“I call this ‘The Unexpected Gift.’” The teenager’s hands shook as she pulled her composition out of her backpack. She bit her lower lip and cleared her throat. “Ruth 1:16, ‘…where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.’”
“Lying on the hard ground, Naomi felt this night was like so many she had recently experienced. She lay awake frustrated, weary, and frightened. Here I am, she thought to herself. After devoting a lifetime of love and work to my family, my husband, and my God, I am alone. This is not what was supposed to happen to me. I served Adonai by serving my family. Now I find myself forsaken by God, abandoned, with no one to care for and no one who cares. What did I do that such misery befell me? She moaned. And what horrid thing will happen next?
Aware that her thoughts were an admission that she was unprepared for what the future held and in some way believed that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not great enough to protect her even in this, her most trying experience, left her undone, for she suddenly realized that she had felt secure because her husband and sons were there…now there was no one to depend on. She had always comforted herself with the certain knowledge that her belief in Adonai would stand forever. Now she knew that her faith was a sham
, yet unable to admit to herself that the God she
served appeared not to care about her, she forced herself to silently admit, Even when we left Israel, when I had to say
good-bye to my family and friends, I did not feel this alone. It is as if you, the
God of my fathers, has turned your back on me for an offense that I did not
In the deep quiet of the dark night, she turned toward her traveling companion. She reached over and pulled the thin covers over the younger woman’s torso. What am I to do with her? It seemed that even now she could hear the young women saying, ‘Where you go, I go.’ God, Ruth cannot go where I go, Naomi thought. My journey is a solitary one, and I go alone. I have tried to send her back. But she will not leave me. If only she understood the trials that await her in the land, she would turn back.
For us of The Faith, the land calls us back to itself, over and over again. For those like Ruth, who wish to sojourner with us, there is little joy. All she will experience is shame and rejection, and this I cannot bear to watch. It is enough for me to feel your curse, O. God, heavy upon my heart. I would spare Ruth the life she has pledged to enter into. However, no matter what I have said, she insists that she must go with me. Nothing will stop her. Is it not enough that my heart is broken, and I have passed from the joy of feeling your pleasure, God, do I now also have to own the sorrow of knowing your wrath?
Ruth felt the covers pulled close to her body by the hands of the only mother her heart had ever responded to. She remembered sharing her plan to accompany Naomi back to Israel and live in the land with her Moabite friends, some of whom she had known since infancy. It did not surprise her when they insisted, But Ruth, you will have nothing! Naomi herself has never treated you as more that her son’s wife. Why must you go? You are young. You can still marry and have a good life—perhaps even a child.’
While the faint light of dawn began to color the sky, she turned to look at Naomi. She thought about all the things that those women had said she was giving up and smiled. I have had more of a blessing in this woman’s house, though I am not her kinswoman, than I deserved. I came with nothing, no training in her ways, and no understanding of her god. Yet she gifted me with her care and concern. But, more than that, while I was with her and her family, I learned that her god—He is God. Therefore, I go with her, not out of duty but out of a heartfelt desire to be a daughter to her as long as she will have me.
But, my dear, you are deluded! they had insisted. ‘This woman’s ways are having an adverse effect on you. Come back to where you belong, and we will help you get your thoughts in order.’
Yes, we have been taught to discount what we do not understand. Ruth thought as she rose and began to gather twigs for a fire, I came to Naomi’s house because I loved her son. My parents let me go because they had no money for a bride price. Therefore, they thought this was the best they could do for me. However, I know that her God drew me to her family! She lit the kindling and waited for the flames that would ward off the last vestiges of the morning chill. I did not expect to care so much, Ruth realized as she heard Naomi stir. She finished her preparations and helped the older woman stand. She waited until Naomi sat down on an outcropping, and handed her a cup of tea. ‘Good morning, Ima.’
Ima, Naomi grumbled to herself. Just because we travel together, the girl now takes liberties with me and calls me mother! Yet as Naomi sipped the warm brew, she sensed the sweetness within the drink. “Ruth, what have you done to make this sweet for me?’
‘Nothing. You know that our stores are almost gone. I have nothing to sweeten your drink with.’
‘But, child, this drink is indeed as sweet as ever I fixed for myself.’ Naomi drank deeply and was refreshed.
‘Perhaps your God—blessed be He—still has some sweetness in store for you.’
Naomi motioned for Ruth to pick up her walking stick. ‘Child, I fear that you will be disappointed if you are waiting for God to bless me. Better he should bless you since you have given up everything to follow me in my dotage.’ She leaned on her stick and watched as Ruth doused the fire.
Ruth hurried to pick up their things. ‘Do we reach Bethlehem today?’
‘Yes, today.’ Naomi sighed. ‘We will be there soon.’
‘Then why so forlorn?’ Ruth hurried ahead intent on finding a way for her mother-in-law to walk that would make her journey as easy as possible. ‘I thought you would be happy to see your home and your people again!’
‘Why would you think that?’ Naomi spat the words at her daughter-in-law.
Ruth turned and looked at Naomi with sad eyes. ‘Come now, there must be a bright spot in your mind. I’m sure there is something good that you can think about.’
Everyone knew Naomi was abrupt, even Ruth. Yet even she was surprised when the old woman stopped in mid-stride and insisted, ‘I have had all the joy in my life that the Lord—blessed be He—seems to want me to have. Now stop pestering me!’
Ruth nodded and they walked on in silence—Ruth ahead, Naomi behind. About noon, Ruth rounded a bend in the road. She could see the little hamlet ahead. ‘Naomi, it is just as you described it to me! Look!’
Naomi came along side Ruth and looked at her home with the longing of a weary traveler. She doubled her pace and walked quickly to the gate of the town.
Many recognized her and joyfully exclaimed, ‘Look Naomi is back!’
‘Do not call me Naomi, for that name means blessed,’ she admonished them. ‘Call me “Mara” that means bitter. Because I went out full but have come back empty.’ Before anyone could respond, she walked away. Ruth followed in her footsteps.”
Sharon looked up from the pages she had read and cleared her throat. “Many have asked me, ‘Is it always like this? Do we never see the gift God has placed right in front of us? Are we all destined to be like Naomi, discounting the unexpected gift of God?’ Well, yes, I think we are, for there was a greater gift. God told us about the coming of this miraculous gift of his love, the signs, and miracles that would reveal his identity to the nation of Israel. He told us to watch for the times and the trials of his perfect gift, the gift that would take away the sins of the world. Yet we missed it, for we are like Naomi. We look at life and God’s blessing through our own lens rather than his revealed Word. Just as Naomi did not recognize the blessing that Ruth was until she laid her grandson, Obed, in her lap, we do not understand the blessing Messiah is until we surrender our lives and appoint him Lord of all.
Like Naomi, we too have a process to undergo. For this experience to begin, each of us must let go of our entitlement and ask God to become our God, our Savior, and our Redeemer. That is the only thing that sets us free. Therefore, we are not to judge Naomi. Rather, we are to read this portion of Scripture, which calls each of us to look upon our human condition and understand how God can transform us through the miraculous intervention of his love. For Ruth so loved Naomi that she gave up her whole life to be with her. God calls us to do no less than Ruth did. For God’s Son laid down his life for us so that whomever would believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.
There is more, for the gift goes on. It goes on through you and through me. God multiplies our efforts and magnifies his glory as he uses us, frail, earthly vessels that we are, to accomplish his purpose. Just as Ruth was the mother of Obed, and he is in the line of Messiah, we are the children of God’s pasture, and it is his good pleasure to use us when and how he sees fit. We, like Ruth, must be ready to give up our expectations, move wherever God calls, and do what he asks so that we may glorify him in every joy and every trial and for all seasons, for that is how the unexpected gift will become the blessing God intends it to be.”