Ruth is a pretty famous name in the bible. One of the only women who has a book named after her. There is a lot that could be said about Ruth but today I want to focus on her sister-in-law Orpah. Not Oprah, although autocorrect keeps trying to convince me that it is.
Both Orpah and Ruth were born in the land of Moab (present day Jordan) along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. They spent 10 years as wives to the sons of Elimelech and Naomi.
In a movie this part of the story may have been called “Two weddings and Three Funerals” for it was shortly after Elimelech died that his sons took wives. Ten years later, the two sons died.
Maybe you have met some families and thought, “can it get any worse?” As a friend to those families, I try to send hugs and prayers and walk with them. But imagine that family is in a foreign land away from all of their relatives and close friends and they fled to that land to escape a famine in the first place. And now three women are left without provision, without partnership and without much hope in those days.
I have no idea what I would have done in that situation… as I am writing this, I am being attacked by viruses but I am not battling alone. Forest is slightly less sick than me so he made us porridge and tea and has given uber wonderful cuddles. Whenever I have the thought of losing Forest my mind simply goes black. It is incomprehensible.
I would at least be able to find a job with a good wage and receive the comfort and support with many people. Perhaps Naomi was thinking along those lines as she made plans for herself and her daughters. Home is beckoning her, the famine is over, Israel is blessed again. So the trio embarks on a long journey, Naomi seems to change her mind though:
“Go, return each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me…” (1:8)
Kisses,weeping and protests followed. They had lived together for a decade. Shared bright days and sorrows, become a new people, a new family together.
No offence at all to my parents, but to return home to live with them would be very strange and awkward. I have changed and so have they.
Naomi was insistent as she poured out logic that made going with her sound ludicrous.
“Turn back my daughters, have I yet sons in my womb that may become your husbands?…. Even if I should… would you wait? No, my daughters!” (1:11-13)
That is how important marriage and children were for provision. Almost a foreign concept now. When I told my neighbours that I was quite happy to be a wife and mother and not work full time they gave me very strange looks.
On an aside, I mentioned this in the last blog too and hope that I am not overstating things, I find it very interesting to compare the role of marriage and family then and now… at least in my Western circles. I cannot speak for the whole world. What was once a prerequisite for survival for some has now become a privilege, a hobby, a life style, a hindrance for others. Good? Bad? Neither? Interesting conversations could be had. I don’t want to go off on a huge tangent though so back to the story.
If Orpah and Ruth went back home they could marry again and have children and be provided for. The road from Moab to Bethlehem was treacherous and long. There was no guarantee that they would make it.
“Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” (1:14)
Orpah followed good sense and obeyed her mother-in-law. And her story ends there.
I said that I could relate to Orpah in playing it safe. Maybe it’s more like sometimes I am an Orpah wanna-be. I remember that shortly after returning from teaching in China, which was way out of my comfort zone, I just wanted a simple humdrum life. I wanted a job where I didn’t have to think, I wanted a church where I didn’t have to participate. I didn’t want to be brave or adventurous anymore. I was burned out and needed rest. But how could I rest when the world kept spinning? Decisions needed to be paid, bills needed to be paid, work needed to be found. I was done, I wanted my story to be over. I longed for the familiar, Comox, my friends, my church but it wasn’t that simple so I took on a low stress job in White Rock, doing activities with adult day care clients. Spending my days dancing, swimming, bowling, low risk, no planning required, just show up. I remember watching my content co-workers and longing for peace but not finding any.
I wanted to be a little girl again. I didn’t want the treacherous journey from Moab to Bethlehem. But I realized that I was already on the road and there was no turning back.
I stepped on a path when I went to 🇨🇳 China. I was an eager B. Ed student who applied both for China and a local Comox Private school at the same time. I was determined to get work, no TOC list for me. I was offered both jobs within a week from each other.
Teaching 4 grades in a brand new boarding school in a remote Foreign land or part time Kindergarten in Comox walking distance from home and church. I talked a lot about how nice and wise it would be to make one transition and go easy on myself. Smart. Good sense. But instead I got on an airplane.
I don’t know what would have happened if I stayed in that Kindergarten class in Comox. Maybe it would have been nice, maybe it wouldn’t have been. Maybe it would have been safe, maybe not. The road to China and back had it’s thorns and dark tunnels and I will never be the same because of it. I realize that I was mad at myself for stepping out and doing something risky. I should have been like Orpah…. said my tired brain. Would have saved me some grief.
But deep down, as attractive and practical as it seems, I don’t want my story to end in the first chapter.
I must say that I am also learning how to rest and not run quite so fast and burn out. There is more than one way to end the story too early. I am learning to embrace help. Forest helps me slow down and make some very wise, cautious decisions. Naomi and Ruth stood together and they received help from their community. I am trying to get better at that. Trying not to be “all or nothing” and consider a whole spectrum of options.
I often have no idea of the impact of the decisions that I make today. Who knew that one dinner and a couple of Facebook messages would bring me on the road to being Mrs. Li. Who knew that Forest getting a new job would bring my parents who said “Never again in Vancouver!” to an apartment smack dab in the middle of the city? Who knew that my sister’s admiration of Fluevogs would lead her to her husband? Who knew that signing up for a Chinese class would cause me to influence a college teacher’s pedagogy?
Sometimes the safest road is the most dangerous one. Yes, admiring Fluevogs can be dangerous. Have you seen their prices?
Therefore don’t throw away your boldness, which has a great reward. For you need endurance so that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. Hebrews 10:35-36