From Empty to Full
It seems that much of our lives is spent just in getting through it: education, marriage, children, getting established, trying to make the next right decision in so many areas. But, we all want more than that, don’t we?
We want to know we matter, that our lives have meaning and purpose. And we want to move beyond the busyness and stresses of life to contentment. Those things are found only in our relationship with God. Without him, nothing has meaning. With him, there is meaning in everything!
Let’s see how that works out in the Book of Ruth as we shift our focus to Naomi.
In Chapter 1, we find her sad and even bitter. It’s clear she understands the sovereignty of God, so she openly blames him for the death of her husband and sons leaving her with no means of support in a foreign land. She says, I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20b). In defeat and desperation, she turns to go home to Bethlehem, where at least the familiar surroundings might bring comfort.
In Chapter 2, Naomi finds out Ruth is gleaning in the field of Boaz, a close relative with rights of redemption related to the land Naomi’s husband owned. Obviously, Naomi didn’t have the money to pay the redemption price necessary to buy it back.
But, once Naomi realizes that Boaz is close enough as a family member to redeem the land, we sense her spirits picking up. Speaking of Boaz, she says, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:20b). She may be thinking this encounter with Boaz might not be a chance encounter. There might be hope.
By Chapter 3, she’s fully engaged in the situation, and maybe for the first time in this story, is thinking about someone other than herself. In the very first verse of this chapter, she says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1b). Then she spells out the plan for Ruth to present herself to Boaz at the threshing floor (as we recounted in our last devotional). It’s a plan full of Jewish culture and given by God himself in the Levitical law, so she knows she on safe ground to pursue this path.
She has moved from bitterness and depression to hope and, then, to thinking about the needs of one for whom she cares. By the time chapter 4 opens, we sense the “old” Naomi (meaning pleasant) is back!
The chapter opens with Boaz taking care of some rights of redemption matters in the gate of the city. Once that legal matter is accomplished, he and Ruth are free to be married. The story moves along quickly at this point. They marry and some time thereafter Ruth gives birth to a son whom they name Obed. “Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!”
We all love happy endings, don’t we? And we’d like one for ourselves! Maybe we can take away a few steps in that process from Naomi:
At the beginning of this story, Naomi had a lot of problems: grief, poverty, helplessness, loneliness. If God was going to get her to a place of joy and usefulness, there was a lot of healing that needed to take place.
God: The first step toward her healing was turning toward God. That’s ours, too. When we make him the most important focus of our lives, he has a chance to reach into our hearts and heal the pain, sorrow, bitterness, that may be there. He wants us to experience positive emotions, not negative! (Galatians 5:22-23)
People: The second step was allowing Ruth into her life and, later, being honest with the women of Bethlehem who welcomed her home. Being whole involves community. We need support from fellow Christians in general, then we need one or two with whom we can be completely vulnerable (as Naomi had with Ruth). We are not meant to walk the spiritual journey alone.
Process: The third step was cooperating with God’s big plan for her. She had earned Ruth’s trust by then, so they two of them were in sync with the plan to approach Boaz. God has a plan for us, too. We find out about it in the Bible. As we read it prayerfully, he highlights things in the text that help us know what his big plan is and what our next step in that plan needs to be.
Trust: The fourth step was trusting God with the outcome. Whatever happened, Naomi knew (from chapter 1) that God was in control. She could go with it or she could fight it. She made the choice to trust him. We can make that choice, too. We can never force outcomes in our lives, though we’d like to.
How close are you to true contentment? It can be yours. God, the Father, the One who has a plan for our redemption, protection, provision. He wants to bless us!
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” - Proverbs 19:21