Family bonds are one of the strongest things we have in this life. I can recall many times when my family stood by me, like when I have felt dumb or insignificant. Through those dark times my parents are constant companions, encouraging me and showing me the truth.
Familial bonds can also be found in friendships that hold us together through difficulties. I had an internship a couple of summers ago that left me in shambles. It was one of the toughest summers of my life, and I can remember the feelings of inadequacy and utter loneliness I experienced. Yet come the end, my parents drove more than 800 miles with two of my best friends to surprise me for my birthday and my trip home to California. I was a bit shaken up from all the emotional baggage I was holding onto, but I cannot begin to express how grateful I was to my friends for choosing to stick by me. They knew the summer had been rough, to say the least, before they got there, and they gave me space to process it. Just having them there for support meant the world to me.
The book of Ruth brings these kinds of memories to my mind — stories of devotion and unfaltering love during crises. My favorite way to read the book of Ruth is as a symbolic display of this familial love and devotion. The pinnacle of the first chapter — and, I would argue, the whole story of Ruth — is in Ruth 1:14-16. Naomi has lost her husband and her two sons, and she urges her daughters-in-law to go back home to their families where they will receive protection and provision. Yet in verse 14, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi, clinging to her. Naomi tells Ruth to follow the example of her sister-in-law, but Ruth is persistent, saying, “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” (Ruth 1:16 NIV). There is nothing more holding Ruth accountable to her mother-in-law. They are no longer legally family. There is no reason she should need to stay. And yet, Ruth does not go.
The far more logical thing would be for Ruth to leave Naomi, who cannot physically or emotionally provide for Ruth in any way. Yet Ruth refuses to leave Naomi in her hour of need.
The far more rational thing would be for Ruth to go back home to her own clan who would be able to provide a stable life for her. Yet Ruth rejects any idea of forsaking her mother-in-law to a life of misery with no family.
The far more reasonable thing would be for Ruth to move on and find a new life with her people and their gods. Yet Ruth does not leave her mother-in-law, whose people have become her people and whose God has become her God.
Ruth takes on the role of caregiver to love and support her mother-in-law through this crisis. She continues to embrace the role of daughter-in-law even though there is no logical reason she should. Ruth’s bond of love to Naomi is so strong that Naomi cannot give Ruth a good enough reason for her to leave. This is faithful, steadfast love. This is the love of a family.
I do not remember all the exact dismays or frustrations I have had during low points in my life. I do not remember the exact school projects or problems that made me feel so dumb. I do not remember the exact words people said that made me feel so inadequate. And yet I remember the tenderness, compassion, and encouragement of my family that spoke truth into trial. I remember the support, loyalty, and comfort my friends gave me in my darkest hours. We will have dark hours and difficult phases in this life — that is a guarantee. Yet love will always win because God has given us family, sometimes in the form of friends, who will stick by us.
Ruth cries out, “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” (Ruth 1:16). May this be the cry of our hearts to those whom we love. May we be able to provide comfort to those who have brought us healing in our pain, just as Ruth persistently loved and comforted Naomi.
Conejo Valley Church of Christ
Thouand Oaks, CA