Ruth 4:17
6 1 Peter 1:4
7 2 Corinthians 5:6, 7 ESV

Renewed with Fresh Purpose

It happens not infrequently—as I ring the bell for The Salvation Army at Christmastime, someone approaches the iconic Red Kettle with a recognizable humility. They mine their billfold for money and gladly tuck a gift of gratitude into the slot, and with a long-ago look of fond recollection, they say something like this: “I remember when I was a child and our family was in tough times, The Salvation Army was there for us.” Healing acts of kindness change us—though we remember the isolating pain of emptiness, it is the Christlike character and care of others that fill us, sustain us and send us down a new path of fresh purpose.

Overwhelmed by the death of her husband and two sons, Naomi had tried to send her daughters-in-law away: “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me?”1 One did return to her people, but Ruth remained, true to the noble character for which she would become known—loyal, respectful, compassionate, practical and industrious—a reputation reaching people’s ears even before her visage met their eyes. Said Boaz to Ruth upon their first encounter, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.”2 He saw to it, then, that she would be protected and honored in his fields as she picked the sheaves the harvesters left behind. Her kindness kindled his own, though neither had an inkling where this shared trait might take them.

But Naomi did! Boaz was a relative of her late husband, and under Jewish law, he could “redeem” Ruth from a life of want and emptiness by marrying her. And Naomi knew it. Raison d’être! Fresh purpose! Step aside, I got this! “My daughter,” said the elder to the younger, “should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz … a kinsman of ours? … Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the …”3 Ruth had been all about Naomi, and now the reawakening Naomi would be all about Ruth.

God “comforts the downcast.”4 He “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves had received from God.”5 Then even our mourning has meaning, growing us into a people who give comfort as only the comforted can give. And so sculpted into the character of Christ, we go forward with fresh purpose—to be there for others in their troubles. They are all around us, hoping.

Father, thank you for those who comfort us—we need them. Heal us in our hurt, and send us to others as conduits of your healing and hope. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

1 Ruth 1:11
2 Ruth 2:11
3 Ruth 3:1-3
4 2 Corinthians 7:6
5 2 Corinthians 1:4

Night Lights

We were visiting at the kitchen table when my mother shared with me a pattern she’d observed from her own grief experiences and those of others. “When we lose someone we love, there is usually a strong support network for about three months,” she said. “People call, stop by, bring food—and after three months, they think things are better, so they resume life as normal. But things are not OK; we’re still hurting, and now we’re hurting alone.” Mom continued, “I’ve learned to wait three months and then step in to offer help when one’s support is beginning to fade.” The candle of care, lit by others, still flickers soft rays of hope.

It is hard to imagine the darkness of the widow’s anger or the depth of her pain. “Don’t call me Naomi [pleasant],” she said. “Call me Mara [bitter],” because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”1 Heap more hurt on me. Call me “bitter” whenever you look upon me. Remind me what God has done to me and who He has made me to be—bitter. What can one possibly say to heal invisible wounds of unknown dimensions? Whose words are wise enough? Writes Solomon, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”2

Consider then the heart and wisdom of Ruth, widowed herself and at a young age. To her grieving mother-in-law, she offered not Band-Aids of bromides, but the kindness of commitment—perhaps the only words Naomi could absorb. “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.”3 I am with you. With actions of integrity, then, Ruth provided for the two of them by humble means—“Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”4 “Go ahead, my daughter”—Naomi’s heart, healing.

Blessed are those who refuse to let our bitterness and pain overcome us, who reconcile us to hope when we are wary of hope. Awesome are they who sacrifice their life to save ours with a love that transforms us and a grace that sustains us to a new day of renewed purpose. When the time comes, may we, too, be committed to care, bearing another’s burden with the sacrifice of self.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2).

Father, thank you so much for those who have sustained me through the darkest moments of life. They are a gift. Grace me to be as faithful when I am called to do the same. Amen.

1 Ruth 1:20
2 Proverbs 25:20
3 Ruth 1:16, 17
4 Ruth 2:2