It takes a lot of work to learn how to live well with someone. You have to get used to a new person and let’s be honest, no one we live with does things exactly how we wished they would. It’s hard to learn to live with someone. But which would you say is harder: learning how to live well with someone or learning how to live well without someone?
We assumed there were certain people who would always be present in our lives. This includes actual people – the parents who were present from day one, the person who promised to be a committed husband or wife for the rest of your life, the friend you knew you’d always be able to count on, the sibling you’ve always been able to call at any moment.
But it also includes the idea of certain people: the person you imagined being able to call “wife”, the babies who were going to call you “mom”, and the close friends you just knew you would make when you moved to San Francisco.
There is a reality that has already happened or will happen for all of us in the future.
We will have to live without someone we never imagined living without.
On November 15th, it will be exactly twenty years since my mom died. I was 25 at the time. She was 46, the age I’ll be on my next birthday. I’ve been left without.
I’m also intimately aware of children who will never see their biological parents again. They’ve been left without.
I have friends who never dreamed they’d be divorced. They, too, have been left without.
Who have you been left without?
A parent? A spouse? A child? A best friend? A sibling?
Is there any hope for those of us who have been left without someone we never imagined being left without? And we wonder this too:
Will it always be like this?
There’s an entire book in the Old Testament about women who have been left without. It’s called Ruth, but she isn’t the only one learning how to live without.
Ruth 1:1-5 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
When this story opens, we learn that a famine has left Naomi’s family without food. They leave Bethlehem and move to the country of Moab, which means they are left without their home land and culture. Elimelek died, so Naomi is left without her husband.
But it says in verse 3 that Naomi is “left with her two sons”. Her sons marry Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. But after they had lived there about 10 years, verse 5 tells us “both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”
Naomi gets word that there is food once again in Bethlehem and she makes her plans to return. She tells her two daughters-in-law to return to their homes and that perhaps God will give them other husbands. Here comes the next scene:
Ruth 1:14-18 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Ruth can’t bring back Naomi’s husband or her sons, but she can and she does determine that Naomi will not be left without her. What Ruth does for Naomi, we should be doing for each other.
When people are experiencing the absence of someone special in their lives, we can provide a ministry of presence to them.
When college students from around the nation or the world show up at Epic, we don’t replace their families. But we can be their family while they’re away from their families.
When you become a foster parent, you aren’t trying to replace the biological parent. But you are stepping into a void that the child has.
What would it look like for the Epic Church community to live out a ministry of presence to those who’ve been left without?
Remember too that Naomi isn’t the only one learning to live without. Ruth has lost her husband, but she makes it her goal of bringing comfort to Naomi.
When my mom died, my dad lost his wife of almost 28 years. What a loss this had to be for him! And yet, he was such a rock to me and my siblings in our deep loss.
Ruth 1:19-21 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.
At this time, names had great meaning. The name Naomi means “pleasant”. She tells them to no longer call her that. Instead, call me Mara, which means “bitter”. She acknowledges that God is the One who has made her life very bitter. And then she gives this powerful statement that many of us have experienced during some season of our lives: “I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.”
Do you have a relational emptiness that used to be full?
Obviously the death of someone brings this kind of emptiness. But so does divorce. So does betrayal. So does a friend walking away from your life for no apparent reason.
Years ago I had a close friend in this community. We used to do so many things together. And then one day, we didn’t. I couldn’t even get him to return my phone calls. I had no idea why, so I wrote him an email. In the email, I expressed how if I’ve done anything wrong, I’d love to know and apologize for it. I never received a response. I had been left without.
The death of someone you’ve had a close relationship with is terrible. But so is the death of a relationship with someone who is still very much alive.
Grieve it. Lament it. Express your pain.
As Naomi and Ruth are back in Bethlehem, Ruth decides to go to the fields to pick up leftover grain. She just so happens to be working a field that belongs to Boaz, who just so happens to be a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. Boaz shows Ruth favor. She wonders why.
Ruth 2:11-12 Boaz replied, “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.”
May the LORD repay you. May you be richly rewarded. Boaz becomes Ruth’s guardian or kinsman redeemer.
Ruth 4:13-17 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Ruth is not left without.
Naomi is not left without. The women tell her, “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not LEFT YOU WITHOUT a guardian-redeemer.
Naomi doesn’t get her husband back. She doesn’t get her sons back.
Ruth doesn’t get her husband back.
Ruth does get Boaz. She does get a son. Naomi does get a grandson.
What these women tell Naomi provides a great principle for us.
While we won’t usually get the person back, God can provide new relationships that bring some joy and take some of the sting away.
Acknowledge what and who you have been left without, at least at this time. Grieve, pour out your heart to God and others. And church, we are not in a competition to prove which of us has lost the most. Loss is loss.
Ask for God to give you a person or people. Not to replace the person you lost, but to renew and sustain your life. Ask him to bring relational fullness where you have relational emptiness.
Think about your relational commitments. Is there anyone you need to deepen your commitment to? Who might God be calling you to offer a ministry of presence to?
If we can’t count on relationships that will always be present, what relational promises can we count on?
Psalm 27:10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.
Hebrews 13:5-6 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
NEVER leave you or forsake you. So we say with CONFIDENCE. Did Ruth actually learn this secret? Let’s go back to Ruth 2:12. Remember, she has asked Boaz why he’s favored her. Listen to what he says as you think about the fact that we have a God who will never leave us.
Ruth 2:12 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.
Ruth had found her refuge in God…the God who would never leave her and never forsake her. You can too.