In the Field of Friendship

Woody and Buzz, Timon and Pumba, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Marlin and Dory, Lilo and Stitch… Merely five of the dynamic Disney duos representing the beautiful, yet abstract concept of friendship for children and adults alike. While friendship has morphed over the years, especially as technology has evolved and the most recent COVID pandemic, key components still remain. Thus, today, we are going to dive deeper by looking at a story of friendship found in the Bible, starting in Ruth 1, verse 1. 

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”

At the start of this chapter, the scene is painted as we are introduced to Elimelek and his family, who are living in Moab. Although, it doesn’t take but five verses, for this story to get really depressing. Elimelek and his two sons die, leaving Naomi, as well as the wives of her sons, or daughter in laws, widowed. Three able bodied men and providers of the family are gone. I cannot imagine the grief and despair, helplessness and hopelessness all three faced. Let alone trying to figure out how they were to survive.

Continuing in verse 6, When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. 

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Here in these verses, we more clearly see grief. Even still, Naomi’s heart is full of humility as she urges both Ruth and Orpah to go back to their parents and families. They were both young and beautiful women. They could marry again and have the family which they longed for. 

As we see the rest of the story unfold, watch for Ruth’s response. 

“At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “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. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”

While Orpah returns, we read that Ruth “clung to” Naomi. Even when Naomi urges her to go with Orpah, Ruth stays, testifying to her loyalty and love, not only because she was her former mother-in-law, but also as a friend. Ruth was fully aware it may be a lonely and depressing journey as they process this tragedy and try to pick up the pieces of their lives. Although she makes a commitment that Naomi isn’t going to have to do it alone. 

Likewise, I believe that Ruth and Naomi model an example of friendship, we too, can follow today. God created friends to be his hands and feet, hugging and loving tangibly, even our most broken of places. 

When we get the heartbreaking text or phone call from a friend, we worry about what words to say. We fear saying the wrong thing just as such thoughts crossed Ruth’s mind as she spoke to Naomi too. Although I believe that Ruth’s actions spoke far louder than her words and it is through her example, we see the power of SHOWING UP, of being fully present, not even having to say a word. 

I don’t know about you but so often, I have longed not for a word of wisdom or doctor recommendation, but a person: Someone to show up at my apartment, hospital bedside, or FaceTime (during COVID of course), no matter if I am put together with a smile on my face or tears are running down my cheeks as I’m screaming in pain. No matter if I have plenty of money or I don’t have a dollar to my name… No matter if it means help doing laundry or grocery shopping…  To know that no matter what, I have someone willing to walk with me, wherever our journey may lead, through the hills and valleys, means more than anything. 

As we continue reading the rest of Ruth 1, we see Ruth giving Naomi space… Space to talk… To grieve… To ask… To pray… She didn’t try to tell her what to do or how to feel. Ruth LISTENED and I believe this is another essential gift we must learn to give away. In listening, not merely to reply, but to understand, our friendships can make great gains. Listening also unlocks greater trust and vulnerability.  

Naomi continues investing and growing her friendship with Ruth as time goes on and they start looking towards the next season of their lives. Meanwhile, a love story transpires between Ruth and Boaz. Ruth 2 shares their first encounter, how he took special notice to her and offered for Ruth to work in his fields. Their conversation continues back and forth for several verses. Even still, I love Naomi’s response when Ruth goes home that evening. She is nearly giddy, and begins instructing Ruth on the proper way to interact with this man according to custom. However even better than offering her wisdom, Naomi begins PRAYING about their relationship. She also BELIEVES the best for Ruth, until she is able to believe herself. And for our friends, there is no greater power than first getting on our knees and then speaking truth and life, even before they are able to see it for themselves. I can attest to it personally. 

I must confess that there have been countless times I have not believed there could be healing, whether relationally or physically. The heartbreak and disappointment seemed overpowering and all I saw was neverending pain. Although it was in this state of brokenness that my friends carried me. No matter how much I argued or tried to ignore the truth shared in love because I could only see the here and now, they kept showing up and listening, as well as seeking the will of God for me and my future. They believed with and for me, until I could believe for myself. And the beautiful thing is in time, their words of love and truth became my reality. 

So today I ask, “Do you have someone in your life who displays these traits of friendship like Naomi and Ruth?” A friend who is willing to show up for you and listen? A friend who prays and believes the best for you until you can believe it for yourself? If you do, praise God for them and take a minute to dial the phone or write a message, thanking your friend. Although if you do not, take heart and begin praying for God to give you one or two or even three who will not only love you, but above all, love HIM. I promise He is faithful and will come through. In the meantime, do your best to start becoming the friend to which someone else is longing. 

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