Based on Ruth 1:8
There is a legitimate healthy process in all our lives, of leaving things behind: as we grow, we leave childhood behind; as we learn we leave ignorance behind; as we form new families we leave old homes behind; as we move to a new job we leave the old behind.
Progress is often seen as moving forwards, upwards and onwards. Each step is important on your journey of lifelong learning and growth.
When you encounter difficulty it is a regular habit to try and find a way round or through or over. The imagery is still that of moving forwards. Sometimes, however, the difficulties become so complex and insurmountable that the paths seem to be blocked altogether. Sometimes the circumstances demand that the apparent forward path is just not available. It feels like a trap, like an end to progress or a standstill.
Such were Naomi’s circumstances. She had left a famine behind her and gone with her husband and two sons to a new country. They emigrated to provide a better future for their family. Her two sons married and the family moved forward again. Her husband then died and the grief stricken family had to find a way to move on emotionally without him.
Then her two sons died and she was left with two daughters-in-law and in great financial hardship. Three deaths had left her reeling and facing an insurmountable obstacle to moving forwards.
There was no way round, over or through this. The road that she had to take was “The road back to Judah”, – where the famine was now over, and try to find help there.
The story places Ruth at it’s centre but her road is not the one we’re watching. For Naomi this road seemed like a backwards move. She was returning to all she had left behind, except without her husband and sons. Accompanied by one daughter-in-law and very short of money, she goes back.
If you have suffered loss financially, personally or career-wise you will know how she felt; you will sympathise with the weird feeling of going back to a place which you thought you had left. You will know the anxiety, uncertainty and humiliation associated with this apparent “back-peddling”. You will know the reluctant decisions made because you feel you have no alternatives.
To make sense of this situation you have to fast-forward to the outcomes. The end result of this return was the establishment of a new family line via Ruth through to David, and ultimately a line out of which Jesus himself would be born. Naomi felt she was moving forwards when she left. She had, no doubt, looked forward to a new life for her husband and her sons;the return was a great blow. But there was a bigger picture:a picture that only became visible after the pain, struggle and loss.
It seemed that the purpose of her emigration was to go and fetch a Moabite woman and bring her back. In so doing, she found that she was part of something much bigger than herself.
This was a huge surprise and an intriguing outcome but not unexpected or unusual when you recognise that we are connected to a bigger story. In being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, the paths are always forward. The presence of pain, obstacles and apparent blockages is a reminder that even a supposed retrograde step is not a wasted journey.
What valuable service is God commissioning you to perform? You often can’t see it at the time; it is too painful or difficult. You struggle with the humiliation but the road back to Judah shows you that something else is going on.
God never loses his way.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
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