Ruth Part 4: Holding Onto Hope When It Hurts

The story of Ruth has been lingering on my heart for a couple years. Last semester, I spent two months studying this book for a school project and what I learned has challenged my perspective in a lot of different ways. I want to share a few of those things with you through this blog series because there is so much freedom woven all throughout Ruth’s story. It’s beautiful, compelling, and affirming. I hope your heart will be filled like mine has through taking a closer look at this Old Testament book. You can check out past posts here: Ruth Part 1: The Freedom in SubmissionRuth Part 2: The Proverbs 31 Woman, and Ruth Part 3: But Naomi (When It Feels Like You Can’t Make A Difference)

 

Last week, I found myself at another doctor’s appointment. It was one I had been dreading.

The past eight months have been challenging and confusing. One simple test that came back “positive”, which was done because I hadn’t been feeling well all summer, sent everyone in a whirlwind that hasn’t stopped since. We were determined to find the source of the internal bleeding; to relieve the pain and relentless sick feeling. So the tests, scans, and procedures came one after another.

Normal.
Negative.
Clear.

All good news, right?

It doesn’t feel like good news when you’re sitting in the hospital for the third time with pain close to maxing out the scale and the doctor says the only thing he can do for you is give a list of everything he knows is not wrong. That wouldn’t help me feel better.

With the final results delivered, things stopped as quickly as they started. The doctors decided to give up looking for the cause. There was nothing else to check. Surgery will come next – a last resort, still a necessary step. They all say it will avoid more problems in the future. But there’s only a 50/50 chance it will help what’s going on now. If it doesn’t, the surgery carries a risk of causing some problems of its own, similar to what I’m feeling now and it cannot always be reversed. I’ll have to wait a year afterward to see what happens and how my body reacts. If there’s no improvement by then, this is my new normal.

I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around that yet.

This is not how I intended life to go. This was not part of the plan. This isn’t the person I thought I was supposed to be.

Exactly 24 hours before my symptoms first surfaced, I had pitched my book idea at a writers conference. Little did I know both of those moments would be pivotal in what would unfold over the next several months. But the Lord knew exactly what would happen only one day later as I walked into that room, taking a step in the direction of the career I’ve been working towards for over eight years. And I have to believe these two moments are not in conflict. This isn’t in conflict with God’s plans for my life, even though it feels that way in the moment. It’s no coincidence this is happening now, not later or earlier.

I still haven’t adjusted to this “normal for now”. I haven’t let go of the struggle for hope in my heart assuring me this is only for a season. But when you hold onto hope without knowing if what you’re waiting for will come, hope starts to hurt.

Ruth’s “new normal” probably hurt, too.

Ruth 5 hope.jpg

No one plans to not be able to have children. It’s something you find out only when hope starts to grow. Then the rug is ripped out from underneath you. Harsh reality is forced upon you like a bad dream. In this dream, though, you may not ever wake up. You just learn to live with it and somehow get through until the hope is buried so deep inside that it cannot be found.

Maybe that’s why Ruth followed Naomi into a land where there would undoubtedly be no hope of marrying again. The decision would potentially make her singleness irreversible. It didn’t matter. Who would want to marry a woman who had been barren for 10 years? She had nothing left to lose.

I had always known Ruth was married to Naomi and Elimelek’s son for some amount of time, but I never realized it was for that long – or that the time indicated something much greater. Ruth seemed unable to have children.

But we know the end of the story, don’t we? We know what’s coming next. We can flip a few pages ahead and see the joyous birth of Ruth and Baoz’s son. We can see the lineage of Christ outlined in Matthew, with Ruth’s name on display.

Ruth didn’t know. All she could see in the moment was the years passing by, without the rush of relief when it would finally become clear a new life had begun inside of her.

This probably wasn’t the way she thought life would go. It likely wasn’t part of her plan. It may not have been the person she thought she was intended to be: a mother. She couldn’t do what she was supposed to. She couldn’t fulfill the role that was expected of her. Maybe she thought she couldn’t be all she was created to be.

Not only was she childless, eventually, she became a widow. Death and barrenness stole everything from her.

Can you even comprehend how that must have felt?

Through these last few months, in studying Ruth and in engaging my own circumstances, the concept of waiting keeps coming to the forefront. Waiting for hope. Waiting for healing. Waiting for something to change because there’s no way He intends things to be like this. He can’t.

But what if He does?

What if Ruth had finally resolved to recognize this as her life – the life of a barren young woman?

What if I am forced to realize this is my new normal?

Or, instead, what if today’s reality is the avenue of tomorrow’s hope?

In those moments of despair, the most desirable option probably appeared to be if Ruth had her husband back and she eventually had a child. That’s what I would have wished for. It feels like the least painful option, to remain married, live in Moab, and finally give birth to a child. Wouldn’t that be what you’d choose if you could? Who cares if there could be something better waiting ahead. The path to get there hurts too much and I just want what I want and I want it here right now.

But that’s not how it goes. You’re forced to wait. You’re forced to stare your circumstance in the face without the option to flip ahead a few pages to see if it lasts and you somehow still survive or if resolution and relief finally appear. So you keep hoping for something to change, even when holding onto hope hurts.

I’m not the person to ask today why this kind of stuff happens or how it could be good in the end. I’m too exhausted to give the answers I know to be true. But let me point you to others who were well acquainted with this struggle, and the evidence of His sovereignty through the things we cannot understand.

Although Ruth staying put in her old life in Moab would certainly have been the easiest option, with a husband and kids, her life would have looked a lot different. God didn’t need her in Moab. He had other plans for her that we know now were better than anything she could have ever hoped for on her own. It took 10 years of being childless and then losing her husband to bring Ruth out of Moab and onto the path that was intended for her.

I’m reminded of Mordecai’s words to Esther: For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

God’s plan is unstoppable. The unfolding of it isn’t dependent upon on circumstances or convenience. It doesn’t even hinge on our cooperation. If Esther had refused to go before the king, help for the Jews would have come some other way – perhaps through another person. In the same way, if Ruth had never gone back to Bethlehem, it wouldn’t have thwarted God’s ultimate plan to bring Christ into the world. Things would have kept going without her. But God wanted to use Ruth as part of this perfect plan, to pour over her this beautiful gift of playing such a vital role in preparing for Christ to come to earth. It was a privilege and a calling.

But it wouldn’t come without heartache, because He had to move her to just the right place to receive this gift. It wouldn’t come without risking the opportunity to marry and have children. It wouldn’t come for Esther without risking her life.

The Lord could have used anyone he wanted to participate in this story – but He wanted Ruth.

He could use anyone to accomplish the plan that is engrained in your life. But He wants you, so He won’t use anyone else. It’s no simple task. It’s not for the faint of heart. It won’t come without a fight against your earthly confines that are screaming in opposition because they are captive by sin. But He will win. He will bring you out of Moab and into His family, whatever it takes.

And that gives us freedom. It shows us just what grace means.

For me, it’s easy to be paralyzed by fear. What if I make the wrong choice? What if surgery is the wrong choice and I’m forever plagued by the guilt of rushing into a decision that cannot ever be fixed? No – I have been set free from fear and guilt because I am not the one in control. I’m making the best decisions I can with the advice and information in my hands and I’m handing it back to Him. Like a little child, I’m holding it up and asking Him to please fix it; even if that doesn’t mean fixing me. Please make this what You want it to be. He will be faithful to accomplish what He has started.

Maybe it takes risking everything, seemingly in an irreversible way, to receive everything the Lord wants to give.

I won’t be getting in the way. So I’ll lay it all on the line and try to have as much confidence as Ruth and Esther, that this is the way to go. Even if I don’t understand. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it seems like a disaster looming.

Those things, this life, that right now seem heavier and more overwhelming than you can handle may be the very thing that carries the fruition of hope into your hands.

I’m willing to step forward and see.

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