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 Submission, Ruth Part 2: The Proverbs 31 Woman, Ruth Part 3: But Naomi (When It Feels Like You Can’t Make A Difference), and Ruth Part 4: Holding Onto Hope When It Hurts
It would probably be safe to say that I’ve had a little bit of experience in being single.
I’ve found that when we singles commit to a season of no dating (for example: not dating through high school, like I did), the reasons often have a lot to do with an attempt to find the right relationship. We don’t want to waste our time or emotional energy on something that won’t ever go anywhere. So we set standards for ourselves and check off the days on the calendar, thinking that God will eventually decide to follow our timeline in bringing Mr. (or Miss) Right when we say we’re ready.
We call it “waiting”. And “trusting”. We’re waiting for Mr. Right and trusting God will drop him out of the sky the day after our 18th birthday. Or maybe we haven’t set any specific timeframe and we’re just waiting for God to eventually bring us “the one”. If he’s not here, then we must be called to continue to wait while we trust.
But we’re really just labeling our waiting as trusting while we spend our trust like it’s the only currency that can buy what we want.
I’ve also had experience emptying that bank account. I have emptied it a lot. I emptied it when I was rejected and insulted simultaneously. I emptied it twice over when I was the one rejecting. I emptied it when I went to high school prom by myself. I emptied it when I scurried around a hotel lobby in a bridesmaid dress while random people asked me when it would be my turn to wear the white one.
I’m not saying that choosing not to date for a season is a bad thing – I don’t regret not dating through high school at all – but sometimes we don’t date for the wrong reasons, in the same way some people date for the wrong reasons. We do it as a way of proving to God that we can handle relationships the “right way”, thinking He will reward us for fully embracing our season of singleness. We’re trying to buy the perfect relationship with our trust and willingness to wait.
When I paused to think about how this mentality relates to Ruth’s season of singleness, I realized the things that were not part of her story spoke just as clearly as the things that were.
Ruth wasn’t impatient in her singleness.
She didn’t try to buy a husband by following her call to stay with Naomi.
She didn’t pretend to be coy when she eventually met Boaz.
She didn’t hand her timeline to God and merely wait and expect for Him to get with the program.
Instead, she surrendered the possibility of marriage and family in order to fully commit to her new faith in Yahweh and her loyalty to Naomi.
Would we be willing to do the same?
Have you ever noticed that Ruth’s story primarily focuses on her season of singleness? Usually we talk about the book of Ruth as a story of romance. But if you look a little closer, the romance barely fills a few verses. Her marriage to Naomi and Elemileck’s son received only a one sentence description and her marriage with Boaz and the birth of their son is included at the very end of this book. Everything else in between takes place while Ruth was unmarried.
But her testimony certainly wasn’t defined by her singleness.
Neither is yours.
That kind of blew my mind when I stopped to think about it. It’s a lot easier to look at singleness and not be threatened by it when you justify the season by focusing on God’s faithfulness to infuse purpose into the things we don’t like. We remind ourselves that He will take this unwelcome state and turn it into the thing we desire.
Ruth’s singleness has often been interpreted in this way. We see her once married, now widowed, soon to be married again, to “the one”, who only could have entered into the picture through the unwelcome singleness of widowhood.
So we believe the same will be true for us. We hope He will be faithful to us in our singleness to bring the exact thing we want.
Except: we don’t expect it will arrive through a second marriage with a lot of heartache and struggle preceding it.
Sometimes it seems like we idealize the story of Ruth and deflect the focus off the things we don’t like. No one in envisioning their fairytale marriage one day pictures it as their second, after 10 years with some other less important guy and then another forced season of singleness.
We envision it as a chance encounter one Tuesday afternoon like Taylor Swift described, and a spring wedding to follow.
Because that’s how we assume it’s supposed to go. Anything less would cheat us out of the fairytale we deserve – wouldn’t it?
So we try to buy it by committing to singleness and spending our trust.
Both our commitment to singleness and our desire for marriage can so easily become an idol in our lives because they put the focus on ourselves and this temporary world, rather than God’s plan and His sovereignty.
Our expectations we act as if they take highest priority; our trust as if it earns us the right to call the shots; our waiting as if it’s the only avenue to bring it into our hands.
In the process, we raise our idols even higher and lose the ability to see God’s gift and grace in bringing different people down different paths for His specific purposes.
Then we decide we want our future spouse to be someone who didn’t date if we didn’t. We want the marriage to be their first. We want the kids to only be our own. We want to bypass the brokenness and baggage, the sickness and suffering, and marry someone who’s a carbon copy of the idol we’ve created in our hearts.
But what if that’s not how it goes?
Who are we to say that whatever does not meet our flawed standards is anything less than God’s best?
I love seeing a small glimpse of the love between Nancy Leigh DeMoss (Wolgemuth!) and her new husband, Robert. Their story so clearly parallels hearts like Ruth’s and Boaz’s. Each of them entered into their marriage with very different histories. She had never been married and was committed to serving the Lord through her singleness. He was recently a widower after being married for many years and raising a family. Yet the individual paths that the Lord had them on throughout the years of their lives have so beautifully woven together into one union.
This type of story – singleness and loss – is probably not the story any of us would write for ourselves. Fortunately, though, the Lord knows better than we do and He can see the bigger picture. He knows exactly how He wants to use people singly and collectively to carry out His perfect plan and He knows ultimately that it is His presences which will wholly fill our hearts.
But if we’re more focused on the idol of singleness or marriage, it only prepares the ground of our lives to produce a whole lot of pride and entitlement.
When it’s time to transition out of this season of singleness and into the season of marriage, will I throw questions at my future husband that are embedded in resentment and insecurity if his story is a little different from mine?
Why didn’t you do this the way I did?
Or will a thank the Lord for making him the man that he is, through each and every experience of his life and in all the ways God drew close – including his past relationships, whatever they might include?
Will I approach our new life together as the beautiful mingling of two very different pasts, woven into one; threaded together by grace, anointed by God, and commissioned to do His work?
We, as a society, are trying so hard to find the perfect love story and we’ve completely missed the opportunity to marvel at the beauty within the story of each unique testimony the Lord has written.
Ruth’s testimony is defined less by her marital status and more by her commitment to Yahweh and His calling on her life. God’s primary focus is not her singleness, her first or second marriage, or her widowhood. It’s the avenues He used to carry out His ultimate purpose, but His glory and sovereignty is what’s on display for all to see.
There’s a reason why both marriage and singleness only make sense in context of eternity.
It’s not about us and all about Him.
Neither singleness nor marriage is something we can buy, so it’s not something we can return. This season was given to me. And only ungrateful, selfish receivers try to hand gifts back. I may still be learning how it works, how it fits into my life, and how one edge unfolds from the other and reveals something new each day. But I know it’s pointing to something beautiful.
We have to learn to see each season for what it is: an opportunity for God to work in us and around us to accomplish His will. A change in circumstances is not something we can coerce out of Him. But a change in perspective He will freely give. An opportunity to break down idols and refocus our heart is what we can always count on when we open our hands to receive.
So let’s open our hands a little more quickly. Let’s receive more eagerly. Let’s look to Christ to fill those spots in our heart that feel lacking. Let’s trust without expecting – yet still expect without shame to receive everything He will give. Our Lord is a giver, without conditions or bargains. His gifts cannot be bought.
He gives marriage and He gives singleness. Sometimes He gives them for a season. Sometimes He gives them for a lifetime. Sometimes He gives both more than once. He gives us exactly what we need to live the life He has called us to. He gives what we don’t always expect. He gives when we don’t deserve. He will give us things that are too far beyond our comprehension. And His gifts are always good.