When we find ourselves face-to-face with someone in pain, it tears at our hearts too. But even in our deep empathy and compassion, we often find ourselves unsure of how to respond in the face of so much brokenness. In her Bible study Finding Your Place in God’s Story, Teresa Swanstrom Anderson explores how God used the women in Jesus’ lineage to unexpectedly change the world amid their broken circumstances and shows us how we can do the same. It is a grace to welcome Teresa to the farm’s table today…

Guest Post by Teresa Swanstrom Anderson

Four of our children are adopted, and that comes with heartache. The thing is, people often like to put adoption in a pretty little box. We’ve heard stuff like “They must be so thankful to have you” and “It’s so great you saved them!” (ugh).

“The reality is, although our story is beautiful, it’s also full of significant loss.”

The reality is, although our story is beautiful, it’s also full of significant loss. One of my daughters cries for her “Ethiopia Mommy” every single day. Every day! No matter how much we laugh and love in our family, my children carry stories filled with deep, deep pain (and no, we certainly didn’t “save” them).

Sadly, that’s life. But why is it that we so often romanticize hard stuff?

Is it that we can’t handle the pain-filled truth that life is difficult?

“Trying to turn something into a pretty picture undervalues the beauty in the struggle.”

Trying to turn something into a pretty picture undervalues the beauty in the struggle. It causes us to miss the richness and redemption of love.

So let’s talk about the book of Ruth. Because I think we tend to do the same kind of thing to this story.

The Bible currently in front of me says that “the book of Ruth is a delightful short story with a classical plot that moves from crisis to complication to resolution . . . inviting us to identify with [characters’] personal anxieties and joys and in the end to celebrate the movement from emptiness and frustration to fulfillment and joy.”[1]

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel like it really captures what’s happening here.

Ruth’s life is hard.

Her husband is dead. The other two men in her husband’s family, her brother-in-law and her father-in-law, are also dead. This means she’s lost all her protection and security in a world that was not kind to women.

As you read her story, think about what she might have been feeling. Think about the temptation to despair, the fear of starvation, the grief of loss.

The book of Ruth isn’t a sweet love story plopped down to add some levity between the heaviness of Judges and 1 Samuel.

“The real human cost in this story is heavy.”

The real human cost in this story is heavy.

This isn’t Pride and Prejudice, and Boaz is not Mr. Darcy.

Ruth’s story begins with another woman’s massive pain and loss. Naomi has lost everything—her land, her husband, her sons, her home. Ruth and her sister-in-law were both married for a decade, and neither had children.

Naomi’s family line had come to an end. This was it. Life as she knew it was over. With no male family member to provide food, shelter, and safety, she was doomed to become destitute. She’s an outsider in a foreign country. And things in her own country were dark and painful.

All this stress heaped high on top of her deep grief.

Naomi was a female Job.

Or, as Carolyn Custis James says, “I think Naomi actually out-Jobed Job.”[2]

Think about it. Both Naomi and Job suffered the loss of a life they spent years creating and caring for. They both endured massive tragedy in the death of their family members. And yet Job still had his wife and friends by his side (not that they were helpful and encouraging, but still).

And also?

Job was not a woman (with no rights) and an immigrant (which equaled major second-class status).

Blow after blow became too much for Naomi.

It was just. too. much.

The woman is grieving. She’s barely surviving, and she’s done.

D-O-N-E and undone.

There’s nothing left for Naomi in Moab, so she’s going home, though she’s been gone for years and doesn’t have an actual home to go home to.

Would her community embrace her? Would they even remember her?

Yet what does Ruth do?

Ruth, too, has lost everything. Her husband. The hope of children. But Ruth perhaps would have had a home to go back to. She could have started over right where she was. She was, after all, among her people in Moab. At the very least, she wasn’t an outsider.

But Ruth does something extraordinary. She walks alongside. She goes with. She loves radically.

Radical love is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus uses the unexpected, the marginalized, the outsider, to point the way toward radical love.

“as we act in radical love, as we move toward the broken, we participate in the restoration of all things.”

Ruth shows us a glimpse of what Jesus ultimately showed us: that as we act in radical love, as we move toward the broken, we participate in the restoration of all things.

Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!

Ruth 1:16-17, msg

What if there was space made in your day to talk to the Lord about being brave enough to love radically even in the middle of your pain?

What might it look like to bring and be His love in any and all of the brokenness around you today?

Teresa Swanstrom Anderson is an author, speaker, and Bible-study teacher. She is the author of Beautifully Interrupted and the Get Wisdom Bible Studies. Her study Living for What Really Matters was a 2021 ECPA Award Finalist in the Bible Study category. She lives in Denver, CO, with her husband and six children and is passionate about helping women understand the Bible.

Finding Your Place in God’s Story is a Bible study that equips women to study Scripture for themselves and discover how to participate more fully in the story of God. The lineage of Jesus is full of surprising, imperfect people, but perhaps none more than the five women memorialized in Matthew 1. These women are not the expected matriarchs like Eve or Sarah or Rebekah. Their stories are hard and complicated. And every one of these women is just like us: resoundingly ordinary, tainted by sin, and yet unexpectedly used to change the world when they found their place in God’s story.

[ Our humble thanks to NavPress for their partnership in today’s devotion ]

[1] Holy Land Illustrated Bible: A Visual Exploration of the People, Places, and Things of Scripture (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 345.

[2] Carolyn Custis James, The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 44.