By Lauren Flake
Earlier this year, I experienced a period of great loneliness, grief, and anxiety. In the wake of profound loss and an ongoing battle to juggle caregiving, childrearing, and mental illness, I found myself with a thousand acquaintances but what seemed like no close friends.
At first, I focused on my own insecurities and tried to understand how I had driven my friends away. What was wrong with me? Did I need to seek out new friends? Eventually, I decided to focus on the people in front of me, those I already knew and loved. I reached out and started investing in them again.
I spread kindness and encouragement and tried to spend time with old friends. As it turns out, their busy schedules and personal struggles had been just as much of a barrier to our friendship as my own. I learned that our relationships had never truly been lost, and I wondered why I had not reached out earlier.
As I was breaking out of my friendship dry spell, I read the Old Testament account of Ruth and Naomi:
“Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!’ Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?’ Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” (Ruth 1:8–14 ESV)
Ruth’s story is one of love, courage, and determination amid pain. When her husband dies, Ruth chooses to stay with her widowed mother-in-law—who is now grieving the loss of both her sons—instead of returning to her own home, culture, and religion:
“Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’ And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.” (Ruth 1:16–18 ESV)
Ruth chooses to follow God by investing in her mother-in-law. In her grief, she doesn’t run to the easier thing, returning to her family and starting over with a new husband. Instead, she embraces her existing relationship with Naomi.
Ruth is fully present and content. She focuses outward, on God and others, instead of inward on her own loss. In a moment of great transition, she finds peace. Ruth sees Naomi’s faith and decides to trust in her God, instead of fighting him for control in a difficult situation. She seals her biblical legacy as David’s grandmother and the many times great-grandmother of Jesus, simply by being an obedient servant, instead of demanding more to distract her from her own pain and loneliness. She waits on the Lord with patience, gratitude, and humility, and she serves God and others with joy, putting her mother-in-law’s well-being above her own.
In the end, Naomi blesses Ruth with faith and wisdom as much as Ruth blesses her with loyalty and companionship. These two women—from different generations, faiths, and traditions—become dear friends in their shared loss, though they could have simply parted ways.
The ending of this unlikely story is remarkably beautiful. Naomi helps Ruth secure a kind and protective husband in her close relative Boaz, and when Ruth gives birth to a son, the child becomes a cherished grandson to Naomi:
“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! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’” (Ruth 4:14–17 ESV)
Like Ruth, in all circumstances, we have an opportunity to find true joy and contentment in serving God and the people he has placed in front of us.
When three of my closest friends recently went through hard times, I felt incredibly honored that God allowed me to walk alongside them in their heartache. I was thankful that I had invested in them and rekindled our relationships, because I would rather be available to serve these few kindred spirits in tough times than hang out with a dozen new friends in good times.
As Ruth and Naomi understood, joy and pain are not mutually exclusive when we are serving one another.
Lauren Flake writes about her journey as a wife, mom to two little girls and Alzheimer’s daughter in her native Austin, Texas, at For the Love of Dixie. Her first book, Where Did My Sweet Grandma Go? was published in 2016. She thrives on green tea, Tex-Mex and all things turquoise.
Photograph © Omar Lopez, used with permission