Hope is a Choice

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Throughout November we’re taking an in-depth look at Ruth, the little book that helped pave the way for God’s Messiah to come into the world.

Ten years earlier, Naomi had left her hometown of Bethlehem and crossed the border into Moab.

She had been a wife and a mother of two sons.  The rest of her life lay ahead of her.

But now, returning with Ruth – one of her widowed daughters-in-law – the world seemed like a very different place. 

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.  When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”  “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them.  “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  (Ruth 1:19-21)

There’s nothing subtle about Naomi’s anguish. 

If we were reading this in Hebrew, we would hear the women of the town saying, “Look, Beautiful has come back home!”  But Naomi answers, “Don’t call me Beautiful any more.  My new name is Bitter.” 

Notice how personal this is.  “The Lord has brought me back empty.  The Lord has afflicted me.  The Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  There’s no doubting the reality of her pain, but Naomi is so self-absorbed at this point – something that happens to a great many of us when the roof falls in – that all of her perceptions are blurred. 

She seems blind to the fact that she didn’t actually come back to Bethlehem empty and alone.  Ruth is standing alongside her, a living contradiction to Naomi’s assessment that everything has gone wrong.

Who could blame Ruth if at this point she said, “And what exactly am I here, a potted plant?”  But Ruth remains silent, allowing Naomi to vent her pain.

Naomi is also blind to God’s motives.  She can’t see God as anything but her enemy.  God is the one who is behind all of this.  That’s quite true, of course, from a redemptive perspective.  God is behind every detail of this story – just as he is behind every detail of your story.  But Naomi doesn’t yet see God at work to bring about healing or deliverance.

Chapter one has been a tour de force of human anguish.  But it ends on an interesting note. 

Look at verse 22:  “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”  It is in the setting of the barley harvest that their eyes will open to what God is doing. 

Ruth and Naomi don’t yet know that.  But God does.  And it is in that space where we don’t-yet-know that God always says, “Trust me.  Choose hope.  Leave room for me to work, and prepare yourself to receive it.”

A number of years ago, author and pastor Eugene Peterson and his wife Jan learned they were going to be grandparents for the first time.  They drove two hours to see their son and daughter-in-law.  Jan was so excited she could hardly contain herself.  But Gene felt surprisingly unemotional. 

As he recalls, “I felt dull, flat, routine.”  As they drove back home he turned to Jan and said, “What wrong with me?  Why don’t I feel anything?”  Jan answered, “It’s because you’ve never been pregnant.”  “Well, that’s just great,” said Gene.  “So what am I going to do about that?” 

Jan told him to build a cradle. 

And so he did.  He researched the project carefully.  He proceeded slowly.  Peterson writes, “I worked with each piece of the cradle, shaping it, holding it, rubbing it, over and over and over – and all the time anticipating the baby that would be in that cradle, over and over and over… By the time the cradle was ready, I was ready, prepared to receive the gift of new life.”

We may not know what comes next in our stories.  We may be clueless as to how exactly God is going to bless us. 

But we can know what he has already done to bring hope into the world.  He has sent Jesus. 

Therefore, with confidence, we can prepare ourselves to receive whatever gifts he is about to give to us. 

No matter what…we can choose hope.