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!!
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 .
The secret of true freedom
More than 15 years ago I had an assignment to complete:
The task was:
To choose a picture out of several magazines and write down:
1.which person of the picture represents you
2.which person do you want to become
I chose the picture you see here.
I wrote down:
1. I feel like the dog, struggling, fighting against so many emotions and beliefs. Feeling miserable, full of confusion, frustration, feeling overwhelmed.
2. I want to become the one in the front with the red shirt. I want to live, give everything, with identity, unity, faith and passion.
I know these feelings of shame for who I am. This conviction of being unworthy to be loved.
I remember feeling miserable and undeserving, trying to live up to the expectations of those around me or even the expectations I had towards myself.
I know this painful feeling of shame, pushing me even deeper into that certitude of not being enough, not being capable, being worthless, unlovable.
I compared myself to those around me.
Fear, shame, pain, indecision, confusion, envy, frustration, feeling overwhelmed, suppressing issues, numbing thoughts, passivity and hopelessness… were all a reality of my life.
I was a Christian; therefore, I had heard about God’s love for me.
But somehow, this reality was out of my reach. After all, I knew how flawed I was. I was well aware of my weaknesses and incapacities. I tried hard to get somewhere, to fight my beliefs, to overcome my fears; to face my feelings of shame and worthlessness.
I tried to be a “good Christian”, yet terrified to let anyone get close enough to me to really know me… and discover how flawed and imperfect I truly am.
Today, almost two decades later, I become always more that person with the red shirt. – living a life of fullness, giving everything, with identity, unity, faith and passion.
What has changed? What reality has transformed my life?
I could tell you about many things that added up to where I am today helped me get where I am today.
About amazing people who loved me beyond my flaws, about insights I got that touched my heart enough to grasp and apply them, about the mercy of God who, in his infinity, gentleness and patience brought me all the way to this point in my life.
However, last Sunday in church during a time of Worship, I realized that there was a deep truth I would like to share with you, a reality that is so life transforming and beautiful I just have to try to put it into words in this article.
During this time of worship, we sang a song that went like:
…..My Beloved, You’ve captured my heart.
Won’t You dance with me
Oh, Lover of my soul
To the song of all songs?
With You I will go
You are my Love, You are my Fair One….
The phrase „lover of my soul“ touched my heart in a deep way.
This is it.
This is the reality that has transformed my life and still does.
There is a God who loves my soul.
A God that sees beyond my efforts, my achievements, my capacity. He sees beyond this image I try to represent on the outside; He sees the true me.
He sees our most hidden needs, longings, pain and dreams.
He sees our biggest failures, our wrong decisions, our compulsions or addictions – even those we are capable to hide from other people.
And still – He loves us!!
He longs to reach out to us, to find us and love us.
When I was seven years of age, I invited Jesus into my life – it was the day my spirit was saved and I became a child of God.
But it was the reality that he was the “Lover of my soul” that led me into freedom in my soul.
It was Him that created me with my unique DNA.
He put a unique essence within me that makes who I am.
He doesn’t see me by my achievements; he sees me for who I truly am, deep down, when no one is looking.
In the Bible there is a scripture that says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” ( The Bible, John 3:16 )
It doesn’t say: “He loves the ones who are great achievers, the ones who stay out of trouble and the ones who do everything right; “
NO! It says: He loves the world.
And we all know how messed up this world is.
How messed up you and I can be.
And yet, he loves us!
My relationship with God changed (and still is changing) since I understand more and more that He loves my soul.
The more I enter into this truth, the more does freedom enter my life.
The freedom to be me.
The freedom to let go of the picture of how I need to be – and to become authentic, real and vulnerable to be who God created me to be.
True vulnerability is to be seen, being known and being real. It is coming to term with our weaknesses and embracing them as gifts from God.
The more I can walk in this reality, the more I can let go of my fears and feelings of shame and inadequacy.
The more I enter into enjoying who God made me to be, the more I feel thrilled to be me: I have moments when I worship God for who he made me to be, simply because I see the blessing I can be in being me.
It comes with the understanding that I can only be me.
Who I am at the core has always leaked out, no matter how much I’ve tried to suppress or change it, believing that it wasn’t enough. Living it out enables me to love, to reach beyond myself.
We can only do this when we stop to constantly undermine who we are by trying to copy other people and trying to be them
The more I walk in this path, the more I see people around me with those same eyes.
I see their beauty, their unique DNA, their amazing wonderful essence, how God created them to be. I can see beneath their walls or fears or insecurities directly into their beautiful, unique being.
And I love that.
You see, it is truly so:
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself. ” (The Bible, Matthew 22.39)
You can’t love others more than you do yourself.
The more you love yourself, the more you can love others.
The more you walk with freedom, passion, in unity and love.
My prayer for you and for me is that we can experience this amazing God who loves our soul. That we can accept that Jesus died on the cross for us so that we can be transferred into his kingdom. That we can learn to live with royal principles and enter this process of transformation into His image.
We are created after His image and the more we look at him, and let us love by him the more we can all sing together: