I recently finished studying the book of Ruth with some women from my church.
We talked about all of those beautiful themes of salvation woven throughout Ruth. But as I studied these two lines from Naomi struck me:
But 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!” (Ruth 1:8-9)
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1)
Amid the action and excitement of the unfolding narrative, I was struck by Naomi’s commitment to Ruth’s rest. And though Ruth doesn’t articulate her commitment to Naomi the same way, we witness Ruth’s dedication to ensuring Naomi’s well-being and peace.
I walked away from my study of Ruth with a new appreciation for this book’s place in the Bible’s redemption narrative. Along with that, I saw with new eyes the importance of friendship that spurs us toward rest.
In your friendships, are you seeking rest for one another?
We talk about rest in a variety of ways in the church. Sometimes it refers to the observing the Sabbath. Other times it refers to ceasing from striving.
As I read Naomi’s words in Ruth, I’m reminded of Joshua 1:13 where Joshua reminds the Israelites that the Lord providing a place of rest in the promised land. The ESV Study Bible says “that rest suggests freedom from threat, the enjoyment of one’s inheritance… and a state of all-around well-being.”
As we look at Ruth’s story, we see Naomi and Ruth helping each other find rest, wholeness, healing and restoration. And we the Lord’s work through their friendship.
Why is Ruth’s life changed? It’s amazing to hear a Moabitess taking the name Yahweh on her lips. She must have watched Naomi suffer with dignity, suffer in faith. As a daughter-in-law you know [the inside family dynamics]… She wanted the same God as Naomi.
What changed Ruth’s life? It wasn’t a sermon. It wasn’t programs. It wasn’t a great book. It wasn’t incredible arguments… What changed Naomi’s life? She was poor. Was it a government program that changed her life? All the economic redemption and all the spiritual redemption happened through a friendship… Friendship is about the only way I know to change somebody’s life.
In our world, it’s easy to look to a new book, or a sermon series or a conference or time alone to help us toward this business of change, wholeness and healing. While God certainly works through activities and resources, Ruth and Naomi show us that relationships are the place where change happens.
We can easily outsource discipleship from our local community, viewing resources as what we need to make us grow and friendships as people to hang out. Ruth and Naomi show us that growth and friendship go hand-in-hand. Or as Keller puts it, books, conferences, and programs are the artillery; friendship is the infantry. To paraphrase a quote from his sermon: Activities, programs, resources are used by friendships and in friendships. But friendship is the only way that someone’s life is really changed in the end.
Are we friends who seek rest? Are our friendships moving us toward rest, toward peace and confidence in the Lord and his ways? Or are we apt to complain and commiserate, grumble and gripe? Do we just hang out with people without doing the hard work of being vulnerable?
Our friendships should certainly be places where we can share our big and small burdens. And goodness knows that I think healthy friendships must have fun and not talk about Christian topics all the time. But we should be asking if we’re following the example of Ruth and Naomi. Are we orienting ourselves and our friends toward resting in the Lord through our words and time together?
Do you have friends who are different than you?
And allow me a moment to state the obvious. Ruth and Naomi were very different. Nationality, age, life situation all contrast. This obvious truth reminds us that we need friends who are different than us. They have the ability to see our lives from a different point of view and love and counsel accordingly.
We see this when Naomi practically instructs Ruth on how to communicate with Boaz about being a kinsman redeemer. We see this when Naomi laments how God has forgotten her and left her empty, and Ruth responds through working as a gleaner to provide them with food.
Sophie Hudson points out in her book “Giddy Up, Eunice” that we can easily fall into a trap of thinking that other women can’t understand our lives, and we become annoyed and shut off friendship.
“And if we don’t open up, we can rest assured that we’ll miss out on other women’s wisdom and perspective. We might even walk around with a bunch of burdens we shouldn’t be trying to carry alone. We might compare ourselves straight into isolation and loneliness.”
Because when Naomi was as vulnerable as she could possibly be with her daughters-in-law, Ruth didn’t think all that baggage was too much to carry. She wasn’t deterred by the reality of life with a mother-in-law who had a history of heart ache and no concrete plan for the future.”
By the same token, Naomi wasn’t deterred by the reality of life with a Moabite who had married her Jewish son, a woman who would no doubt face scorn and maybe even shame in Judah simply because of her background.”
Naomi and Ruth show us the beauty of friendships with those different than us. We see how God uses those friendships to move us toward rest. As Ruth and Naomi bore one another’s burdens and worked for the other’s rest, we should consider what it might look like to follow their own example in our own lives.
Start by looking around you
Maybe you’re sitting here thinking you want friendship that moves you toward rest, but don’t know where to start. Here are two questions I’ve been thinking about in my own life.
Who has God placed in my life? After reading an article like the one I just wrote, it’s easy for me to think I need to go and find a friend with a burden and help them rest. And depending on where you find yourself in life, you might need to get out of your bubble and find someone to befriend.
More likely though, God has surrounded you with people to serve and love. Maybe it’s a gal who is new to your church and who you go to Bible study with. Maybe it’s your next door neighbor whose mother just died. Instead of looking for someone new to love, serve, consider who God has in your life right now. Let it not be lost on us that Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law, a woman placed in her life through family relationships.
How might you re-think friendship? I know I can have the tendency to simply see my friends as safe people to vent to about my life right now. And while we certainly need safe people to hear us out on frustrating days and heartbreaking seasons, we want to make sure we’re going to people who will ultimately keep us oriented to our God. Likewise, we want to make sure we are people who orient our friends to the truths about God. When Naomi tells people to call her Mara (bitter), Ruth doesn’t reply with commiseration nor does she simply tell her a quick Bible verse about bitterness and leave. Instead, she quietly goes about her work of loving her mother-in-law and providing for her.
Will you join me in cultivating a friendship like Ruth and Naomi? Let’s look around to the women God has put in our lives and help and encourage one another move toward the rest, rest that was brought to completion through his son, Jesus.