BLOG: (June 6-12) Ruth; 1 Samuel 1-3, "Lessons from Ruth and Hannah: Choosing God in the Wilderness"
What do you do when life sends you on a different path than you expected? When you were looking for a promised land, but instead you found yourself in a wilderness? The Lord sees the big picture for our lives. He knows what we hope for, what we dream of, the righteous desires of our hearts. If we will let Him, He will bring us to our personal promised land. But often, the path to that land of promise leads straight through a wilderness. Lynda Cherry said this about the universality of life’s wilderness experiences:
There is a pattern repeated throughout scripture that is valuable when considering our own lives and experiences: often, when the Lord calls and separates an individual or a people unto Himself, He removes them from their current environment and sends them into the wilderness, where through their extremities, they learn to rely upon Him and come to understand what a covenant relationship with the Lord really is. It is only after their trials and resultant life-lessons that they are enabled to enter into their respective promised lands.
Most of us have, or will, experience wilderness periods in our lives, even if we don’t physically leave home. There are times when we feel lost and confused, removed from the comfort of knowing with certainty where we are and where we are going. Events may change the course we had planned; loved ones may die or leave us. We may wonder if God is still aware of us. Does He know what is happening to us, and can this empty desert of the heart really be a part of His plan?
Lynda Cherry, in The Redemption of the Bride, chapter 7
Ruth and Hannah are beautiful examples of women who went through wilderness experiences and chose to rely on the Lord. We can learn so much from their stories about how to navigate the wilderness periods in our lives.
Ruth was a woman from the land of Moab who married into an Israelite family and adopted their faith. When her husband and his brother died, she and her sister-in-law, Orpah, were left alone with their mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi ultimately decided to return to her people in Bethlehem, and she told her daughters-in-law to return to their families, who could provide for them. Orpah did so, but Ruth would not leave Naomi. So they went to Bethlehem together.
I cannot imagine the pain of leaving my home with a husband and two sons, then losing all of them and having to return widowed and childless. What a tragic turn of events for Naomi!
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? (Ruth 1:20-21)
Women at that time who did not have a husband or son to provide for them were basically destitute. Naomi had no property of her own, and would have been left to glean the fields for her food. But instead, Ruth gleaned for both of them. Her faithfulness inspired Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz, to invite her to glean only in his fields, and to instruct his servants to leave barley there for her intentionally, to ease that burden for her. Eventually, Ruth’s faithfulness and loyalty to Naomi led to a marriage with Boaz and the birth of a son. King David and Jesus Christ came through their lineage.
Hannah wished desperately to be a mother, but no child came. Her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, taunted her and caused her grief. Their husband, Elkanah, loved Hannah dearly, but couldn’t fill the hole in her heart, though he tried to help and care for her all he could. Hannah needed heavenly help to find peace. She turned to the Lord in her sorrow, and He ultimately chose to bless her with a son, Samuel, who became the prophet, and with other children too.
What did Ruth and Hannah have in common? Surely they both experienced broken hearts, fear, loneliness, grief, and moments of despair. But though their outward circumstances could have been overpowering, they chose to move forward and do what they could. Ruth kept her faith. She stayed with Naomi, and cared for her. She was kind to Boaz, and he was kind to her, and the Lord blessed her - not in the way I’m sure she initially hoped for, but in His own way and time. Hannah struggled with infertility and a painful relationship with her sister-wife. She kept her faith. She kept going to the temple and praying. Instead of turning her back on God, she turned to Him. He heard her prayers. And when He blessed her, she remembered Him, and praised Him, and knew that He was the source of her blessings.
I think it’s instructive to note that while we don’t know the whole story for Ruth and Hannah, it isn’t their tragic experiences we remember them for; it is their response to those experiences and the blessings which came to them later. Ruth and Hannah couldn’t have known the difference their stories would make to generations of believers. They were just trying to hold onto their faith and keep going for one more day. And yet, thousands of years later, we still remember them.
Are we sometimes too quick to condemn ourselves for the way we respond to our wilderness moments? I struggle with fear and doubt; I worry and I get overwhelmed, and I panic sometimes. But are those the things that define me? I imagine Ruth and Hannah had their moments of fear and doubt too. But they kept going anyway, and so do I. If I could step back and view myself from a different vantage point, what would I see? I think I would see a woman of faith. I would see my choice to cling to the Lord, to turn to Him instead of away from Him. I would see my valiant efforts to do whatever I can to bring the light into my life when I can’t see my way, to qualify myself for the Lord’s guidance and direction when I need it most. It is so hard to be in the wilderness! And I do not do it perfectly. No one does, not even Ruth and Hannah. When we find ourselves in that place, instead of condemning ourselves for struggling, I hope we will take a step back and recognize that we might be more like Ruth and Hannah than we give ourselves credit for. They were real women, with real feelings. They chose to let their suffering refine them instead of breaking them. And every step we take toward the Lord, even in our wildernesses, is a choice to do the same.
What can we do when we find ourselves in a wilderness?
We can choose to be grateful.
Being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God. It requires that we trust God and hope for things we may not see but which are true. By being grateful, we follow the example of our beloved Savior, who said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.”
True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.
In any circumstance, our sense of gratitude is nourished by the many and sacred truths we do know: that our Father has given His children the great plan of happiness; that through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect, and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss will be replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Grateful in Any Circumstances)
We can slow down and focus on what matters most.
One of the things we learn from studying the growth of trees is that during seasons when conditions are ideal, trees grow at a normal rate. However, during seasons when growing conditions are not ideal, trees slow down their growth and devote their energy to the basic elements necessary for survival.
It is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Of Things That Matter Most)
We can recognize that we are in a wilderness, and that it is leading us somewhere we want to go, even if we don’t see how right now.
Initially, we may view our times in the wilderness as times of bleakness, for invariably, they represent a departure from the path we thought we wanted to travel. But scripturally, they are times of spiritual learning and preparation. Yes, the wilderness is often a place of sorrow and pain, but the Lord promises us that through these “furnaces of affliction” we become “refined and chosen.”
Our personal wilderness experiences are an invitation to come to know the Lord. To those who seek it, spiritual relief and nourishment can be found in the wilderness. Once we stop looking back at what we have left behind, or what we perceive as having been taken from us, we, like the children of Israel, can begin to see the tender mercies and the miracles that await us.
When we surrender our hearts to the Savior, the wilderness can become a veritable temple, a mount of revelation, not dissimilar from the Garden of Eden or Mount Sinai. In the wilderness quiet, we can hear the voice of the Lord.
We are not lost when we find ourselves in the wilderness of life; the eye of the Shepherd is upon us. We, as did the pioneers of the early Church, may become “acquainted with the Lord through our extremities,” even as He has known us through His.
The wilderness days will come. They always do for those who wish to enter into the promised land. Before we may do so, we must come to know the Lord for ourselves and enter into covenant with Him. May we remember the promise of the Lord when we next encounter a wilderness before us: “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.” (Lynda Cherry, The Redemption of the Bride)
And most importantly, we can turn to Christ.
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)
…in the midst of this refiner’s fire, rather than get angry with God, get close to God. Call upon the Father in the name of the Son. Walk with Them in the Spirit, day by day. Allow Them over time to manifest Their fidelity to you. Come truly to know Them and truly to know yourself. Let God prevail. (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Our Relationship with God)
With Jesus Christ as our anchor and perfect partner, we are assured of His loving strength in trial and of eventual deliverance through Him. As President M. Russell Ballard taught: “Faith in God and in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the … anchor we must have in our lives to hold us fast during times of social turbulence and wickedness. … Our faith … must be centered in Jesus Christ, his life and his atonement, and in the restoration of his gospel.” (Jean B. Bingham, Covenants with God Strengthen, Protect, and Prepare Us for Eternal Glory)
The mountains in our lives do not always move how or when we would like. But our faith will always propel us forward. Faith always increases our access to godly power.
Please know this: if everything and everyone else in the world whom you trust should fail, Jesus Christ and His Church will never fail you. The Lord never slumbers, nor does He sleep. He “is the same yesterday, today, and [tomorrow].” He will not forsake His covenants, His promises, or His love for His people. He works miracles today, and He will work miracles tomorrow.
Faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest power available to us in this life. All things are possible to them that believe.
Your growing faith in Him will move mountains—not the mountains of rock that beautify the earth but the mountains of misery in your lives. Your flourishing faith will help you turn challenges into unparalleled growth and opportunity. (President Russell M. Nelson, Christ is Risen: Faith in Him will Move Mountains)
Choosing to walk by faith invites the Lord to lead us. When we let Him prevail in our lives, even in our wildernesses, we will find that He walks with us, that He provides for us - temporally, emotionally, and spiritually - day by day, and that He is leading us to a better land than we could have imagined. He loves us, and He is working for our good, even when we can't see it. May we keep our eyes on Him and our hands in His as we continue to press forward along the covenant path. Even when we don't know the way, He does. He is the way, and He will lead us home, if we let Him.