The Courage to Love

(Please read Ruth 1:1-18.)

 The Vocabulary of a Mother

  • Dumbwaiter: One who asks if the children would care to order a dessert.
  • Feedback: The inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate the strained carrots.
  • Full Name: What you call your child when you’re angry with him.
  • Grandparents: The people who think your children are wonderful even though they’re sure you’re not raising them right.
  • Independent: How we want our children to be for as long as they do everything we say.
  • Puddle: A small body of water that draws other small bodies wearing dry shoes into.
  • Show Off: A child who is more talented than yours.
  • Whodunit: None of the children who live in your house.
  • Bottle-feeding: An opportunity for Daddy to get up at 2 am.

Dermot’s Story

          Dermot McCann forgot his lines in a Sunday school play. Luckily his is mother was in the front row especially to prompt him.

          She gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it did not help. Dermot’s memory was completely blank. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered the cue, ‘I am the light of the world.’

Dermot beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice announced, ‘My mother is the light of the world.’

          The time is generally set during the period of the Judges, the history of which is set forth in the book preceding Ruth.  “Bethehem in Judah” is distinguished from “Bethlehem in Zebulun,” which lay further north.  The name means “house of bread,” referring to the fertility of the land.  This was the place where Isaac buried his wife Rebekah and where King David and Jesus Christ were born.

          As farming methods were more primitive, they were even more dependent on proper weather in its season.  Unseasonable weather and wars naturally caused famine to be a too-frequent disturbance in the ancient world.  They left Bethlehem in search of a better life and intended to live temporarily in Moab.

          Unfortunately tragedy struck the family, and over time, all the men of the family were lost.  Left without a male head under which to organize her family, Naomi (whose name meant “pleasant” or “lovely”), naturally decided to return to her home town.  She was in grief and in trouble; she set her face toward home.


The paradox of pain: we want to be left alone and we want to be comforted.

          This is human nature and the source of a lot of our relational and psychological problems. We want to be alone because of pride, shame, tend to our own wounds, or because we hope to avoid further pain. On the other hand, and often at the same time, we want to be comforted and loved.  We need sympathy and a human touch. Because they’re contradictory, these two states cause stress until they’re resolved.  Truth be told, we need both in balanced amounts – mixed to suit our individual tastes – to deal with grief.

          You may not appreciate this example, but I understand dogs exhibit a similar behavior when they bark and whine.  The whine means “come here,” and the bark means “stay away.”

          Naomi is an example of this paradox. Naomi’s pain can be seen in her grief over the loss of her husband and sons, as any wife & mother would be. She shared this grief with her daughters-in-law; though they were foreign-born, Naomi had come to love them. The loss of all the men left their household destitute; these three women had no rights of ownership or inheritance.  Socially and economically, they had nothing. All this left Naomi understandably upset.  In v. 20, she said that no one should call her “Naomi” any longer, but to call her “Mara,” which means “bitter.”

          Naomi’s reactions to her pain demonstrate this two-fold dysfunctional situation that needs to be resolved. Her actions say “Leave me alone.” In our passage, she attempts to send her daughters-in-law away.  (True, this is economically sensible, but it’s also an attempt to handle grief through solitude.) Later, when she returns to Bethlehem, Naomi keeps her kinfolk at arm’s length.

          On the other hand, her actions say “Comfort me.” Returning to Bethlehem is as much an emotional decision as it is an economic necessity.  There was food there (verse 8), but there were also Naomi’s family and friends. While she allows Orpah to leave, Naomi allows Ruth to stay with her.  It’s not hard to imagine that she was glad to have her daughter-in-law’s company.

          Ruth’s actions reveal that she is utterly, stubbornly devoted to Naomi. In demanding to go with Naomi, Ruth gave up her family, friends, homeland, religion, & any serious prospects of remarriage. It was a big sacrifice.

          When it says that Ruth CLUNG TO Naomi, it uses a word that described the ideal state of closeness between man and wife in marriage.  It is not just a physical state, but also an emotional one.

          The climax of the book is 1:17-18. It is one of most profound expressions of love in any language. Ruth swears a covenantal oath to Naomi, making a very serious commitment.


We must have courage to work past the pain to offer healing and help to others.

          Naomi was right.  In that moment, she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. In terms of her circumstances, she would probably have to rely on the charity of others for the rest of her life.  There may have been a home for widows, but likely she returned to live with family. Emotionally, Naomi was consumed by her own pain and had little support to offer Ruth.

          But she did help Ruth later by bringing her and Boaz together. Eventually, Naomi chose to be better instead of bitter and found a way for the two of them to survive; for Ruth to marry Boaz and create a new home in which they could live. She advised Ruth and contrived ways to bring the two together until Boaz finally took the hint and asked Ruth to marry him.

          To choose to be bitter over what we suffer is to choose to remain helpless and alone. Bitter people refuse to let go of their hurt, they refuse to cope in positive ways.  Whether they seek solace in a bottle or fall into illness, their self-administered poison takes its deadly toll. The result is that our isolation deepens because our unwillingness to cope in a positive way pushes others away from us.

          To choose to be better because of what we suffer starts us on the journey to healing. The very first step toward victory is being willing to receive comfort.  Self-defeating notions that keep God and others at a distance keep us from making progress.

          We must keep our need for comfort and our need for solitude at our own personal balance, recognizing both are necessary for healthy living. We must, by faith, open our eyes to what God is doing in our world and join Him in it.  As Naomi found, giving sacrificially to benefit others is one of the best forms of therapy we can get.


          This account of Naomi and Ruth records one of the most beautiful relationships in Scripture.  We can learn a great deal from the examples both women set – positively and negatively – of how we’re to find healing in having the courage to love.  The loyalty and faithfulness and mutual devotion these women show one another ought to inspire us to be grateful for our family members and eager to love them.

          Edward, a big-game hunter, goes on safari in Kenya with his wife, Frances and his mother-in-law, Agnes. One evening, while still deep in the jungle, Frances awakes to find her mother, Agnes, has disappeared. Rushing to Edward, she insists on them both trying to find her mother.

          Sighing heavily, Edward picks up his rifle and starts to search for Agnes. Soon, in a clearing not far from the camp, they come upon a frightening sight.

Agnes, the mother-in-law is backed up against a thick, impenetrable bush, and a large male lion is standing facing her. Frances cries out in panic, Edward, what are we going to do?’

          ‘Nothing,’ explains Edward calmly. ‘Absolutely nothing, my dearest. The lion got himself into this mess, let him get himself out of it.’

          Why make all this fuss over what seems to be a minor incident in Old Testament history?  Well, apart from what we have learned from the example set by Naomi and Ruth, there is an importance to this story based on what follows.  Ruth, the Moabitess, is used by God.  She is part of the ancestry of King David.  And, after many other generations, part of the ancestry of Joseph, the man who raised Jesus as his son (see Matthew 1:5).

          This makes the story of Naomi and Ruth pretty important as well as very instructive.


(Joke retrieved from on May 9, 2014.)



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