We all have times in our lives where things don’t make sense. Where something – or someone – we love is taken away. Maybe you’re there right now.
Or maybe it’s not that extreme for you. It could be simply that the pieces of your life aren’t fitting together and you wonder what God is up to. You sense that God is up to something, but you have no idea what he’s up to.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
An Ancient Tale Of Disaster
Nearly 3,000 years ago, Naomi found herself in a similar situation.
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)
Any way you look at it, this was a disaster. In the space of 10 years, Naomi’s entire life had come undone. A famine drove her family to a foreign country where no one worshiped their God. First her husband died. Then, her sons married women who didn’t share her faith. Then her sons died, too. She was left all alone.
We’d all agree that this was tough. But we can’t really understand what she was going through. Today, someone like Naomi might at least be provided for through her husband’s life insurance policy. She might reconnect with extended family, jump on a plane, and stay with them while she got her life back together. Or find a job in the city while she went back to school. Or take advantage of a government program that would lend a hand. Or… something.
But back then, being an older woman with no family was to be without hope. What in the world was she going to do?
Again, some of you may be in a similar place. (Hugs!) But I’m guessing that many more of you are just in a season of transition, wondering what the heck God is up to. Or, in a time where the winds of changing are swirling in no obvious direction.
How do you think about that? What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Here are 4 clues from this ancient story.
- You can be honest. I love how straight-forward God’s Word is. The opening verses of Ruth don’t sugarcoat anything. They just plainly state the facts: there was a famine and all of Naomi’s immediate family died. Later, in verse 13, Naomi talks about how bitter her life is. When the circumstances of your life don’t make sense, you can be completely honest with God about it. You don’t have to say, ‘I’m fine’.
- The outcome is uncertain from our perspective. For Naomi, there was no obvious way forward. After her sons died, she had a house and neighbors, but that’s about it. She had no idea how her story was going to continue, let alone end. It’s OK if you don’t, either. And in our culture, where clear plans and control are prized (worshiped), it can be freeing to admit you don’t know where all this is going.
- God will start to move your story forward. This is where it starts to get really interesting. Just when it couldn’t get any worse, Naomi hears ‘that the Lord had visited his people [in Judah] and given them food’ (verse 6). God loves to show up when we come to the end of our wisdom and resources. When life bottoms out for you, or when you’re in a period of uncertainty, at some point God will begin to provide clues for what He’s up to.
- Our job: simply take the next step. After Naomi hears that there’s food in Judah (her homeland) again, she takes the next obvious step. ‘So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah’ (verse 7). As you look at your life, has God given you some possible next steps? You don’t need a master plan, which will overwhelm you and change anyway. Are you willing to take the next, tiny step?
I remember the time when our son, Matthew, was diagnosed with autism. That was 13 years ago, when autism wasn’t on (nearly) anyone’s radar screen. We were terrified. Our circumstances were different, but we felt a lot like Naomi.
Looking back, though, this part of our family’s story followed the general shape of Naomi’s journey. God invited us to be honest about our anger and confusion as we faced an uncertain future. He began to move our story forward by providing helpful doctors, consultants and friends. And as we discovered that there weren’t adequate services for Matthew where we lived, we knew we would need to move as soon as possible. So, we began by networking to find possible ministry opportunities in Philadelphia, the closest place with the resources Matthew needed.
I’m not sure where you are today, but I know that you’re facing challenges. You may not know where to start, but this ancient story is one great place to begin.
Let’s live it out: What challenge in your life feels overwhelming and confusing right now? And, which of the 4 steps above would help you most right now? Share it with our community in the comments section below so that we grow together.