What we can learn from Ruth’s story
How are you doing? How is life in this special time where Covid 19 is the main topic, influencing every aspect of society and personal life?
Soon we will get into Easter break which is a good thing: that means we can slow down with our homeschooling and invest more time into personal projects, which we are looking forward…
However, even with that in sight, facing so many changes and having to adapt to the multiple demands of our flexibility is pretty challenging.
As was studying the book of Ruth lately, I connected her story to our present times and I would like to share these thoughts with you.
Most of you are probably familiar with the story:
The Book opens with a family that went from Bethlehem to the land of Moab because of a famine.
But some time into their stay in Moab Noemi’s husband died, later the two sons died as well and the Wife, Naomi was left with nothing except her two daughters in law.
In those times, being a (elderly) widow was a hopeless place to be, as it is still so in some countries in this world today.
Therefore, she decided to go back to Bethlehem, to at least, survive. She sent both of her daughters in law away, “back to their people and to their gods”. But Ruth refused.
Reading on, I was impacted by the attitude of Ruth, and I would like to to show you why:
Ruth was a victim of the circumstances. Here she was, happily married to the man she loved and suddenly, he died – and her mother in law, her unique connection to this man decided to go back to her country. There must surely have been grief in her life. Not only had she to grieve the death of her husband, but as well the radical change of her future, their hopes and dreams. There was the longing for protection and belonging. We can imagine that fear and being overwhelmed by all this uncertainty of her life were part of her actual state.
Many of us can identify. We live in a radical change of our future plans. What about planned vacation? A long awaited wedding or a long awaited conference? What about the security of a stable income, foreseeability of what tomorrow will be?
Many of us literally had to die to something that was very much alive only a few weeks ago.
Others of you had loved ones who died unexpectedly in the last couple of weeks, leaving you with deep grief, pain, anger and many more emotions.
Ruth knows what this feels like.
However, she shows an amazing steadfastness in all of that, in fact, she told her mother in law:
“…Urge me not to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried… ” (Ruth 1:16,17)
As the story goes on, we see her boldness and courage in midst of the reality that she now was
1. A foreigner;
2. a woman
3. a widow and therefore in a very vulnerable position in that culture.
In Ruth 2:2 we can read that Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.”
Later, in verses 7 and 17 we read that she has been gleaning from early morning until evening. And from that very first day on, she experienced the grace, favor and protection of Boaz, who happened to be the owner of the field she was gleaning in – and who also happened to be a close relative to the family of Noemi.
He had heard about her attitude. In fact, he tells her:
“I have been made fully aware of all you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to a people unknown to you before. The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under Whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
I love that story! Not only does it show God’s faithfulness in midst of miserable circumstances, but a woman who, despite her grief, pain and fear makes some very good decisions. This, instead of falling into empathy and hopelessness, dwelling in her fears of the uncertainty that happens to be her situation because of her circumstances she had no power to change or even influence. She in fact finds a protector, an amazing, good man that takes care of her and loves her – and in long term becomes the grandmother of King David and ultimately Jesus descends from that family line!
How was Ruth, a young woman, who was still grieving the loss of her husband, able to act in such boldness and courage, integrity and faithfulness?
Some time ago I wrote an article around the subject of the circle of influence and the circle of concern, taken from the book on families from Stephen Covey. 1
Circle of Influence, Circle of Concern
By studying the book of Ruth, I could draw parallels and connect the dots between that story, our reality and this teaching:
In every one’s life, there is a part of life we are concerned about, but we can’t control: in this picture, that place is represented by the circle of concern.
In normal times I would first think
- about the weather,
- the sex life of celebrities and politicians,
- what Miss Sonandso writes on her personal blog,
- people driving bad on the road.
But today I think first of the effect this Corona Virus has on our lives. There are so many things we are concerned about, and many of them we have no control over whatsoever.
- The decisions the government takes,
- the way those decisions are implemented in our lives
- the way news are shown in the newspapers and television.
- The government’s decision on how to manage finances during this time.
- The quantity of toilet paper other people hoard.
- What people post on social media or what they believe about the whole situation.
- Whether others follow the rules of social distancing
- What their motives are.
- How long this whole situation will continue
- What consequences this will have on our economy
Even how many people died from that virus in Italy or New York.
The normal feelings following those “concerns” is overwhelmedness, being frustrated, angry, falling into sadness and even depression. It can be simply too much to handle!
Back to Ruth; I am sure she would never have had this courage and faithfulness if she would have spent her time being concerned and trying to control all the things she had no control over;
- The death of her husband
- The decisions of her mother in law
- The place of a widow in the society she lives in
- What others think about her
- Her future
She stood up in that circle of influence, and acted (not reacted!) based on what she had control over:
How she decided to deal with her painful reality
How she decided to leave “her gods and her people” and go with Naomi,
Her decision to go for hard gleaning work on the field
Later in that story we can observe her follow her mother in laws counsel and “propose” to Boaz, who was already an elderly man and in order to preserve the family line of Naomi who then became the great grandmother of King David! Her capacity to not crumble in front of all the things in the “circle of concern” and be a powerless victim turned her into that powerful lady of destiny, changing her story and the story of her mother in law.
Back to our reality:
If we dwell in that circle of Concern, we miss out the opportunity to take control over what we can control.
- The attitude I choose to have
- The time I chose to spend in God’s presence
- How much time I spend on social media
- The amount of news I watch
- The projects and fun things I choose to do during this time
- How I follow the social distancing rules
- The way I go shopping and the amount of toilet paper I hoard
- How I deal with my own emotions
- The way I act toward my spouse and children
- How I choose to use social media to encourage, strengthen and bless others through it
Like Ruth, you can choose to give the best in that circle of influence. You can’t change your circumstances. But you can choose your response to those circumstance and that will make all the difference.
Like it did with Ruth, this will make you bold, courageous in midst of your reality.
You can choose to give your best in what you have the choice over, in that very reality you are in. You can’t change your circumstance. But you can choose the response to your circumstance and that will make all the difference.
You will be able to walk in integrity, faithfulness and grace, something that is nearly impossible if you are overwhelmed by the emotions created by our attempt to influence the many things we simply have no power over.
And the good news in all of that is: Ruth chose the God of Israel, under whose wings you too can take refuge. (Ruth 2.12) He will never fail you, never forsaken you. He can handle all those things we are concerned about, that overwhelm us. He wants to guide and lead us, as it says in 1.Peter 5:10
“…Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.”
As I learn to walk in this circle of influence, casting all my worries on him, I experience his faithfulness, this growing peace and security, the way he strengthens and settles me, even in these challenging times of Covid 19!!
How to stay calm in testing times
Last week I received a voicemail from a friend in Seattle – we live 5000 miles apart, with a time difference of 8 hours.
I was amazed however, how our lives look very similar right now.
Both of us entered into the realm of home schooling our kids, our daily life is restricted to staying at home most of the time, every event is canceled, we live in that uncertainness how tomorrow will be…(both of us hade sunny but chilly weather and a garden to do some projects in) it was amazing to hear her talk and have the feeling of « wow, that’s my life too ! » I know most of you live in that reality right now.
How are you doing?
How are you coping with that reality we live in in this period of time ?
How are you dealing with the many changes that have occurred lately, without knowing when – and if- life will go back to normal?!
For my part, I think it’s pretty stressful.
Dealing with the many additional emotions is what challenges me most.
A few minutes ago, a tractor took away the two goals that were on the football field in front of our house. Of course, no one is supposed to meet up and play soccer right now. And still, I felt emotions of powerlessness and frustration rising up in me. My boy expressed what I was feeling : “Oh mom, I hate this virus”. I looked at him, saying: “I know, darling, it’s a challenging time. Me too, I wish things will soon go back to normal where you can meet up with friends and go to school again. But for now, we make the most of our time as a family, are you ready to do that?” He looked at me nodding with a pensive expression.
Many years ago I listened to a teaching, where the teacher compared our lives to the different types of birds. I don’t remember everything, but she mentioned at least 4 kinds of birds:
The ostrich, the chicken, the raven and the eagle.
The ostrich, as we know, puts his head into the sand when it’s overwhelmed.
The chicken’s life is limited to flapping around and dispute over a worm with another chicken.
The ravens are a picture of people talking negatively about anyone, judging their every act.
And the eagle – well the eagle is the one flying above everything, with boldness, dignity and calm. The eagle uses bad weather to rise even higher.
Taking that teaching for our situation right now, we can easily recognize the different people around us – and well, we can also recognize ourselves.
A person acting like an ostrich would be too scared to face this present time. Overcome with fear, she would withdraw into hiding, enter into panic when she hears a person cough from afar. Every news about more people infected or more deaths would drive her into a state of total hopelessness.
A person acting like a chicken is scared too – but is much more acting out. Fighting over a pack of toilet paper or pasta, being very nervous reading all the news on social media or in the newspaper, watching news on TV. There is no peace of calm, and social media is filled with comments from people acting this way.
A person acting like a raven is sowing resentment and negative talk all around her. Her attitude judges anyone – from the mother on the street with her small children “How can she go for a walk with her kids right now? She should just stay home!” to condemning anyone buying more than 1 pack of pasta or toilet paper (ignoring that this very person may be out shopping for her elderly neighbors.) She feels entitled to know anyone’s motives and judges their every move, and likes to talk with other people about it.
Note that I always wrote “a person acting like” … Because well, how one does behave doesn’t speak about who this person is. However, it shows something about where this person is AT and her deep beliefs about herself, others and God – and how she’s reacting to what’s happening in this unique (and yes, very stressful!) season of her life.
Reflecting on my own behavior, I admit that I’m not always gentle, peaceful, loving and relaxed. There are times when I feel fear rising inside me. Feelings of anxiety or impatience at other peoples behaviors and demands.
But in the end – I want to rise up like an eagle above the circumstances, letting the wind carry me through these challenging times. I want to reflect on anyone I meet – like the shop assistant in grocery store, my friends through social media or my own family I live with – with peace, boldness and calm.
I asked myself:
How can I get there? How can I, in midst of our reality, act like an eagle?
In this article I would like to show you a couple of thoughts and how I learn to apply them in my own life.
Be true to where you stand.
Are you scared? Are you panicked and did you buy all the shops empty? Is anguish part of your reality and can’t you sleep any more at night, fearing what tomorrow will bring? Do you deal with feelings of hopelessness because your business is running downhill or you can’t work anymore at your job?
You can’t just start to fly by overruling these emotions with positive thinking or trying to be strong.
Because, well, the “true” feeling will surface earlier or later!
That means, facing the emotions is vital. Being true to yourself and admit how you feel is the first step, because those feelings undealt with will lead your actions and make you act like an ostrich, chicken or a raven!
Everyone is different in facing these emotions. Some need a punching bag (if not available, a pillow will do), others are good at writing, singing, talking with a good friend (skype works wonderfully for that).
However, whatever you choose as a method, keep in mind that the ultimate person who knows you deeply, loves you and is well capable to give you peace in midst of the storm is Jesus Christ. Taking time in his presence, simply coming before him and pouring out your heart (with all your emotions) will change how you feel and not only that – it will change your view about the situation. Going back to the different birds, it’s like the bird in the chicken yard realizing it wasn’t a chicken after all – but an eagle dwelling in the wrong place.
I did that today. Waking up, I felt anxious and tired, even after a good night’s sleep. I took time in the presence of God – I had only 15 minutes until I had to go back to my four kids and give them breakfast to get them ready for a day of homeschooling – but these 15 minutes changed my day. I was able to shed some tears, telling God how I felt. Almost immediately I felt God telling me: I am your provider, remember? My name is Jehove Jireh as it says in Genesis 22:14:
From that day forward, Abraham called that place, “The Eternal One will provide (Jehova-Jireh).” Because of this, people still today say, “On the Mount of the Eternal, all will be provided.”
You see, I wasn’t sure why I felt the way I did. But He knew, and he came into those emotions so that I could relax, act out from a place of peace and boldness instead on how I felt initially when I was getting up! The verses in Isaiah 40:31 became reality:
«but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”
Next week I will share more ways on how to be able to not react like a ostrich, chicken or raven but how to learn to soar like an eagle above the challenging situation and face life and people around us with boldness, strength and dignity.
Encouraging Thoughts Concerning our Current Situation
At first I thought there was enough being said on the topic…
But I notice how most of the news contribute to the insecurity, uncertainty and the resulting fear and panic.
Therefore I would like to encourage you with this short video and contribute to security, and this for the first time in the form of video.
My Journey of the last decade and what I learned from it
This past decade has been an amazing journey that turned into a passionate adventure I would never want to miss.
I got married, gave birth to 4 babies, we (I) settled down by buying the house Benny grew up in, we became owners of our own business, we started this blog to name only a few places we discovered
I love my husband, my kids, I love the beautiful people around me; they make my life so rich and passionate!
Looking back I am amazed and deeply grateful.
But my amazement and gratefulness go beyond the things I achieved.
I haven’t forgotten where I come from. I remember this deep insecurity, this shame about who I am, the struggle about my failures and the feelings of unworthiness. I remember the many lies I believed about myself and God, lies that created strong emotions inside of me which lead me to decisions and choices that brought me deeper into insecurity, shame, failure and feelings of unworthiness.
The decision of getting married to Benny was one great struggle itself:
When I met him, I was the adventurous type of girl. I loved other countries, other cultures, being confronted with new languages, food and customs. I felt alive in situations that were filled with the unknown, the unexpected and the different.
Benny was quite the opposite.
He never moved out of the house where he grew up. He still worked in the same business where he started his apprenticeship when he was 16. He imagined his future only in Switzerland.
When he joined me to a 6 month trip to Bolivia and Chile in 2008, he had a great cultural shock, struggling with those very same things I loved: The culture, the food, the customs, the unexpected, the many situations one has to adapt to.
But the more I knew him, the more I was amazed about who he is. His heart. His maturity. His stability. His unwavering way of treating me with honor and dignity. His love for Jesus. His heart for me. The many things we could relate to and where understand each other.
I was so torn: What should I do? Marry this guy – go for this dream of having a family but giving up those very things that made me feel alive and free? Or give up this guy and go for those feelings of freedom?
My life turned into one great prayer:
“God, show me what I should do!!”
After several month of struggling, I felt God telling me:
“Jeanne, marring Benny will be the wisest decision you can ever take in this area of your life.”
And because I love Jesus, and because I wanted to be wise – and from my experience in the past that my emotional world, my feelings and my own heart is not always to be trusted; I decided to marry him.
Today, a decade later, I know that I made the right decision; I deeply know that marrying him was truly the wisest decision I could have made! However, I learned that “wise” doesn’t necessarily mean easy:
I gave up the life I knew, left my comfort zone and my securities. I left the things that made me feel alive and free.
A couple of months ago, while on a retreat with Benny, we were writing down – each one for ourselves – our dreams and wishes for the future. There were many things I put down: a whole page turned into a bay of hopes and dreams for my future, our future as a couple, as a family, my relationship with Jesus and others.
I included the traveling part. I included the things that made me feel, in the past, free and alive. However, in the very end I wrote:
“My biggest dream however, is that there will be nothing left of this insecure and helpless girl who feels like a failure, shameful, worthless, undeserving of love, attention and connection.“
Writing those lines, I realized that this has always been my biggest dream. To me, this dream was so much more valuable than all countries I could travel to, all languages I could possibly speak or the beautiful foreign culture I could live in. It was so much more than all the feelings of being alive and free I was experimenting in the past by boarding a plane or getting to know a new culture.
This deep desire each one of us has to love and to be loved.
And I realized that this was exactly what the past decade was all about.
I had to face my fear of intimacy.
I had to look at my failures.
I had to go through those intense feelings of shame and unworthiness.
The way to go was to settle down and simply “be”, learning to be vulnerable and transparent.
Oh boy, that was so scary!
But because I love Jesus and because I wanted to be wise – and because I experienced in the past that my emotional world, my feelings and my own heart is not always to be trusted; I decided to stay on that journey.
And that’s how this past decade turned into the most amazing journey of my life.
And this journey was not about achieving things or status.
Being a wife, turning into a mother, having a house, a business or a blog were not the things that brought me to a place of freedom and identity.
Neither status, nor possession nor any achievement can bring anyone to this inner freedom, the peace and joy I increasingly experience on a daily basis.
Much more, it was by letting go of my ways of self-preservation, by agreeing to face how I was truly feeling about myself and God that I found peace.
And like I wrote in this article, God didn’t transform me into someone else. I didn’t turn into someone brighter, more capable, holier or less flawed than before. Neither did he remove the scares from my life or make me forget painful experiences. I still remember the reality of my past failures and shortcomings.
Rather, he used that past decade to free me from this shame that surrounded my whole being, that determined how I saw myself, others and God.
I will write more on the subject of shame in another article, but let’s have a look at the definition of shame out of the book “facing shame”:
“Shame is an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self. (…) A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.”
So God’s way to lead me into freedom was not by giving me some title such as “wife, mother, blogger”. Neither did he make me forget my past experiences, failures and hurts.
He didn’t turn me into someone that would be brighter, more capable, holier or less flawed than I used to be.
Rather, he leads me into that understanding that he loves me. That he loves all about me, my whole being with all my emotions and deep thoughts and dreams.
That he created me as a unique person, special, capable to walk in the ways He has prepared for me.
That in him, we have the freedom to be, to live, to love and to have life in abundance.
That in him, we are valued, cherished, loved and honored.
Not for what we do. Or the amazing things we achieve. In the same way, we aren’t less loved for the mistakes we make or the times we totally miss the point.
This is true for me. This is true for you.
The more I understand this reality, the more I walk in a freedom I didn’t know that it exists. No adventure, no beautiful country or experience can compete with what I discover trough that journey of facing my fear of intimacy, looking at my failures, going through those intense feelings of shame and unworthiness.
Today I love Jesus deeply and I am so grateful for the place where I am in my life. Looking at my life as a whole – with all the painful experiences, the scars, my own failures and mistakes – I feel a deep marvel and gratitude for a God who set us free to be .