On Being Ruth

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of Naomi and Ruth, as found in the short Book of Ruth in the Old Testament.

Naomi is Ruth’s Jewish mother-in-law.  Ruth is a Moabite .  This complicates matters because Israel and Moab were long-standing enemies.  Mother-in-law relationships can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but given the cultural and national differences, there could have been a lot of tension in their relationship but none is noted.

As the story goes, the two women, along with another daughter-in-law, Orpah, also a Moabite, find themselves widowed, which is really bad news at any time in history, but particularly bad in those days because without men folk, women were left to starve.

With no men to provide for them, Naomi plans to return to her family in Israel and urges both of her daughters-in-law to return to their people in Moab.  After much weeping and garment rending, Orpah yields to Naomi.  She returns home and eventually starts a talk show and we all know how well that works out for her.  Ruth on the other hand would not go.  Would. Not.

Do not press me to leave you or 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.

~Ruth 1:16

At this point, I wonder if Naomi just sighed and said something like, “Ruth. Don’t be a martyr. Just go. Please.”  Or was she flooded with relief?  Did her heart swell with love for Ruth’s loyalty as mine does when I read that passage?

Instead, Ruth hitches her wagon to Naomi’s rapidly falling star and together they make the journey back to Israel where she will have to figure out a way to provide for the both of them.

As one who loves security and certainty and comfort and eating regularly, this would have been a really difficult choice for me.  Go home to my family who will take care of me – or?  – embark on a long and treacherous journey with an elderly woman into an unknown land where the people hate me.  I mean, I want to do the right thing and all, but all that potential for discomfort makes me flinch.

But for Ruth the choice didn’t seem difficult at all. That she would stay with Naomi was unquestionable, not even a choice really.

In spite of whatever fears she had, and there must have been many, in spite of her own grief, in spite of Naomi’s insistence, in spite of the legal out she has to ditch Naomi and go back to her own family, she does not abandon her.

Like a stray dog that won’t be beaten off with a stick, she stays.

Ruth sets the bar high for the rest of us daughters-in-laws.

She works. She serves. She provides. She has dirt under her fingernails.

And I think that speaks tremendously of Ruth’s character and her heart — that she would not only remain loyal to her mother-in-law, but that she serves her and loves her so deeply and sacrificially.  And more so, the Bible records no instances where she huffs or sighs or calls her girlfriends for sympathy or sits down for a  pity party.  Unlike me, she does not seem to have a flee response when life gets unpleasant.

Ruth is on my mind a lot lately.

My in-laws have both suffered a number of serious health issues on separate occasions in recent months.  Ironically, it is the one who is not hospitalized who ends up getting hospitalized from the stress of trying to care for the one who is hospitalized. So they take turns, when one gets out the other goes in. And now they are both in rehab together and I am doing my best to take care of the things which they cannot – their house and their bills and laundry and whatever else comes up.

And I’m trying to be like Ruth.

But they don’t see the dirt under my nails.  My efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated or are even sometimes met with resentment.  I understand that they are not fully aware, no longer quite themselves, but these things sting the heart just the same.

Caring for aging parents is an emotional mine field and caring for in-laws makes it even more complicated.  Some days I am spent from all the tip-toeing through the land mines and it invokes my flee response.  I want to go back to my own people and be cared for.

But I won’t.

I will be her Ruth.  Not without question or without tears or the occasional pity party.  But I will stay and glean or clean or do whatever needs to be done, and scrub my nails at the end of the day.

I will stay.

I will be her Ruth.

25 thoughts on “On Being Ruth

  1. I was thinking of the story of Ruth earlier for a different reason, and then I stopped by here to have a look (I love this blog, even though it’s not updated nearly as much as I’d like :)) and was confirmed in the word that I got earlier – thanks 🙂


  2. The story of Ruth is one of my very favorites! It is full of the word faithfulness. Though I can’t relate to the in-law scenario, I can relate to the unfortunate feeling of being overlooked or under appreciated. Ruth’s character is such a good reminder that obedience to God does not always come with name-in-lights recognition. As my dad says, sometimes the only blessing that comes from being obedient to the Lord is the sheer knowledge that you did what He asked you to. And, as a challenge to myself, that has to be enough.
    Thanks for sharing!


  3. I can only second (and third) the wonderful advice given you in the comments section. Do get outside help to relieve YOU. You do no one any good, especially not Sean and AD, if you are ill and overly stressed. Secondly, you are a powerful example to your son.

    I cared for my dad through 9 years of declining health and Alzheimer’s. He had assisted living and the Texas State Veteran’s Home, both staffed by loving and caring staff. Without them, I’d have been more of a basket case than I was.



  4. Long ago, and far away, I followed your blog and loved it. For whatever reason, I lost you and just found a link to your blog.

    …Seriously, Sean is in the 4th grade? I could sit and cry.


  5. I have, literally, stumbled on your site. As the DIL who took care of the MIL, I can relate. As the DAUGHTER, now helping to take care of MY mom (I have GREAT SILs and brothers who help lots!) I can also relate. I’m so thankful for the things my sisters-in-laws do to help take care of Mom and to encourage me when I get depressed! (or too bossy, as my mom says!) It’s hard. I often say was had Parent Co-op’s when our children were little and I know for a fact that the support and ideas we got there kept some of those children alive – both literally and figuratively!. This article was a breath of that to me. Thanks. I find release and calmness when I’m creating, if that will help you, please visit MY blog. Praying for you.


  6. How I applaud your choice! There is yet another way to look at this, too. You are sowing seed. Good seed. Because you have a son, you are very likely to one day BE the mother-in-law who needs the mercy and compassion from the lady who captures the heart of your son. This is a precious time to sow seed for the harvest you will want to then reap. You are a wise lady.


  7. I recently had a very dear friend remind me that when those for whom I’m working don’t see the myriad things I do, God does. God sees it all, and remembers it all–all the tears, all the love and tenderness and sacrifice. . .and He forgets the pity parties or the times we bite our tongues until they bleed to keep that same tongue civil or silent. He remembers our loving kindness for eternity, and remembers our sins no more. Bless you in this season of life.


  8. My heart goes out to you. My mother had Parkinsons, my father had Alzheiemrs.

    Don’t be afraid to get third party help involved. (For example, can you hire someone else to clean?) Take care of yourself. Leave enough time and energy for your own immediate family.


  9. Oh you will be rewarded if not already. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest Matthew 11:28

    Bless You!


  10. God bless you.
    My own Jewish mother-in-law is moving from her expensive apartment to a less expensive place, and she said to me, “you are going to have a lot of work on your hands, because my apartment is filthy!” Oy vey.

    Once again, God bless you.

    I will pray for you, but this week I am trying to not ask God for anything, but to only thank Him. So I will thank Him that you have in-laws to serve, and also that you share these thoughts with us. I am thankful for this blog.

    * * *
    I love your wisdom and edifying words, love and hugs to you.


  11. I had a difficult surgery a few months ago and temporarily lost my independence. Additionally, I have recently found out that I will not have a full recovery, so will have a few physicals limitations. I have never faced anything like this before, and have been humbled by people who have stepped up to help me. But I have, at times, felt overwhelmed by the new feelings of vulnerability, as well as grief for the losses I face. I probably have not been as gracious during those times as I could have been. Your in-laws may be having some of the same issues. I hope they will be able to recognize the love you are demonstrating through your works for them.


  12. This was beautifully real and hopeful for all of us (everyone?) who struggles with serving when it doesn’t look or feel like a magazine spread. When it is incredibly hard to love as God loves and see as God sees. I will pray for your strength and wisdom and clarity of mind.


  13. I know this is a difficult, delicate situation. It sounds like you are handling it with grace. Prayers for your in-laws, and for you, AD, and Sean as well.


  14. This was gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart. What a hard time in life and I am so encouraged by your heart to be like Ruth. May the Lord bless the work of your heart and hands.


  15. It’s a million times harder for them, facing the reality that they can no longer live in their home or drive their car and the loss of independence and ergo, dignity. Some days they see that we love them dearly and are trying to do our best to give them the highest quality of life for the longest time possible. And other days, they just don’t see it that way at all.

    For those of us who get that far, it will come to that, and that is another facet of this emotional gut-punch, getting a glimpse.


  16. I don’t have any relevant experience to allow me really to understand what you’re experiencing–but it’s clear that you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons, and that it’s hard. I imagine that the lack of appreciation hurts the worst, and that the extra work would feel so much easier if your in-laws showed even a glimmer of appreciation. You are in my prayers. Please know that your efforts are not in vain–even if your in-laws don’t appreciate it, I’m certain your husband does, and your son is learning from your example, and there probably are unknown others who are watching and learning and being blessed by your example. I know I’m blessed by your example, despite the fact that I don’t know you in real life and rarely even comment here.


  17. I can all too readily imagine. I admire you greatly and sympathize, as well. Having spent the last few years caring for my elderly mother, I know how frustrating it can be, even when we know they can’t help the things they say and do.

    For the most part, I believe my efforts passed muster. But there were still moments of which I am not proud. Try to remember, when things get tough, to ask God for help. Although I *know* He’s right there, I didn’t do this often enough. I’ll ask Him for you, too. 🙂


  18. I love the story of Ruth. My women’s small group did the Kelly Minter Ruth study a couple of years ago and it still resonates with me! I linked your blog to a sweet friend today. She has struggled with infertility. Had a baby 7 years ago who has cardiac and respiratory challenges. And has just shared that she is pregnant. At 44! Miracles ROCK!

    * * *
    Oh I am squealing and clapping my hands for your friend! That is good news – I am wishing her all the best!


  19. The commandment to honor our fathers and mothers is the only one with a promise attached. You will be blessed for your loving care. I know how hard it is–my step-father was in hospital/rehab for several months, and was NOT happy to be there. We will be praying for you.

    * * *
    Thanks so much for the commiseration and encouragement and prayers Jan, it means a lot. xoxo


  20. Courage, my friend! You have our prayers, our respect, and our shoulders to cry on if you need to release some tension.


  21. You know, we’re not given any glimpse of Ruth’s occasional pity party, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have them. God is always gracious. Hang in there!


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