Death, like ocean waves, surrounded me, and I was almost swallowed by its flooding waters.
2nd Samuel 22:6
I have heard it said that trouble comes in threes. I know it's just an old wife's tale, but oddly enough it happens from time-to-time. It's happened to me. How about you?
The first time it happened I was a freshman in college.
The troubles started when my parents divorced and sold our home. A couple months later I was involved in a rollover car accident that completely totaled my car. Then three months later, after a constant struggle with neurological issues, I discovered that I had broken my neck in the accident. Surgery, a month-long hospital stay and six months in a metal body/neck brace followed.
Fragile and unable to care for myself, I was released into the care of my precious Grandma and Grandpa O who lovingly nurtured and prayed me back on my feet.
The next time it happened I was married, with two small sons, and smack dab in the middle of a move.
Moving is just plain stressful no matter how excited you are to start a new life in a new neighborhood.
Then came a phone call in the middle of the night. My sister had just been admitted into the hospital with a brain tumor. Packing ended abruptly. I was needed seventy-five miles away to care for my sister and brother-in-law's children as she underwent surgery.
Moving day loomed large, but my world had come to a screeching halt.
That is when my friends stepped in. They packed, they cleaned, they wallpapered our new kitchen, hung curtains, moved us in and brought meals.
Then the third wave hit. Another phone call. Another diagnoses of cancer. Only this time it was my hubbyʼs dad. Five months of hospital visits ensued. Then a gathering at a graveside.
I didn't rebound as quickly this time round. Darkness overshadowed light. Grief like sea billows rolled. I just couldn't get my spiritual equilibrium back.
Friends noticed the gray cloud hanging heavy over my heart and gathered round about me. Calls were made. Prayers were offered. Loving arms were extended. Doctor appointments made. And my spiritual equilibrium eventually restored.
I suppose thatʼs why I love the book of Ruth so much. Itʼs the story of two women. Two women who were precious to God. Two women just like you and me. Naomi, who knew what it felt like to have troubles come in threes and Ruth, whose nurturing affection and strong faith helped her friend get back on her feet again.
When we meet Naomi in the first six verses of chapter one, we learn that she, together with her hubby, Elimelech, and two sons, Mahon and Kilion, have packed up their lives in Israel and gone to live in the country of Moab. Escaping a horrific famine back home, they had hoped to make better lives for themselves elsewhere.
Shortly after arriving in Moab, however, her hubby Elimelech died. Naomi now found herself a widow in a foreign land with only her two sons to console and care for her. Thankfully, in the midst of her grief, God gifted Naomi with two wonderfully loving daughter-in-law's, Orpah and Ruth.
But, sadly, even those years of joy were to be short-lived. Tragedy struck again. Naomi's sons also died. And that, it would seem, was the last straw for Naomi. Having heard rumors that God was healing Israel's once-parched land, she decided to pack up her things and head back home.
As she was leaving, she did her best to persuade her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab. It was, after all, the land of their birth and where all of their loved ones lived, and besides, what could she possibly offer them? Convinced as she was that God was set against her.
Orpah took her advice, but Ruth tenaciously refused to abandon her mother-in-law. She instead bravely left all that she knew and fully entrusted herself to the God of Israel. Telling Naomi, Your God...well, he is my God, too.
That decision gives us our first inkling into the kind of committed companion Ruth would be to Naomi.
When they finally arrived back in Israel Naomi had had it. You can hear it in her response when the towns women came out to see her and exclaimed, "Wow...is that really you, Naomi?" Her reply was, "Don't call me Naomi anymore. Call me Mara from now on, because God has made my life very bitter." (Ruth 1:19-20)
It seems to me that Naomi had returned to her homeland to don her mourning clothes and retreat into her grief for good.
But, thankfully, she had Ruth! Ruth who still believed that with God all things are possible. So, in chapter two verse two, we see her put her arm around Naomi and say, and I paraphrase, "My dearest Naomi, I know you are hurting and feel that you have no strength left, but remember the promise in Isaiah 42:3, ̒A bruised reed God will not break. A smoldering wick he will not snuff out.̓ Cling to that while I step out in faith and trust God for you."
And step out she did. And did God ever make good on his end of the deal! Far beyond Ruth or Naomi's wildest imagination.
Trials like pounding waves sometimes thunder down on us one right after another...just as in Naomi's life. The first wave batters us badly, but somehow, we still remain upright.
Then a second wave hits and we are pulled under. Just when we think this might be the end of us, the wave recedes, and we see the surface and come up gulping for air.
But then that third wave slams down on us, and it's more than our broken, battered self can take. Flat on our backs, we slide up on shore with the surf...like a heap of seaweed. We just don't have the strength to get up again.
It's then that we need a Ruth in our lives. Someone who will help us get our spiritual equilibrium back again. Someone who has faith enough for the both of you...
When trouble hits me from all angles, O God, and I am tempted to don my mourning clothes and grieve for good, I thank you for folks like Ruth in my life, who help me choose instead to entrust myself to you, whatever my circumstances...even in loss and against all hope. Who help me, even then, to believe that you are still good and are able to work some beauty into the fabric of my tattered life.
So, encourage each other and help each other grow stronger in faith, just as you are already doing.
1st Thessalonians 5:11