What Do We Do When God is Not Doing What We Want?
On October 2, 2020 I became a widow. My husband Gary’s death was not unexpected. For almost 17 months my husband had suffered a slow decline due to a brain cancer called glioblastoma. While Gary never got Covid, he endured many restrictions because of Covid’s danger. After months of home care, the last month he was isolated from us in a care facility. I found standing at the ground floor window, trying to help Gary find his cell phone to be exhausting emotionally. The nurses were so good to keep it charged. One day after coaxing him for twenty minutes he finally found his phone in his pocket, answered it and said, “Jan I can’t talk now, I am sleepy and need a nap.” Leaving him I burst into tears knowing he was pulling away. Sadly, this incident was my last real conversation with my husband on earth. At the end we were able to bring him home on hospice and Gary died surrounded by our love.
The words I would speak at Gary’s funeral I had written the year before. I found it very comforting while caring for him to think about what I could say to honor my husband. Gary was a long-range planner and he always had contingency plans on top of contingency plans. Gary believed considering the future reduced stress during times of change. He wasn’t wrong. He would say, “Nobody likes change, but we like it better if we can exercise some control over what we experience.” So, I wrote and practiced, and grieved prematurely the loss of my husband.
After my husband’s funeral, I started looking at the book of Ruth in the Old Testament. This story of two widows, one older and one younger has comforted me in many ways. I see in their grief work, principles that would help us all cope with the things we don’t like in our lives. God does not always give us the life we want, but I believe he always gives us the life we need if we are going to accomplish his higher purposes. Look at Ruth 2:1-13
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest”
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn. Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him,“Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have have found favor in your eyes my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” ESV
In verse 2 of chapter 2, Ruth expresses an expectation that she will find favor in someone’s eyes. This will actually happen in verses 10-13. Why do you think Ruth could find this confidence?
When I first read these verses I wondered if Ruth was a beautiful woman and was used to finding the favor of men because of her good looks? Doors open for beautiful people that don’t open for others. Or, was Ruth’s confidence based on her work ethic? We do find in this story that Ruth was not afraid of hard work.
Was her declaration in verse 2 an act of faith? We know from chapter 1 that Ruth had embraced Naomi’s God. Was this statement an expression of her reliance that God would provide the favor? I think so. Ruth had abandoned everything in her old life and now she put her faith in God.
When God isn’t doing what we want, we can still trust him.
Even when God is allowing things into our lives that we don’t like, we still have the ability to put our trust in him. We can believe that he is in control, and we can trust in his goodness even when we don’t understand our circumstances. Ruth and Naomi were not happy to be widows, but they could still trust in God. I am not happy I am a widow, but I can still put my faith in God, and when I do God restores my peace.
Interestingly, the thing that caught Boaz’s attention was the kindness that Ruth had shown to Naomi and her faith in God. Like Ruth, Boaz’s mother Rahab, had once been a foreigner to the blessings and promises of Israel. But, Rahab’s courageous move to hide the Jewish spies caused the Jews to invite her into their lives and community (Joshua 6:22-25). Discovering an unexpected woman of valor would definitely intrigue Boaz’s. Review Ruth 2:10-12.
Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
God gave her favor because of her faith in him.
These two women had experienced a series of terrible losses, God had not behaved as Naomi wanted. Ruth did not know what to expect, but she knew enough to move to trust God. Her small act of faith will be richly rewarded and it started by embracing the need in front of her and not living in denial. Even in our day widowhood has many challenges, our denial will only make it worse. There are things we are forced to tackle as a widowed, that we never had to do as a wife. Until we can accept the reality of our loss we will be blinded to God’s path forward. We think we can only trust God when we understand why something is happening, but that is not true. Faith in God is based on his character not our grasp of the situation. Unfortunately, our desire to understand will drive us away from trust.
When God isn’t doing what we want, we can still stay open.
In Ruth chapter 2 Naomi recognizes the huge blessing Ruth is to her. Other people are also noticing Ruth’s devotion to Naomi. But, Ruth was a non-traditional blessing to Naomi, meaning she wasn’t what Naomi expected God to use to encourage her. We expect a husband and children to bless us, unfortunately we don’t usually expect God to use a daughter-in-law.
When God isn’t doing what we want we can still stay open, so we don’t miss what he is doing. In her deep grief in Ruth chapter 1 Naomi had been blinded to the huge gift right in front of her, her daughter-in-law Ruth. We need to realize all of God’s plans are perfect, even though there may be parts of his plans that are hard for us. Trusting God takes great courage. His designs are always wider and more inclusive than what we could hope for. We simply dream to small and too narrow. When we zero in on what we want, especially in our grief, instead of staying open to God, we can be blinded to what God is busy accomplishing.
When God isn’t doing what we want, we can still tell ourselves the truth.
These two women were destitute and poor, but they still had options. Ruth could glean in the fields. When circumstances are spinning out of control it is very important that we listen to the right voices, voices of truth. It is normal to feel extreme sadness when we undergo a loss, but wallowing in self-pity can either destroy us or immobilize us.
When I miss my husband I grieve, I weep, and I cry, but I try very hard to also tell myself the truth. I remember that during this pandemic, if Gary were still alive, he would be miserable and alone in a care facility. We would not be able to visit him and the cancer would have more time to ravage his brilliant mind. Gary had a terminal illness. He was dying. During these days of Covid watching someone you love in agony feels ten times harder because of the intense isolation. I miss my husband, but he is in a better place and no longer suffering. Gary is having the time of his life in heaven. He is happy and he wants me to be happy. This is the liberating truth that sets me free.
These two widows living in a male dominated, agrarian society could easily have felt sorry for themselves, but instead they choose to believe in God’s goodness. Desiring to embrace truth led Ruth and Naomi beyond their circumstances into the glorious future God had prepared for them.
God was writing a beautiful story with Naomi’s life and it had a plot twist that would bring God all the glory. The same is true in our lives. Through Ruth, Naomi’s life will intersect with Messiah’s linage. Spoiler alert, there is a baby involved in this drama. Ruth and Boaz’s will eventually marry, from their union little Obed will be born and make Naomi a grandmother. Obed will grow up to become the father of Jesse, who will become the father of King David. Jesus the Jewish Messiah will descend through King David’s linage, and trace his family’s heritage all the way back to these two faithful women, who bravely faced down bitterness, scarcity, and two broken hearts.
I am sure these two widows had no idea their emotional distress and subsequent trust in God would usher in the Savior of the world. What blessings might our faith in God bring into our world? Four months after Gary’s death our family welcomed a new grandson. Every time I look at this little one I see my husband’s eyes. Holding this newborn gives me great hope for our tomorrows. When I reflect on Ruth and Naomi’s lives, I am reminded that with God in control our losses are more about protecting the future outcome God desires, than they are about our past or present circumstances. God is often orchestrating monumental changes when we experience a trial.
What we are going through and how we go through it has the power to influence many lives. Will we be a force for good or force for evil? In our grief will we sow faith or will we sow despair? Morning is important, but morning is not meant to last forever. After the sorrow will our joy return? Like Ruth and Naomi, when God is not doing what we want, we can still trust him, still stay open, and still tell ourselves the truth.