Naomi & Ruth: Unwelcome Transition
How has God used Military sisters to help you thrive in transition?
As we see in the lives of Naomi and Ruth, transition can be an unwelcome gift. They had no idea how their story would end, yet they kept taking steps forward. Military culture can also bring hard, unwanted transitions that test a wife’s resilience. We can find hope in Naomi and Ruth’s journey. In the darkest hours, the Lord can shine a light to help us find our way through the most difficult transitions.
About This Journey
Much can happen during transition, and in the journey between change and acceptance, we can get stuck in the struggle to want everything settled—now! Taking the time to see God in the midst of the transition is important. Recognizing He is setting the pace, even when you cannot see Him, is the best reassurance.
This Week's Readings
Naomi and Ruth – Unwelcomed Transitions
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.-Ruth 1:1-5
Do you think Naomi ever said, “When I grow up, I want a famine to come and force my family to move to a foreign country where my husband and two sons will die, leaving me two foreign daughters-in-law as my only family?” Of course not! Scripture never suggests Naomi deserved or desired the tragic events behind her unexpected transition. Living in an imperfect world exposes us to tragedy and disappointment and forces us to adapt. Naomi was at the intersection of tragedy and transition.
Military culture can also precipitate hard, unwanted transitions that test a wife’s resilience. The basic mechanics of how the military functions come with built-in consequences of hardship for some. The military’s rank structure produces promotion parties for those selected to advance in rank and quiet grieving for those who are not. The military’s mission to protect the nation produces cheering citizens along a parade route for those who survive combat and somber processions at a national cemetery for those who do not. Military wives do not get to choose where they will be standing with their husband.
Naomi has something to say to military wives who face unwanted and unexpected transitions. She did not coast through her tragedies as an unscathed observer. She was devastated. Later in Ruth 1:20, Naomi says, “Do not call me Naomi [Sweet one]; call me Mara [Bitter one], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” In her worldview, God was responsible for what had happened in her life. When you consider Naomi’s dire situation, her bitter outlook on life and her questioning of God’s role in it all are understandable.
But don’t write her off too soon, because even at her lowest point, she was a survivor—in fact, she thrived! When she lost everything in Moab, she took the next step to journey home to Bethlehem. Through a chain of unexpected good events, God raised Naomi from her lowest point of despair to an elevated position in a distinguished family lineage in Israel. He took her bitter heart and sweetened it with his divine blessings.
Sister, we can find hope as we observe Naomi’s life journey. In the darkest hours, the Lord can shine a light to help us find our way through the most difficult transitions.
When have you experienced an unexpected and unwanted transition? How did you get through that difficult time?
Lord, help me trust you even in times when I do not understand what is happening. Protect my heart from bitterness so the work of your Spirit in my life will flourish. Amen.
Ruth and the Elephant in the Room
And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where 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. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.-Ruth 1:15-18
The elephant in the room (or on Facebook) after the publication of a military promotion list is who made the list and who did not. The easiest phone call to make is to congratulate a friend on their husband’s selection for promotion. The hardest, and one we often put off, is to the friend whose husband did not read his name on the list. Why do we tend to avoid interaction with those who have received potentially devastating news? Non-selection for a promotion, a frightening diagnosis, a soured relationship—whatever the difficulty, we can feel awkward and not know what to say. We do not want to say something to make the situation worse, so too often we do not say anything.
Naomi decided that no one needed to be around her in her disappointment. She told her daughters-in-law to leave. She would face misery alone. This would be her solitary misfortune.
Then there was Ruth. Determined could have been her middle name. Naomi argued logically and emphatically why Ruth should leave. Staying meant subjecting herself to Naomi’s doom and despair. But Ruth’s affirming words halted further discussion. That girl was not leaving Naomi, and her choice changed the trajectory of both their lives. Ruth did not have all the right answers or have the ability to make things okay again. But unexpected tragedy brought an unexpected response from her. Something in her made her want to be by Naomi’s side, regardless of the future. In a time of grief and confusion, Ruth pledged her companionship. She promised to continue the journey with Naomi, accept Naomi’s people, worship Naomi’s God, and end her days in the same place as Naomi.
From the perspective of the person dealing with unexpected transition like Naomi, even though we may want to deal with sorrow alone, we need not push others away. Appreciate the person who does not try to fix what is wrong, but who is willing to offer presence and support. From the perspective of the person who wants to help, like Ruth, affirm your commitment and find a way to reach out without invading privacy. In the hardest times of my life, I do not remember words said, but I remember people who were with me.
Ruth became the link to the restoration of Naomi’s life. You never know when you may be the key link for another by standing with them during a challenging season.
How has the presence of another person helped you during a difficult or traumatic event? How tough is it for you to accept help during such times?
Lord, help me be a loyal and supportive presence when friends and family go through difficult transitions. Help me to be willing to accept help during my own times of struggle. Thank you that you are an ever-present help in time of need. Amen.
When I Cannot See You
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.-Ruth 2:1-3
Where is God in this situation? Why is this happening to me? These common questions push their way through the lips of those experiencing tough situations. Whether attributed to the military or a personal crisis common to anyone, such questions are an honest expression of despair and indicate that life from this point will be different.
Life for Naomi and Ruth certainly took a different turn. Their unwanted status as widows flipped Naomi and Ruth’s place in society upside down. In a patriarchal culture, they lost their identity and security. A wife who hears her husband say he wants a divorce, or a woman who loses her child can feel this same sense of loss. Life as we know it can change in a moment. We look around and ask, “God, where are you? Why is this happening to me?”
Sister, can I tell you God is there, even when you do not see him? Naomi and Ruth discovered God’s presence when they were trying to find a way to survive. Ruth did what she had to do to put bread on the table. Gleaning in the field was her culture’s method of food stamp distribution. Hebrew law allowed the poor to gather the leftover grain after the harvest. God established the principle to provide for the poor (Deuteronomy 24:19–21). No doubt Ruth was among other poor folks in the community looking for the bits of grain left behind.
Scripture uses an interesting phrase to describe the scene. Ruth “happened to come upon the field” of a distant wealthy relative (Ruth 2:3). Before we jump to the end of the story, we need to pause and note that the concept of fate, luck, or chance cannot be read into this verse; that is not the Old Testament view of God’s sovereignty. The writer of Ruth emphasized that the human initiative of Ruth or Boaz did not orchestrate this event. Rather, the hand of God was working behind the scenes.
Not only do we see the hand of God directing Ruth to the right field, but God also put compassion and concern into the heart of Boaz for the young Moabite woman who had made it her responsibility to care for her mother-in-law. When Naomi learned where Ruth had been and heard the favor that she received from Boaz, it gave her a spark of hope to think that God’s invisible hand was working on their behalf.
How does Matthew 28:20b answer the question, “Where is God in this situation?” How do James 1:2–4 and 1 Corinthians 13:9–10, 12 give you hope when you find yourself asking the question, “Why is this happening to me?”
Lord, remind me you are always at work even when I do not recognize your actions. Give me a determined mind and heart to trust you and rest in the promise of your care. Amen.
One Step at a Time
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? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”-Ruth 3:1-5
Ruth took the step she knew to take—a step of survival to glean in the field among the poor. Naomi saw the next step forward when she realized that, according to their culture, Boaz would be an acceptable relative to take Ruth as a wife. She instructed Ruth on the appropriate method to propose marriage to Boaz. Things looked more hopeful than they had in a long time!
Before we sing, “Here Comes the Bride,” realize that this was not the final step bringing Ruth and Boaz to the altar. Another man had first rights to marry Ruth and acquire her father-in-law’s land. Isn’t that the way life often goes? We take one step, then another, but there is no guarantee things will work out for good. Each step is a step of faith. We rarely complete major transitions with one giant step. Nor must we take unlimited baby steps to get where we need to be. Hope arrives when we recognize the Lord can order our steps as we look to him for help.
The words of Taya Kyle, wife of murdered Navy Seal Chris Kyle, make this principle personal. This is from a letter she wrote for the “Note to Self” series on CBS This Morning:
Dear Taya, There’s so much I could tell you that you’re going to experience—joy beyond your wildest dreams, and a grief so terrible you’ll be sure it will break you. I wish I could keep you from the pain, but life isn’t like that.
When you’re in your early twenties, you will meet a man who will change your life. His name is Chris Kyle … The two of you will fall madly in love and decide to spend the rest of your lives together.
Chris is a Navy SEAL. He believes in God, Country, and Family, just like you do. He’ll serve four tours in Iraq. Then, finally, he’ll come home. Things will seem … perfect. Until one day, one horrible, terrible, very long day, the very worst will happen when you least expect it.
It’s not going to be easy. In the end you’ll reach deep inside yourself to find the strength to carry through. Try and remember these things as you go on your journey: You like to be independent but you will need to learn to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak.
Sometimes you will think you can’t take it another day. But if you hang in there, one step at a time, you will be able to accomplish more than you ever imagine.
Ruth and Naomi had no idea how their story would end, yet they kept taking steps forward. What keeps you moving forward when it would be easier to quit? What does it mean to you to take steps of faith?
Lord, sometimes taking the next step feels risky. You alone know what it brings. Let my steps today be ordered by you. Amen.
A Day Redefined
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.-Ruth 4:13-17
I looked with dread at the day circled on the calendar. The anniversary of my father’s death was imminent. Other than my husband, my dad was my greatest cheerleader and source of emotional support. Our family misses his kindness, wisdom, and sacrificial love. But something happened this year to change the way I view this anniversary. A sweet little granddaughter was born! A day that sorrow had overshadowed is now a day filled with joy. I will not forget my father’s death, but the day has been redefined from one of sorrow to one of joy.
Naomi would have taken it as a cruel joke if someone had told her, after she lost her husband and sons in a foreign land, “Take heart! One day you will hold in your arms a grandson who will be the grandfather of Israel’s greatest king!” Yet that is exactly what happened!
Ruth 4 is the story of Boaz making Ruth his wife, a story of redemption that redefined the sorrow not only of Ruth, but of Naomi. A baby was born and God gave Naomi a new reason to live—a blessing she could hold in her arms. But Naomi’s redemption went far beyond the joy of holding Obed. Her blessing became a testimony to her neighbors.
The book ends with a genealogy of Obed’s son and grandson, Jesse and David (Ruth 4:18–22). This inclusion can seem an afterthought, but you don’t want to miss the meaning. It communicates God’s providence and care beyond the life of one woman. Obed’s birth takes on new significance when you trace his lineage to David, who played a significant role in the redemption of an entire nation. Then trace David’s lineage to the birth of Jesus in the New Testament book of Matthew. Do you see it? Nestled in God’s redemption for Naomi was the seed of his plan of redemption for the world through Jesus Christ.
My sister, it is always easier to identify the hand of God looking backward rather than forward into the unknown. When going through a season of transition, do not attempt to tie God’s hands or fail to look at what he is doing. Have faith in all that God is going to do. He can more than salvage a situation—God can redeem it and make it new!
How does the story of Ruth and Naomi give you hope and courage for times of difficult transition? How does God’s kindness demonstrated in this book encourage you?
Lord, you are a God who can exchange tragedy for hope. “Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3 NASB). Amen.
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- Small Group Resource: Directed 2 - Leader's Guide
- Small Group Resource: Directed 2 - Participant's Guide