One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of Naomi and Ruth, as found in the short Book of Ruth in the Old Testament.
Naomi is Ruth’s Jewish mother-in-law. Ruth is a Moabite . This complicates matters because Israel and Moab were long-standing enemies. Mother-in-law relationships can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but given the cultural and national differences, there could have been a lot of tension in their relationship but none is noted.
As the story goes, the two women, along with another daughter-in-law, Orpah, also a Moabite, find themselves widowed, which is really bad news at any time in history, but particularly bad in those days because without men folk, women were left to starve.
With no men to provide for them, Naomi plans to return to her family in Israel and urges both of her daughters-in-law to return to their people in Moab. After much weeping and garment rending, Orpah yields to Naomi. She returns home and eventually starts a talk show and we all know how well that works out for her. Ruth on the other hand would not go. Would. Not.
Do not press me to leave you or turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.
At this point, I wonder if Naomi just sighed and said something like, “Ruth. Don’t be a martyr. Just go. Please.” Or was she flooded with relief? Did her heart swell with love for Ruth’s loyalty as mine does when I read that passage?
Instead, Ruth hitches her wagon to Naomi’s rapidly falling star and together they make the journey back to Israel where she will have to figure out a way to provide for the both of them.
As one who loves security and certainty and comfort and eating regularly, this would have been a really difficult choice for me. Go home to my family who will take care of me – or? - embark on a long and treacherous journey with an elderly woman into an unknown land where the people hate me. I mean, I want to do the right thing and all, but all that potential for discomfort makes me flinch.
But for Ruth the choice didn’t seem difficult at all. That she would stay with Naomi was unquestionable, not even a choice really.
In spite of whatever fears she had, and there must have been many, in spite of her own grief, in spite of Naomi’s insistence, in spite of the legal out she has to ditch Naomi and go back to her own family, she does not abandon her.
Like a stray dog that won’t be beaten off with a stick, she stays.
Ruth sets the bar high for the rest of us daughters-in-laws.
She works. She serves. She provides. She has dirt under her fingernails.
And I think that speaks tremendously of Ruth’s character and her heart — that she would not only remain loyal to her mother-in-law, but that she serves her and loves her so deeply and sacrificially. And more so, the Bible records no instances where she huffs or sighs or calls her girlfriends for sympathy or sits down for a pity party. Unlike me, she does not seem to have a flee response when life gets unpleasant.
Ruth is on my mind a lot lately.
My in-laws have both suffered a number of serious health issues on separate occasions in recent months. Ironically, it is the one who is not hospitalized who ends up getting hospitalized from the stress of trying to care for the one who is hospitalized. So they take turns, when one gets out the other goes in. And now they are both in rehab together and I am doing my best to take care of the things which they cannot – their house and their bills and laundry and whatever else comes up.
And I’m trying to be like Ruth.
But they don’t see the dirt under my nails. My efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated or are even sometimes met with resentment. I understand that they are not fully aware, no longer quite themselves, but these things sting the heart just the same.
Caring for aging parents is an emotional mine field and caring for in-laws makes it even more complicated. Some days I am spent from all the tip-toeing through the land mines and it invokes my flee response. I want to go back to my own people and be cared for.
But I won’t.
I will be her Ruth. Not without question or without tears or the occasional pity party. But I will stay and glean or clean or do whatever needs to be done, and scrub my nails at the end of the day.
I will stay.
I will be her Ruth.