Monday, August 8, 2016

The Commitment to Family

When I was growing up, the concept of family was pretty straightforward: Dad, Mom, a slew of noisy kids, and the family pet. Even the pets were traditional: dog, cat, fish, a bird, or maybe a box turtle, if you were known to walk on the wild side.

ALL of that has changed. Many of today's families are "blended." The way we decorate our homes, the churches we do or do not attend, the holidays we do or do not celebrate, even the foods on our "traditional" holiday tables are as varied as the backgrounds of the people gathered around them. And, of course, our pets are unique: ferrets, hedgehogs, pigs, exotics. "Nontraditional" seems to be the new traditional.

This morning I was reading the book of Ruth in the Bible; the account of a blended family. Ruth was from the country of Moab; she married an Israelite man from the tribe of Judah. Ruth's husband died and her mother-in-law, Naomi, also a widow, living far from her homeland, wanted to return. Naomi advised Ruth to leave her, and return to her family home. Ruth refused, with these words:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
Wow! How beautiful is that! Such commitment. Such sacrifice. But stop for a moment and consider just how big a sacrifice!

When my ex-husband and I separated, his mom was sick. Being a senior, a widow, and having a difficult time handling some things most of us take for granted, Ellie required help. I would stop by with groceries on my way home from work, or assist her with paperwork or transportation. I was prepared to stick by her at any cost. When it became clear my ex-husband and I would not reconcile, and when he became more available to help his mom, she and I parted ways. But during that period, I often thought about Ruth and the decision she made. What I never considered was just how much credit I was giving myself!

We don't know how old Ruth was, but she may have been very young; I was 40 -- almost a senior citizen! Ruth and Naomi were from two entirely different cultures; we can't know how long Naomi had been Ruth's mother-in-law, but what if it had only been for a couple of years? a couple of weeks? Ruth would have had barely a chance to become accustomed to a Jewish way of life! Ellie and I were from the same country, the same state, and had known one another almost fifteen years! Ruth was willing to move miles away from the only land she'd known, to nearly the epicenter of Naomi's culture; I wasn't moving anywhere, much less living with my MIL. Ruth's act was real commitment!

And here's something I'd never considered before: Who says Naomi was easy to get along with anyway? What if that whole "No, go back to your family" thing was little more than a pity party? I mean, look at Ruth 1:8 -- Naomi puts herself  in association with the dead, locking in that correlation with certain doom. Almost has a ring of "No, death is my companion now; you go on with your rosy cheeks and your youthful gait," to it. Doesn't it?

And 1:11-13? "Turn back!" Reminds me of something you'd find at the end of a driveway to a vacant old house: "Turn back! WARNING: MISERY AHEAD!" Naomi then asks, (of course I'm paraphrasing) "Why would you want to come with me? What could I possibly have to offer you, or anyone else for that matter?" And Naomi laments, not that she is too old to have children, but that she has no sons to promise Ruth and her other son's widow: she is not pregnant with sons for them. And again: "Turn back!" Woe! Woe! "For I am too old to have a husband." Wait! What?! Too old for a husband, but never does she say she is too old to bear sons. In fact, she even speculates: "IF I had hope, for, of course, why would I?" (Again, I'm paraphrasing) "...but, IF I had hope, and I married today and bore sons, would you wait until they were old enough to marry?" Poor, poor Naomi. "I could never expect you to wait until my sons were grown; far too much for me to ask you to do that for a poor old widow like me."

And, here comes the crème de la crème: (paraphrasing) "I am so sorry you got caught in God's crosshairs when He turned against me. You were just collateral damage when God marked me for takedown. I am so sorry. It's so unfair for you, though I know I deserved it somehow."

What a sacrifice! Of course it could be in how you read it, but I tend to fast-forward to the end of the story, to God's reward for Ruth's commitment, failing to see how Naomi had lost hope, and how that was of little consequence to Ruth. It almost seems Naomi was a fount of despair and pity rather than the gentle, guiding mentor Ruth would have benefitted from following so closely. Instead, it is Ruth, the Moabitess, the pagan, who leads one of God's chosen people back to her God, and "sets her up" for installation in the story of her Savior!

The story of God's blended family: backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, cultures, and lands, grafted into His family tree!

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