it's not me, it's you.
A few years ago, I was sitting in a class on Biblical Womanhood at my church next to two girls who I had recently connected with. We had histories together – one I knew from my social club in college, and the other I grew up with in the same church family. One I had never been close with before. One I had been close with in high school, but less so in recent years. We were in the middle of what felt like temporary chapters, young adults, either ourselves or our husbands in school, not knowing what the future would hold or where it would take us.
But we knew we wanted something more in our lives – we were looking for real, Christ-centered friendship. We decided to start meeting for dinner regularly, claiming my dining table as a safe place to talk, and had found this class on womanhood to attend. We went in, not knowing what exactly it would be about, but feeling just brave enough to try.
I remember only one of us had remembered our Bibles that day. How fitting that we would be forced to sit close and lean together over the tiny text. We were asked to open up to Ruth 1.
We met Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. If you're not familiar with the story, the two women and their families went to go live in a far away land while a famine raged on back home. While there, Naomi's husband passes away. In this time, a widow would often be financially ruined, since her source of income and tie to her family is now gone, and she had minimal (if any) rights. It is sweet to note, then, that she continued to live with her two sons and their wives. However, ten years later, both of her sons pass away as well. Now all three are widows. In the social structure of ancient Israel, they have no source of income, no rights, no family.
Naomi tells her daughters-in-law that she is going to return to her hometown and encourages them to do the same. One tearfully leaves the only mother she has known for over ten years.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. 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. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (v. 16-18)
Ruth was determined to go with her. Determined to go to a land she was unfamiliar with, to worship the God of Israel that she did not grow up with, to miss an opportunity to see her own mother and father again. And on top of all of that, Naomi is not an attractive parter to stick with.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (v. 19b-21)
If I could insert an emoticon here, it would have huge eyes, blushing cheeks, and a tiny straight line of a mouth. Naomi isn't just having a hard time – she's hit bottom. She tells old friends that her entire identity has changed, to call her "bitter;" she doesn't even look like herself. She blames God.
There is nothing in this relationship that could possibly be of benefit to Ruth. Naomi literally has nothing to offer her but bitterness and anger towards the Lord. But Ruth binds herself to Naomi. She's basically said, "You can't scare me away. I'm here for you, and I'm not going anywhere."
We live in a world that says friendship should be mutually beneficial. There should be some chemistry. There should be similar interests. Relationships are risky, and we want our friendships to be safe haven. None of this is wrong. But perhaps, what is, is that we feel entitled to leaving when the relationship no longer benefits us.
It sounds harsh, and it is. But perhaps the way this has played out before is that you could never find a convenient time to hang out anymore. Maybe she flaked out on meeting up too many times. Maybe your interests have changed and you have less in common. Maybe your relationship status – or child-bearing status – has changed and you have less in common. Maybe hard times have rolled in, and you're just not sure how to talk to her anymore. You don't know what to say. So you say nothing. Or you try... and it doesn't go well. It hurts. So, you leave.
I remember looking up from the pages of Ruth at the two women I sat with and making eye contact. How often had we felt that pain? Or inflicted it upon someone? How many relationships can we pull from the back of our minds and say, "I wish things hadn't ended that way?" Surely, friendship in this world could not look like what Ruth had to give to Naomi. And yet... how amazing would that be? Could we possibly go through hard times and know we had a friend who wouldn't abandon us?
Seeds of hope were planted that day as we realized – we could all be Ruth to each other. We left class and began vulnerably discussing the vows we had made when we each got married – we vowed to endure, to remain faithful, to see Christ in our spouse and point them to His love for us. We had experienced many days that we wanted to walk out and break our covenants, because marriage is hard. Why wouldn't we treat our sisters in Christ with the same compassion? Hasn't He called us to offer grace as He has freely and abundantly given it? Grace upon grace. Even when it hurts.
Since that day years ago, those two sweet friends and I have had many opportunities to vulnerably, bravely practice being Ruth to each other... and to others. It is impossible to do by our own merit, and has required, over and over again, leaning deeply into Christ. It's easy to say we're hurt and to choose to protect ourselves instead of pursuing. But the pursuit is surprisingly sweet. Relationships take effort, and somewhere in tilling the soil of that garden, we begin to see sprouts grow up and become stronger day by day. We choose to keep watering, keep pruning...
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)
God has been making it grow. He invites us to participate. He asks us to lean in and trust Him, regardless of the outcome of the relationship. It's sweet surrender (John 15:13). Because it's not about me – it's about loving you, in honor of the One who has loved and continues to love us with an abundant, miraculous, everlasting, unshakable love.