Sunday, April 3, 2011

Has Been Punished in My Lifetime -- Digging Deeper

I don’t remember how old I was, but it is an event that is etched in my memory. I don’t remember the events leading up to it, but I remember standing beside my dad in their bedroom with my mom standing by. He bent me over and spanked me three times…spank-spank-spank. He stood me up and with tears running down my face. He said, “Apologize to your mother.” To which I responded, “No sir, I will not.” He bent me back over and spanked me three more times…spank-spank-spank. He stood me back up; I’m crying; she’s crying. “Apologize to your mother.” “No sir, I will not.” Bent me back down and spanked me three more times…spank-spank-spank. I stand up. I’m crying. She’s crying. He’s crying. “Apologize to your mother.” “I’m sorry!” I turned and storm to my room. I tell people in my home there were two books that were read, high-lighted, underlined and notes made in the margin – the Bible and Dr. Dobson’s Parenting the Strong Willed Child. No one I know likes punishment, and trust me, whatever I had done, I had worked my way up to a spanking. And after every spanking my parents would assure me that they loved me. It was never done in anger.

Our faithwork this week was to read Ruth 1, to study it, to meditate on verse – basically apply everything we’ve learned so far in how to dig deeper. You may be wondering how my story applies to Ruth 1, but hang with me. During my digging into the first verse of Ruth 1 I discovered “the time of the judges” was a time when people did whatever they pretty much wanted. The children of Israel were running amuck yet again. Because of their disobedience and lack of submission God had to punish them and brought about a famine. Elimelech and Naomi lived in Judah at this time, and Elimelech decided to take his family and flee. It doesn’t say that God spoke to him or gave him a vision to take his family elsewhere (like God did with Abraham). Elimelech did this on his own. His own choice. He made it thinking he would spare his family, but in the end, it ended up costing his family.

While in the foreign land, Elimelech died. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, but in the time they were married, they didn’t have any children. Then Naomi’s sons died.

When I read this passage creatively, I read it from Naomi’s perspective. She was full of life and hope for the future when they fled the famine, and everything she held most dear was taken away from her in a matter of 10 years. How empty she must have felt. Maybe depressed. Angry at God at times. Devastated. Somehow Naomi hears the famine is over and decides to return home. Isn’t that where we often want to go when things can’t seem to get any worse is home? Crawl up in the bed and not get out for days? As Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws are walking back, Naomi decides it is better for the two women to return to their own people. This way they would at least have a chance at a future because Naomi’s future was sealed – she would now be a beggar or among the poorest of the poor with no husband and no children. In her brokenness and emptiness she blesses the two women – this may have been one of the reasons that her daughter-in-laws felt such devotion to Naomi. Naomi gave of herself even when it seemed she had nothing left to give. Orpah relented and returned. Ruth, however, did not. Ruth’s covenant to Naomi is what we often hear in weddings, “Where you go, I will go.” This covenant of Ruth’s was powerful and firm. She would not be dissuaded.

When Naomi returned to Judah, her hometown, the Bible says the whole town was stirred up. “Can this be Naomi?” Think about it. When Naomi left she was married and possessed things. She returns without a husband or sons but has a Moabite woman as a traveling companion. In the matter of ten years she has suffered three deaths, three grieving periods. This alone can age a woman. Some eat when they grieve. Some don’t. Either way it transforms the appearance.

When Naomi confirms her identity she tells them to call her “Mara” which means “bitter.” That made me wonder what “Naomi” meant – “pleasant.” Along this ten year journey Naomi had turned her anger inward and into bitterness. She left Judah full and happy, but God brought her back empty, and she chose to be bitter – read that again. OUCH!

Just when Naomi thinks she has had enough, and she’s ready to give in and give up, we read in the last verse of the chapter that it is really a beginning – “as the barley harvest was beginning.”

When we are at our rock bottom, when we feel destitute and full of despair, when we feel empty that isn’t the end. It’s a beginning. Journey with me into Ruth to see what comes next. You see, just like my parents came to love on me after I was disciplined, God comes alongside Ruth and Naomi to love on them. I can’t wait!

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