This week, I was reflecting on the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi. Most of us know that Naomi tried to push her daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpah, to leave her and return to their families. Have you ever considered why?
The answer to that question strikes an eerie familiarity to what I’ve seen happen with Christian women over and over again when awkward or embarrassing situations pop up in their lives or their families.
For Naomi, moving back home to Bethlehem would have been tricky if Ruth and Orpah came with her. Naomi knew that there would have been hometown whispers that her sons broke God’s law by marrying Moabite women (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Additionally, she may not have wanted to explain why years ago her husband moved their family away to a pagan land instead of staying and trusting God to take care of them.
Perhaps, you can relate to Naomi. You’ve done your best to be or at least look like a good Christian family. Then, something awkward or embarrassing happened.
Maybe your spouse stopped going to church, you declared bankruptcy, one of your unmarried kids got pregnant (or got someone else pregnant), experienced adultery or pornography crisis, went through a divorce or your kids are rebelling in a big way.
If this is you, are you avoiding your Bible study group, pastor or Christian friends (even though you may not want to admit that)?
When I speak at women’s conferences, I share snippets of my story so that women know that my life isn’t perfect. Afterward, far too many women come to whisper to me something that they are ashamed or embarrassed about. These days, a lot of women who are dealing with pornography in their marriages or a child that has come out as LGBTQ. Here’s what far too many say to me: “Barb, I haven’t admitted this to anyone at my church.”
Yes, we do need to get better about being safe, trusted voices for those who are struggling. At the same time, I know that many of you are avoiding or pushing away trusted Christian friends because you’re too embarrassed to speak up.
I remember season of my own life when I pushed away good Christian friends, like Naomi tried to push away Ruth. I didn’t want anyone to get too close and discover the truth about what was going on. I was worried that other Christians would question whether I’d prayed enough or if God was punishing me. Of course, I didn’t want other Christians to think badly of my loved ones or me.
If I had to identify what help me move from the space of secrecy and shame to greater faith and freedom, it was the unconditional love and presence of trusted friends.
Even though Naomi didn’t want to take Ruth back to Bethlehem for fear that Naomi’s friends would find out that her sons broke God’s command, Ruth refused to be pushed away. Here is her well-known response to Naomi:
“But Ruth replied: Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
When I reflect on Ruth’s response to Naomi, here are four lessons for us:
- When trusted Godly people are in your path, move closer, don’t push them away.
Moving close means that you’re willing to take off your “Good Christian” mask and be real about your life – BUT that doesn’t mean that you have to share all of the details. Pray for discernment around what to share and when.
- Invite trusted friends to share in your celebrations AND struggles.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reminds us that when we have others to rely on, their presence is one of the ways that God strengthens us.
- Pray for spiritual sisters to make the tough journey of life with you.
If you are lacking spiritual sisters in your life, pray for them. Then, step out in faith and put yourself out there to establish new friends. God will fulfill His promise, but you’ve got to do your part.
- Don’t allow your fears, insecurities or the enemy to plant seeds of fear or insecurity in your heart about your friendships.
If you’ve been hurt or betrayed by another friend, I’m so, so sorry. At the same time, I want to remind you that it was one person who betrayed you and there are lots of trustworthy Jesus-loving women out there. Go slow and build trust over time, but don’t give into fear and give up on finding those Jesus-loving sisters that you need.
Could it be that Ruth’s faithfulness is what overcame Naomi’s fear?
We don’t know why Naomi acquiesced. However, Naomi’s courage changed the trajectory of her life and legacy. She took Ruth with her back to Bethlehem and God blessed Naomi in so many ways!
For me, the reminder is to not push away faithful and trusted friends because I’m embarrassed or afraid.
QUESTION: As you reflect on Naomi’s situation, when do you avoid or push away your Christian friends? If you’ve learned how to lean into your trusted Christian friends when life is awkward or embarassing, how has this blessed you?