I have a child growing in my womb who will take on the last name of my husband, which is Ruth. When we first met, he joking tried to woo me by telling me that all of his names were Biblical: Daniel Paul Ruth. I love the book of Ruth and have been looking at it with fresh eyes lately.
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. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back home. Orpah left. But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried… So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
The book of Ruth started circulating around the time of Ezra when there was some ethnic cleansing going on. The story served as a warning of sorts, a gentle corrective and reminder that limiting family and focusing on purity does not seem to end well for humanity. Fast forward to the genealogy of Jesus, where the four women who are listed are all considered outsiders. This speaks volumes about God’s idea of family.
Ruth shows Naomi her fierce love. It’s a stubborn love, a love that won’t be let off the hook easily. I try to channel Ruth’s fierce love in my own family, a love that won’t let go. A few years ago, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked if I could drop her off at the hospital for her surgery. As I pulled into the parking ramp, I realized her request was literal.
“Just drop me off here,” she said.
“No, mom. Are you kidding? I’m coming to sit with you. You are not going through this alone.”
She pushed, not wanting to inconvenience me. Like Naomi. From my vantage, her permission to leave was ridiculous. I wasn’t going anywhere. In the end, she thanked me for sitting with her, but I didn’t need her gratitude. That’s just what family does. When my sister had her third child, when my brother had a bout of depression, when another brother gets married in a few months — when times of great joy or great sorrow arise, we have an opportunity to rush in and offer a fierce love like Ruth’s. We can offer a gift of presence and accompaniment. That fierce love may be highlighted in big moments, but it can be nurtured and grown in the ordinary nature of day to day family life.
Who is the most fierce lover in your family? Most of us have an extended relation who is the source of some of the best stories that are shared every time the family comes together, the stories that tell how of your family got to be where it is today. We tell those stories because they help us understand who we are and where we are going. So it is with God’s family, and the biblical story.