Image by Brett Jordan

Relationships

Autumn Conference 2020

Naomi was an ordinary woman whose life did not go according to her expected plan, (get married live happily ever after – be prosperous – have a good career, many sons, servants). Naomi’s life turned out to be full of troubles

- it was a man’s world – Her husband decided they should escape the famine by going to Moab where there was food. We are not told if she was consulted. It was her job to follow.

We can identify with this – Asian men do not always consult wives, mothers, women and even if they do, they will often make decisions and expect the rest of the family to follow. Moving countries was a big step. Going to a place where there was food was so appealing that Naomi and her family ended up in a land that had a history of troubling Israel. But hunger and need for survival take precedence. But you know God helps those who help themselves - well Elimelech was helping and finding good solutions. By the way this saying is not a saying in the Bible.

We also read about the relationship between Naomi and her daughter-in-law and her pain at losing her husband and sons. That relationship and the experience of loss are also situations we can identify with.

So there is much we can relate to in Naomi’s life and in this session we are going to investigate what we can learn from her story about:

1. Loss of relationship

2. Mother-in-law / Daughter-in-law relationship

3. And as we look into these, we will see how God was involved

So let’s begin by thinking about loss of relationship

- Naomi’s was a painful world – became widowed, then the sons die, and she buries them. – This left her both grief stricken and childless, with no hope of grandchildren. She called it being ‘empty’. Loss takes many forms.

What kinds of loss of relationship can you think of that we might experience?

(If people hesitate to respond, start them off with an example. Let people talk then if they miss any of those below, add them at the end)

· It can be widowhood, this was Naomi and Ruth’s experience

· It can be childlessness

· It can be the loss of a child

· It can be loss of a parent/brother/sister

· it can be a divorce – not your fault but you may have contributed towards the break-up as it is never straightforward

· it can be a loveless marriage – where love is faded or lost totally, and life is a duty

Many situations can take away our joy, our hope our will to live. We do not have control. These things tax our emotions and make deep impact in our lives. This place is dark and there is no magic key. There is no escape. We have to live through it. But how? Would anyone who’s been through one of these situations feel able to share how she came through?

Thank anyone who contributes.

We can respond to these situations with God or in our own strength.

I’d like to share my own experience of relationship loss which was divorce. Not my chosen outcome. I felt the shame. A professing Christian, AN ASIAN WOMAN, seeking to love God trusting God – getting divorced how does it add up?? This is compounded when others pass judgement make assumptions voice statements like:

– it must have been your fault (NOT HIS)

– what did you do wrong? (NOT HIM)

- How stupid you are! I don’t think I want to be associated with you or your shame

– you have shamed the family

– it’s your duty to stay together

While there is some truth in some of the above they are only half truths. Faults lie with many it’s how we deal with them. Doubtless mistakes have been made by many including judgements and wrong choices, reactions anger. True the family is affected. The last one ‘your duty’ that is hard. In truth though there are no excuses.

When Naomi got home, there was much commotion, she told her friends to call her Mara – meaning bitter. Naomi, she felt bitter, renamed herself bitter and was in a hard place. It maybe that she thought if I say it as it is then there will be less judgement. It will stop judgement from others if I make my own views and judgements of me clear. In a way it’s a mechanism of self protection.

As I look back, I can see how I withdrew. I stopped being active in Church. I went to a different church and barely spoke to anyone. I cried a lot. I struggled to cope – even went on anti-depressants. I gave our dog away – I couldn’t handle him, my emotions, work and my responsibilities as a mother. To my shame I did not even handle motherhood well at this time. It was a hard time. Even the counsellor made a comment and said I was odd because I kept talking about faith and God and how it shouldn’t be like this. There was much anger, pain and a stubborn faith that refused to think God had truly given up on me that thought I was worth loving. However I lost much in this time. I forgot thankfulness, forgot to count my many blessings – and I had much to be thankful for – forgot to appreciate people, freedoms …. The fact is as I look back God had never forgotten me.

Do we feel bitter about our hardships? Do we blame God? What do we do with such strong emotions?? Naomi did not even try to hide this. Maybe that turned out to be a blessing. She was not pretending. I learnt I too could not pretend with God.

- It is a world where hope can grow -

We can learn from Naomi – be real and honest don’t hide away and pretend all is well when it isn’t. Allow yourself to feel the grief. Let your friends in. This takes a lot of courage. Be wise not everyone is kind or compassionate. The truth is God is good. God’s very nature is to love. I was resentful and angry hurt, but God was very kind to me he gave me good friends, neighbours those who supported spoke truth and cared – God never left me. His faithfulness remained.

How do we know? The Bible tells us that while we were far from God – Christ came, and he died so that we might have life. He did not wait for us to become deserving of his love. He took the first step. God because of His great love always takes the initiative.

When we look closely, we see God at work providing and meeting needs.

o He gave Naomi courage

o He gave her a faithful strong loving daughter in law

o He provided for her – the laws in Israel made provisions for the poor, for widows

o He blessed her – she had Ruth who was more than 7 sons. Then she had a grandchild

How did Naomi access the goodness of God? She remembered her heritage. She allowed Ruth to remain with her. This in itself required courage and trust in God. For Naomi hope was rekindled as Ruth brought back her stories from the gleaning fields. There was a spark of hope in the laws and ways of the God of Israel. Maybe there is a good man who looks to Gods laws and will fulfil family obligations.

What changed for me? Hope and assurance grew – God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind. He is not waiting for me to be perfect to love me. He simply loves me. God provided financially, good advisors, He began to restore relationships. He answered prayers like – help me forgive, help me to love like you love. I realised that I understood a little of how it must be for Jesus to love to the point of death, his pain in Gethsemane. Really truly if He faced that for me then who am I that I should have a pain free problem free ‘charmed life.’

Micah 6:8 says

And what does the Lord require of you – but to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So, did I do things perfectly have I got it all together– no not at all. Did God wave a magic wand? No! He challenged me, my faith, my values, my words. Is life easy no but it’s easier because God helps me. He continues to challenge me. He continues to love me and encourages me to love others. To be slower to judge, to be mindful that I need forgiveness often daily. It’s a journey of faith with God. I have to remember its not about me. Its about Him. God has ways and plans Romans 8 – All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purposes.

You know God calls us each one by name, and the moment we say yes to Jesus – Gods plans for us kick into action. As we follow Jesus we can expect hardships, setbacks, disappointments and challenges -God uses these to grow us, in time bless us and others. Do I trust Him?? Do I really trust him???

So what can we learn from Naomi, from (anyone who contributed) and from my experiences? That God is able to bring us through and provide for our needs. That he never leaves us nor forsakes us. And that the more we include God from the beginning and try to do things his way, the more pain we will save ourselves.

Does anyone have any questions or comments? (If there is response, watch the time. 5 mins max, then say – thank you but we are restricted for time and need now to move on.

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We’re now going to see what the relationship of Naomi and Ruth has to tell us about mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationships.

Most of us here will have been daughters-in-law and many of us are mothers-in-law. So we can perhaps relate to the experiences of Naomi and Ruth.

Naomi was herself living in a strange land and then had to welcome into her household two women from this different culture and different religion. What difficulties must she have had and how hard do you think they must have been for her?

Culture clash would probably include: cooking, behaviour, relationships, hygiene, attitudes. These differences could have produced rows, increasing bitterness and relationship breakdown. Avoiding this would require tact and tolerance.

We know from the story that when Naomi decided to leave Moab for Bethlehem, both of her daughters-in-law wanted to go with her. It would seem from the way Naomi encouraged them to return to their own people and marry again that it would have been acceptable for them to have done just that. Yet they preferred to be with her. What kind of mother-in-law does that suggest that Naomi was?

Kind, loving, welcoming, easy to get on with. She encouraged them to let her return alone which would have been more dangerous and lonely so she put their welfare above her own.

What do we know of Naomi’s relationship with God?

We know she influenced Ruth to follow him. We know she had faith because she believed he was in control of all that happened to her and because she advised Ruth to follow his laws.

We’ve seen what kind of person Naomi must have been despite the difficulties she was faced with. What influence do you think her relationship with God had on her behaviour as a mother-in-law?

The command to love GOD AND your neighbour originated in the Old Testament, so, if Naomi knew anything of the law, she would have known that command. The fact that she so obviously put it into practice demonstrates that she was being influenced in her attitude towards her daughters-in-law by her relationship with God.

Let’s think about Ruth. When she married, she joined her husband’s family. But when her husband died, her mother-in-law offered her the chance to go back to her parents, her culture and her gods. What can we learn about Ruth from the fact that she chose instead to go with her mother-in-law into the unknown and worship her God?

She genuinely loved Naomi, loyalty, an awareness of God, courageous,

When Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, her reputation went before her. When he met Ruth, Boaz said: “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” This is in Ruth 2:11-12. We know too that she worked hard in the field collecting barley, taking only a short rest all day.

What do we learn about Ruth from this?

She was hard working, she was fully committed to Naomi, her behaviour and attitudes went ahead of her and created a good reputation.

Do you think the fact that she had abandoned her gods and begun to worship the God of Israel may have had an influence on her?

We can’t know for sure whether she was changed but she was certainly behaving like someone influenced by God.

How would you compare Ruth and Naomi’s relationship to the traditional Asian Mother-in-law Daughter-in-law relationship?

Distance between each woman, no openness – lack of transparency, fear of doing wrong things. MOTHER HAS FIRST PRECEDENCE LOVE THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW IN ALL MANNER OF WAYS OF LIVING – COOKING, CLEANING, ETC ETC….YOU CHANGE YOUR WAYS FOR THE IN-LAWS WAYS WHETHER YOURS MAKE MORE SENSE OR NOT

What can we do, within that relationship, whether it’s Asian or other, to make it more like the one between Ruth and Naomi?

With God’s help we can act in love and loyalty however we are treated in return. Most people eventually respond to being treated with love. And if they don’t, we have the peace of knowing we are right before God.

In this session we have seen how Naomi’s godly attitude was the reason she enjoyed such a good relationship with her daughter-in-law and that going through loss with God’s help and in God’s way right from the beginning will save us pain and help us come through in victory.

Any questions or comments on this issue? (again, try and keep to 5 mins)

If there’s time and if this hasn’t already been covered in the comments above, you could also ask:

Have you been able to relate to the issues raised and if so how?