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