I'm studying the Book of Ruth these days, which, if you're unfamiliar, is a pretty killer short story. It's got everything you need: tragedy, romance, heroism, big speeches, and a happy ending. I recommend it.
I read it through before we started, but now I'm in the midst of a six-week Bible study on it (6 weeks to cover 4 chapters subdivided by the study writer and 8 women thinking & discussing = we're not missing much). To cap things off, I started listening to Mark Driscoll's sermon series on it today. I'm a fan of overkill, maybe, but I'm enjoying digging into it from a few different angles.
As Driscoll was reading the text and I was washing the dishes, something caught my attention. Switching between translations, the same English phrase pops up twice in Chapter 1. (To recap, Naomi, who has recently lost her husband and two grown sons, is leaving Moab to return to Israel, and she encourages her Moabite daughters-in-law to return to their families.) After Naomi tells them to go, she says, "'The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me'" (v. 8, NKJV); the repetition of the phrase is from Ruth as she insists that she will remain with her mother-in-law: "'May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me'" (v. 17, NIV).
I'm not going to go off on the original Hebrew or anything--in fact, I am admittedly pulling this out of its context, and am referencing it only because it presented itself in my head, just as I'd been searching for a way to explain this very concept. Call it divine inception. (ba dum chhh)
Naomi and Ruth are both referring to the same God, and for all we can tell, have very similar faiths. But they are framing God's response to the same action--Ruth leaving Naomi--in opposite terms. Naomi says leave, go home, and the Lord will deal kindly with you; Ruth says, in effect, Au contraire. If I let even death separate us, the Lord should punish me. This isn't a doctrinal debate. This is life. This is looking at a huge expanse of gray area and deciding where to put your foot. Reality, for lack of a more poetical term.
See, the reason this caught my attention is that I've been puzzling over how to frame this very idea, both in my own head and in talking with my best friend. How do you frame, "We're both right"? She and I had a chat last weekend about some stuff in my life, and she has a very definite--and very sensible--plan of action that she suggested. I told her I would think about it, which I have, in great depth. I spent a good part of Sunday in some combination of conversation (read: frustrated irkings) and tears with God. I stayed home and took a mental health day on Monday, trying to puzzle through what was sensible, what was responsible, what was right. My best friend is smarter than me--this is not self-deprecation, but fact--and she generally sees the world in a more head-on way than I do, and so is innately good at cutting through the crap, in general and in me. And so when she starts a conversation with, "I may deny this later, but we're talking about it. What's the deal with..." I have a reaction not unlike an ostrich on an iceberg. Where did they put the sand?
That's not to say I'm ungrateful--if you don't have someone who can slice through the crap and get to the center of you, you're doing life wrong. And it's essential to hear alternate points of view, as I, at least, am often too much in my own head to see straight (doubters, keep reading). But, though beneficial, it is hardly enjoyable. I sat and listened, countered occasionally, but mostly watched as she expertly flayed open an aspect of my life that I'm used to skimming over, fully knowing the potential for good or ill that particular can of worms has. But like a good surgeon, she didn't open indelicately, or without purpose. She saw a problem, and she was out to fix it as directly as possible: Chandra doesn't meet single men. How, then, can she marry one?
(One of these days, Sydney will ask a hard question for which I have an answer ready, and THEN, my friends... Watch out! This was not one of those days.)
It's a fair question, and we talked about it a bit that night, and I went home pondering it. I spent the next three days pondering, and getting increasingly frustrated with God. Where was this awesome guy I'm supposed to be marrying? And even removing imminent marriage from the table, where were some possibilities, some somebodies who might be a Somebody? Hadn't I waited? Hadn't I done everything right? But it was true: unless my mailman is my man, I don't stand much chance of meeting this guy right now. What am I saying--I've never even met my mailman.
This aforementioned Bible study didn't help much, either--at least it didn't feel helpful at the time. All it wanted to do was talk about the provision of God, and how Ruth just so happened to return to Israel at the barley harvest and just so happened to go collect grain in this one certain field and just so happened to meet this guy named Boaz. (Hint: he might be significant to that happy ending I mentioned.) Yes, yes, I understood that it wasn't luck, but divine providence. But my notes in the margins of the book might indicate my frame of mind: "What the heck?!?" "UGH." "But what does this actually LOOK LIKE?!"
I kept insisting to God that the timing really couldn't be beat. How much better could a deity show off his perfect plan of "happenstance" than to present my husband in the midst of trying to figure out a game plan? God could come up with no answer, apparently, because He remained silent on the subject.
It took a good chunk of the next couple days for my head to start wrapping around some ideas. (This, by the way, is how God typically deals with me. No booming voice, no casting lots, just gradual feelings and inclinations that you might choose to attribute to positive thinking or something, which, while I accept the compliment, only proves how well I've fooled you into believing that I think well.)
Firstly, I'm actually, genuinely content being single right now. And by "right now," I mean for the last 8 months. God got a hold of me with some underlying issues I was holding on to back in February, and we dealt with them, and really, honestly, I haven't obsessed about it since. Do I still want to get married? Absatively. Do I still have the occasional feeling of, "Man, a boyfriend would be really swell right now?" Of course. But those are passing moments over the course of eight months. I'm happy single. And so, while meeting single guys with possibility would be nice and all, it's not really necessary--or even, once I started digging into it--desirable for me right now.
Secondly, I not only believe in but base my life on the belief that God is both sovereign and good. (This was occurring to me, for the record, before I listened to Driscoll's sermon--the first in that series--where he slams on this very idea.) I believe that there is no part of my life that He is not aware of, and I believe that He has things orchestrated such that as long as I'm tied close with Him, being where I need to be and doing what I need to do, He will take care of me. And because He knows who I am, that means not only bread and water and a roof but also my husband, and whoever I may date before finding him. I trust this, not out of fear or desperation but out of the knowledge--the beautiful-but-still-shocking truth--that He has taken care of me for this long, and has done a far better job than I could have done alone. I want no man in my life but that man He wants for me--be that a friendship, dating relationship, or husband. And so I rest in that.
And NO, that doesn't answer my fervent questions of "What does this look like?" Sydney's point remains: hiding away, either purposefully or incidentally, will not result in much of anything, romantically or otherwise. So I'll continue to look for ways of getting out more, and meeting new people, and maybe a few of them will even be dudes.
This all, somehow, circles back to Naomi and Ruth. Pulled out of context (forgive me, Old Testament professor), neither woman is wrong. They are looking at the same set of circumstances and making a judgment call. They are assembling what they know and believe and feel into a plan of action. They came up with two different answers. Ruth's answer back to Naomi is not a direct contradiction--she doesn't say that her mother-in-law is wrong because she isn't. Should God treat Ruth well for returning to her own family (and a hope for a future) after taking such good care of her mother-in-law and deceased husband? Certainly. It holds up to every imaginable plane of common sense and reasonable thinking. But Ruth is not going by what makes sense, but by what she's picking up from God. There are plenty of times when a leaning from God makes no kind of sense. That's part of this blind adventure we've labeled faith. Like calling freezing ocean water "refreshing," let's stick to calling it an adventure. :)
For every person who reads this, there will be another solution, another plan. That's okay. We can all be right--to a certain degree. But for me, I have this Ever-Faithful, this God who has saved me from so much already and continues to call me (coax me, drag me) toward a better way of living, a better version of myself. Like Ruth's road, following Him will rarely be easy or clear. It will not necessarily make sense to anyone watching. But it will lead me toward Him, and, less important but almost as thrilling, toward a time and place where I'll meet the man my Bible study group has affectionately named Beauregard, my husband. I hope it is not in a barley field--I don't look pretty in the midst of manual labor--but I'll take what I get.