February means Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love, that special someone who cares for you like no other. A day to remember how blessed you are to have one who knows you—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and loves you anyway. An opportunity to celebrate that there’s one person out there who has chosen you, committed to loving you for the rest of his life.
Unless you are single.
Valentine’s Day when you are single reminds you that you are alone. No chocolates or flowers delivered to your office. No candlelight dinners. No sweet cards with mushy messages. Just another day on the calendar, another day where you go through the motions and crawl into bed alone. A reminder that yet another year has gone by as you wait for God to see your heart and fulfill your desires.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been single (or single again) for a number of years. I’ve been walking this journey alone for nearly seven years. I’ve watched so many friends walk through divorce or death of a spouse and remarry…while I continue to walk alone. I often wonder why God blesses others with someone while I continue without anyone by my side.
I know a lot of friends who have chosen to actively pursue a dating relationship. They’ve tried online dating. They make time to go out with friends and get involved with different social circles. That simply hasn’t been my story. First, as a solo parent with three teen/pre-teen children, a job, a growing ministry, and all of my other responsibilities, I rarely have time to go out and meet people. By the time we have dinner and finish homework in the evenings, there’s not much time or energy left for a social life of my own. Second, I have tried the online dating world. I couldn’t reach a place of peace with it. I feel God telling me repeatedly that he sees me and that I simply need to trust him. I need to walk so closely to him that I hear his specific instructions to me and walk obediently.
So, here I am, single for yet another Valentine’s Day, waiting (not so) patiently for God to decide that it’s my turn for love.
As I began to think about Valentine’s Day, I reflected on some of the amazing love stories in scripture. I’ve always been a sucker for a good romance! As a kid, I loved the story of Isaac and Rebekah, how Abraham sent his servant off in search of a woman for his son. I loved how the servant trusted God to put the right woman in his path. And God was faithful!
And then there’s Jacob and Rachel. Jacob’s love for Rachel was one-of-a-kind. He willingly committed to working for her for seven years, but the years passed so quickly because of his great love for her! And his devastation when she passed away during Benjamin’s birth. It’s a tragedy! (Never mind there’s all kinds of dysfunction in the story, but Jacob truly had an unconditional love for his Rachel…the kind of love every woman wants.)
But perhaps one of my all-time favorite biblical love stories is the story of Ruth and Boaz. Here’s this young widow. Her life has not turned out anything like she planned. She is living with her heart-broken mother-in-law, Naomi, who has decided her life is simply too bitter. She will return to her country, to her people, and live out her days in anguish.
But Ruth will have no part of it. She married into this family, and she will not turn her back on her mother-in-law! She will give up the only life she has ever known, and she will travel to a foreign country. She is determined to walk with her mother-in-law, to support her, to worship the same God she has seen Naomi faithfully worship all these years.
Together, they return to Jerusalem, Naomi’s homeland. It’s there where the story gets exciting.
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.
2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” 3 So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.
4 While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The Lord be with you!” he said.
“The Lord bless you!” the harvesters replied.
5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”
6 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”
10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”
11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:1-12
Ruth had no idea what she was walking into! She was only out looking for some food, looking for a way to care for Naomi’s and her physical needs. Instead, God put her smack dab in the middle of his plan of redemption! God placed her in the field of her kinsman-redeemer!
What can we learn from Ruth and Boaz? How can this story see us through our season of singleness as we wait for our very own kinsman-redeemer? I see five lessons from Ruth that I hope I can emulate.
Ruth had a stellar reputation.
Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:11-12
Ruth was a woman of integrity, and her reputation preceded her. When under pressure, Ruth made the decision of commitment, of following the hard path that took her away from everything familiar to her. She showed an extraordinary kindness to her mother-in-law, despite knowing it could sentence her to spending the rest of her life as a poor, penniless widow.
And in choosing to take the high road, people began to talk about her. “Have you heard about poor Naomi? She lost her husband and both her boys! But, wow! That daughter-in-law, Ruth, is really amazing! Naomi is blessed to have her!”
Ruth’s reputation for her kindness toward Naomi touched others.
Ruth made a firm commitment to God.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” Ruth 1:16-17
Naomi’s husband had taken her and her children to a strange land in an effort to escape the famine in Israel. Perhaps it was a move of necessity. Perhaps it was a move made out of fear rather than faith. But it meant that Naomi ended up a childless widow in a foreign land. And, it was hard enough for a widow to survive in her own land. I can’t even start to imagine how difficult it must have been as an outsider.
Ruth, however, was a Moabite. She was at home in this land, a land that didn’t know or serve the God of Israel. But there was something about Naomi that Ruth simply couldn’t deny. Maybe it was her commitment to an unseen God. Maybe it was her courage to face the painful loss of her husband and sons. Maybe it was just something about Naomi that Ruth couldn’t quite put her finger on.
Whatever it was, it was enough. Enough for Ruth to have the courage and faith to walk forward into a new life with the God of Israel. There was no half-hearted attempt to serve him; she was all in, forsaking everything she had ever known to follow him fully and completely.
If only we could all have that level of commitment to God.
Ruth served faithfully in her season of singleness.
So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law. Ruth 2:23
Day after day, Ruth left Naomi at home to work the fields. She gathered barley, always bringing home enough to feed them both. After the barley harvest, she worked through the wheat harvest. Through the summer. In the sweltering heat. Never fainting. Never giving up.
Her commitment was firm. I’m sure there were days when she questioned her decision, when it seemed this season would never end. I’m certain there were days when the thought of throwing it all away and returning to Moab, to the comforts of her homeland, had to cross her mind.
And yet, Ruth pressed on. Working. Serving. Steadfast. She knew it was a season. She knew that seasons have a starting point and an ending point, even when we have no idea when the season will end. She determined to serve faithfully until God saw fit to end the season.
Ruth was focused on helping others.
So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket. 18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal. Ruth 2:17-18
In everything she did, Ruth remembered her mother-in-law. She lived with her so she was not alone (2:23). She always brought her extra food to Naomi. She listened to Naomi’s advice (3:5-6). She even blessed Naomi with a grandson, restoring joy to her broken heart (4:16).
Ruth’s heart was set on giving, on doing for others. From the moment she committed to returning to Israel with Naomi, Ruth’s heart was set on being a caring and compassionate woman. Her heart was pure. Her motives were right. She had an inner beauty that she cultivated on a daily basis.
It’s a lesson we should all learn. This life is not about what we can get, but about what we can give. This life is about becoming more like Christ, more like the One who gave his all for us.
Ruth looked for a man of integrity.
“The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. 12 But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” Ruth 3:10-13
Ruth could have looked for someone younger, someone more attractive. She could have gone to Christian Mingle Hour at the town square looking for anyone whose eye she might catch. She could have gone out every weekend, enjoying the dating scene.
Instead, she was focused on God, on others. Her eyes were open to seeing God moving around her, but God was her focus. And, her list of character traits was limited to kindness, integrity, compassion. She was looking for a man after God’s own heart first and foremost.
She had seen Boaz’s kindness in allowing her to work alongside his servants in his field. She had witnessed his protection of her. She saw his integrity in dealing with the relative who was a closer kinsman-redeemer. He conducted himself in a manner that was worthy of respect at all times.
And, that’s what we should do. We should be focused on knowing God, on becoming like him, even as we keep our eyes open to God’s hand moving around us. We should make sure that we are looking for the most important character traits and not getting caught up in what the world says is important. Our eyes should be on God in this season.
I wish I could say I could see the end of this season on the horizon; honestly, God has told me we are close, but I still get restless. But, like Ruth, I will choose to serve faithfully in this season until God sees fit to send my kinsman-redeemer.