Friday, October 13, 2017

you belong.

I recently finished reading Brene Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness. Perhaps for that reason, I have been thinking a lot about belonging. I remember having a conversation with my brother, years ago, about how in any given group of people, I felt like an outsider in one way or another. I’ve wondered since then if that was unique to me or if, as I suspect, most other people feel the same way. 

I’ve been reading the book of Ruth this week, and the word “foreigner” stood out to me. As the Moabite widow of an Israelite, Ruth made the surprising decision to forego returning to her homeland after her husband’s death in order to remain with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. Together, they returned to Bethlehem once the famine there had ended. Soon after, Ruth met Naomi’s wealthy relative, Boaz. When Ruth first met Boaz, who offered Ruth food and protection, Ruth asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10). 

The land, people, and God of Israel were all foreign to Ruth, and her question seems to indicate that her identity as a foreigner was at the forefront of her mind, as something that should have disqualified her from Boaz’s favor. Ruth’s identity and situation made her vulnerable several times over—as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner. The Bible speaks over and over of the Lord’s directive for His followers to care for the most vulnerable people in society: the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner, among others. Jesus Christ, Himself, seemed to go out of His way to spend time and build relationships with women, children, sinners, tax collectors, outcasts, the sick, the poor, and the unclean. He loves all of His children, but I think it’s safe to say that He has a soft spot for the most vulnerable. 

Boaz’s acceptance, praise, and blessing of Ruth eventually turned to his willingness to redeem her through marriage. This meant that her first husband’s line would continue, and provision would be made for Ruth and Naomi. After Boaz praised Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi (Ruth 2:11-12), Ruth began to refer to herself as “your maidservant” (Ruth 2:13) instead of “a foreigner.” Through his kindness and acceptance, her identity shifted from a foreigner to one who belonged. The son they had together would be the grandfather of David, and ultimately, part of the lineage of Jesus. As I thought about this, Brene Brown’s phrase from Braving the Wilderness kept coming to mind: “No one belongs here more than you.”

We are all misfits in one way or another, caught up in our own messes, each with our own vulnerabilities. Some of us are vulnerable through our very identities — our age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, or physical or mental differences, among other things. Like Boaz, the rest of us have a responsibility as followers of Christ to really see these vulnerable ones and to do what we can to notice them, to build relationships with them, to show them kindness, to educate ourselves, to listen to them without judgement, and to learn from them how we can be truly helpful. Psalm 85:3-4 says, 

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

This takes active, intentional work on the part of the privileged. Boaz, privileged as a man and as a wealthy person, saw Ruth, noticed her, inquired about who she was, and initiated conversation with her. He honored and elevated her with his kindness. He helped her with his offer of food and protection, but he also listened when she communicated what she needed through what was basically her very bold proposal of marriage (Ruth 3).

I’m not sure what parts of your identity, past, experiences, shortcomings, failures, etc. make you feel vulnerable, but God sees these parts of you clearly, knows them intimately, and cares deeply. He is the Father to the fatherless, the defender of the weak (Psalm 68:5). I believe that an important step in helping others is to experience our own healing so that we have the courage and security we need to take the risks involved in loving others well. When we are coming from a place of security, we can see others more easily and show compassion more readily. We are freed up to move beyond our own pain and enter in to the pain of others. We can listen openly, without offering judgmental or defensive responses. 

To be human and alive is to be vulnerable and capable of being hurt. Whoever you are, whatever identities you hold, the same thing is true for each of us: in the words of Brene Brown, “No one belongs here more than you.” You are the reason Jesus came. If you have any doubts about how He feels about the vulnerable ones, be encouraged. He came to defend, heal, bless, save, protect, and restore you. This passage from Isaiah 61 mentions just some of the groups the Lord came to defend, as well as His glorious plans for them:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

--Isaiah 61


Melissa Schlies said...

I too have felt like an outsider--and I am finding more and more I am not the only one! Thank you for this Biblical reminder that God calls us His, that we belong.

Heather said...

I love this perspective on Ruth! I had never noticed the identity shift she made. This is beautiful!

Heather Bock

Lindsay said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

Lindsay said...

Thanks Heather! My study Bible helps me notice nuances that can be so meaningful! I love how rich His word is.