Lesson 1: Why Women Need Women
Diane was flooded with joy as she looked down at the newborn son in her arms. Feeling almost triumphant, she rode down the hospital hall in a wheelchair, headed for home. Just five days before, little Todd had been delivered by Caesarean section, and although Diane's spirits were strong, her legs were not. She was grateful not to be walking all the way to the parking lot.
Her husband Gordon pulled the car up to the curb, and gingerly strapped the baby into the infant carrier. Settling in for the ride, Diane felt a wave of fatigue.
"I'm sure glad you're taking the week off to help me, Honey. I don't think I could have managed both babies without you. I just hope Terry doesn't feel too jealous of Todd."
Two-year-old Terry, their other son, was awaiting their arrival at the next-door neighbors' house. As Diane turned to smile at the sleeping infant in the back seat, she caught her breath in pain. She was still very sore.
Gordon cleared his throat. "Uh, Honey, I need to talk to you about taking the week off."
She stared at her husband. Surely he wasn't going to let her down now. Not this time!
"Talk about what?"
"Well, you know it's end-of-the-month, and John doesn't think he can spare me at the office. I kept saying no, I had to help you. But he finally talked me into working when he offered to pay for a maid to help you."
Tears filled Diane's eyes. She looked out the side window, not wanting Gordon to know how wounded she felt. It wasn't just the fact that she needed her husband's help, although she needed it very badly. Didn't he want to take care of her?
" Well, are you upset or what?" Her silence annoyed Gordon and he sounded defensive.
"I . . . I'm just disappointed. Gordon, I have no idea where to find a maid. Nobody we know even has a cleaning lady. And I wouldn't know where to begin looking for someone I could trust with my babies. Besides, I thought you'd want to be there with Todd and me . . ."
"Well, look. If I don't do things John's way, I won't have a job, and we won't even be able to feed Todd and Terry. Besides, you're tough. You can handle it."
Diane looked out the window again. I am tough, she thought. I've had to be.
Things went better than she'd hoped when Terry ran across the lawn to greet her. How she'd missed him at the hospital! The little brown-eyed toddler had been her pride and joy every day for two wonderful years.
"Come meet your new brother!"
Terry ran to her arms and then surveyed the little bundle in the car seat. "Baby?" he said inquisitively. He spontaneously reached over and touched Todd's face. "Baby," he said to himself, quite satisfied with his conclusion.
She took Terry in her arms, saddened that she couldn't pick him up—her stitches wouldn't permit it. She had always carried him. Would he feel neglected now if she didn't?
"I'm taking the rest of the afternoon off," Gordon announced generously, "so I can help you out."
Next morning Diane was exhausted—she'd been up since five o'clock. Todd had nursed every two hours all night, and
Terry had awakened her twice while Todd slept. Gordon hadn't heard a thing and had left for work at seven o'clock. Fatigue made her limbs ache. At eight, the phone began to ring, well-meaning friends calling in their congratulations.
"I'm hungry," Terry informed her, and she slowly shuffled into the kitchen to feed him. Another phone call interrupted her, and while she was talking, the little boy opened the refrigerator and knocked a full carton of milk and a half-eaten pie onto the floor. Diane couldn't bend over, and the mop wasn't particularly effective in cleaning up the pie.
Ants. I'm going to have a million ants . . .
Just then Todd started to cry.
"Baby cry!" Terry proclaimed, running toward the nursery.
"No, Terry! Don't touch him!" Diane rushed—too fast—to keep Terry from trying to pick up the now-squalling infant. Breast milk suddenly soaked the front of her robe.
She picked up Todd, sank heavily onto the bed, and began to nurse him, feeling dizzy and shaky. Fear rippled through her. What if I pass out? I won't. I just can't!
Terry watched his little brother nurse and tugged at Diane's robe. It hadn't been all that long since she'd weaned him, and he somehow felt hurt by his new brother's closeness to her.
Tears for Terry stung her eyes. She loved him so dearly, and he was too little to understand the intrusion of a new baby. Diane's tears were for herself, too, because she felt abandoned by her husband. She wasn't really angry—it was her nature to make excuses for his negligence. But she was hurt, and her pain was acute, aggravated by exhaustion and surging postpartum hormones.
She gradually began to weep, deeply and sorrowfully. "Mommy cry! Mommy cry!" Terry looked at her in dismay and patted her arm. It made her feel ten times worse. "God, help me . . ."
Her eyes fell on the phone, which hadn't rung for all of fifteen minutes. As much as she hated to admit it, she needed help. But who could she call?
She tried to focus her weary mind on her list of friends. Everyone she could think of was either at work or had little ones at home. Then she remembered Laurie Hawkins.
Laurie was a woman at their church who had been linked with her through an innovative program called Heart-to-Heart. The two women had committed themselves to a supportive Christian friendship, and talked and prayed regularly, usually by phone. Laurie was twenty years older than Diane, and had raised several children of her own. She'd called the hospital once, and Diane vaguely recalled her having said something like, "Let me know if you need anything."
She's probably going to wish she hadn't offered . . . but here goes. Balancing Todd against her breast, Diane tried to remember the number which she should have known by heart. Her mind was blank. She fumbled through the H's in the church directory until she found the right number. Terry began to scream, as he often did, when she picked up the receiver.
"Shh!" she frowned at him. It was all she could do to hear the friendly "Hello" on the other end of the line.
"Laurie? It's Diane." Terry's wails continued.
"Well, hello! You're home! How are you doing there? Sounds like you've got your hands full."
"Oh, I'm fine. I just . . ." Unexpectedly, Diane's voice broke. "I guess I need some help," she whispered.
"I'll be right over."
Laurie was at the door in less than an hour. Her arms were filled with groceries, videos for Terry to watch, and a stuffed animal for him to play with. "I didn't bring anything for the baby. He doesn't know the difference right now anyway, and this little guy needs all the attention he can get!"
Diane began to cry again, this time with relief and gratitude. She explained the entire situation to the older woman, and even managed to express her disappointment with Gordon. "I can understand your feelings, Diane, and I know it's not the first time this kind of thing has happened. But for now just forgive him. Gordon loves you, and he thinks he's doing the best for you by pleasing his boss and keeping his job secure. That's the way men think. You can talk it over with him later when you're stronger. But go lie down now, while Todd's asleep. You'll feel better when you wake up."
When Diane awoke, the house was orderly, fresh laundry was in the dryer, Terry was happily watching cartoons, and Todd was in Laurie's arms quietly sucking on a pacifier. "I can never thank you enough, Laurie."
"Well, don't thank me yet—I still want to make dinner. Listen, Diane, if it's all right with you, I'm going to come over for the next few days. Frankly, I think you're going to need help for at least a week."
A Heartfelt Cry
Yes, women need women. And as demonstrated by Diane's story, our own church in Dallas, Texas, has successfully launched a formal program called Heart-to-Heart, which links women into relationships for prayer, encouragement, emotional support, and friendship. In our particular situation, we place senior/junior partners together for a year's time. The two agree to meet together at least once a month and to speak to each other by phone no less than once a week. They are "officially" committed to one another for this period of time, but their friendships usually last far longer. (For more information about Heart-to-Heart, please see the Appendix.)
Not long ago, after speaking at a women's retreat, I received a note.
I am thirty-four years old, the wife of a policeman who works rotating shifts, the mother of three children, two in school and one in preschool. I am very excited about what you have been teaching us. I found myself choking back tears the whole time, because you were addressing so many things relevant to my life. I would so love to have an older godly Christian woman teach me! You are right on target when you say there aren't support groups for one another anymore. People are all working outside the home and those of us who feel called to be at home suffer with isolation and loneliness.
Everywhere I go, I hear the same cry from women—young and old, rich and poor, married and single. "I'm lonely. I'm tired. I'm discouraged and depressed. My husband just doesn't understand my needs. My mother isn't there for me. Does anybody care? Will anybody help me, or even listen to me?"
Now, more than ever, godly women should be reaching out, stepping out, and speaking out. In today's world we're being confronted with challenges never before faced by any generation. Dramatic social changes. An astronomically high divorce rate. A large percentage of mothers working outside the home. Materialism that has deceived us into thinking that "things" are more important than people. The media-inspired concept that only career women are fulfilling themselves as individuals. All of this has contributed to unrest, dissatisfaction, and confusion.
Feminists with a humanistic world-view have been talking about women's concerns for years. On some points we can agree with them. Self-esteem is not derived from our connection to a man. We know that it is not found in raising children successfully, nor is it the by-product of career success or material wealth. But Christian women have more than an "inner self" to provide us with personal guidance and satisfaction. Christians have access to Someone beyond ourselves, giving us unlimited power and resources, and matchless hope for the future.
As women of God, our self-esteem lies in the immense value God, our Creator, has placed upon and within us.
Our Creator has not only given us a priceless position in His creation, He has also provided us with clear instruction as to our proper place in other women's lives. Whether we involve ourselves in formal programs, such as Heart-to-Heart (which, by the way, I highly recommend), or we simply choose to care for those in our circle of acquaintances informally, we have a wonderful biblical mandate for such relationships. God's Word promises every Christian woman strength, direction, and support, not only for herself, but for those she wants to help.
Wise Advice to a Young Pastor
Women helping women is not a new idea at all. It was initiated in the Christian church some two thousand years ago. In the first century Paul the Apostle sent a letter to a young pastor named Titus, whom he had dispatched to the Island of Crete. Titus' job was to help the young church there grow to maturity. Titus faced two major problems. Those new believers had been raised in a pagan society, and a very immoral one at that. To further complicate matters, he was also competing with false teachers who were deceiving and confusing the new converts.
Of course, we still have those same problems today. In our western civilization, Christianity is losing its influence and its power because many times there is little discernible difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. Many people who turn to Christ come out of either pagan or distorted religious backgrounds. They don't know what a godly mother, wife, father, husband, son, or daughter should be like. It's almost unnecessary to mention the false teaching that is spewed out of the media, our educational institutions, and even some of our pulpits. Each generation of new believers has to see the Christian life lived out before them by godly role models who are committed to God's Word as their standard for truth. Paul's advice to Titus is as relevant and workable today as it was then.
You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
Qualified by God
Just for the record, let's assure ourselves that women who reach out to women don't have to be graduates of colleges, universities, seminaries, or Bible schools. You may not have a degree from anywhere. But you do have something that is much more important. You have lived!
You have experienced life. You've rejoiced in birth and faced the reality of death. You may be a mother. You may have a career. You may be widowed. You may have been through divorce. You may be single, never married. You may have come through times of great failure and repentance. No matter where life has taken you, you have gone through all kinds of joy and suffering and you have something to share.
Why? Because in spite of all you've been through, you have not become embittered toward God. Instead you've walked with Him. You've let Him minister to you. You have not turned away, but have instead grown closer to Him. And now you have something to offer others who are in the very same boat.
You have been equipped for this responsibility in another important way. God has given spiritual gifts to every one of His children, including His daughters. And those gifts were not meant to confine you to making cookies or working in the church nursery! There is much, much more here for you to do.
Furthermore, you are responsible to use your gifts. They are not "optional equipment."
Why do you think God wants women to reach out to women?
Well, for one thing, we can do it better than anyone else. I say this without any apology whatsoever. Only a woman knows what it's like to go through a difficult pregnancy. To suffer PMS or postpartum blues. To work through the terrible fatigue that results from chasing toddlers for hours on end. Only a woman can relate to the boredom and isolation of speaking to children all day in monosyllables. Only a woman understands the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) discrimination sometimes confronted both at work and at church. Only a woman can really understand how another woman feels.
And only a woman can follow up properly. It's easy for us to call each other and ask, "How did the talk with your husband go yesterday?" "Are you feeling better?" "Why don't you come over for coffee? We can talk a little more and pray together."
This type of loving concern and practical advice often will defuse conflicts before they reach a crisis stage that threatens the marriage or requires long-term professional counseling.
Probably the most obvious reason for older women to counsel and train younger women is that it helps avoid the opportunity for temptation. There are some rather grim statistics regarding immorality within the Christian church. A high percentage of these tragic circumstances originates when men take the job God ordained for women—the long-term counseling of younger women. Women should be doing the job they were called to do!
Getting Ready to Reach Out
Is every woman eligible to minister to others? No. In fact, Paul specifies some guidelines for eligibility. In the first place it goes without saying that, within a Christian context, the woman who wishes to involve herself in the lives of others must be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. She is to be reverent in the way she lives. Now that doesn't mean she sprouts a halo and keeps her hands in a holy, prayerful position while she goes about her daily chores. In the original language in which the Bible was written, the word translated "reverent" described a priestess serving in the temple of her God. For us, then, it means that she sees the world as a temple, and herself as God's servant within it.
That perspective removes any sacred/secular division from our lives. It isn't any more spiritual for you to teach a Sunday school class than it is for you to prepare nutritious meals for your family. It's no holier for you to sing in the church choir than it is for you to be a responsible secretary, full of integrity. Work, whatever it is, is not something that you leave behind in order to pursue ministry. For the believer, all of life is sacred, and every act is an act of ministry (1 Cor. 10:31).
In his letter to Titus, Paul goes on to say that the woman who ministers to other women should not be a slanderer. If women are going to trust you with their heartbreaks, you'd better not be a gossip! You must be able to keep a confidence. You must be trustworthy.
Nor are we to be addicts. Now, the Scripture actually says, "Nor addicted to much wine," and it was specifically speaking of drunkards. But I think we can take that warning a little further. Addiction to external substances or activities—drugs, alcohol, soap operas, food, even shopping—is an escape from our secret pain. We need to learn to handle life by placing our dependence on the Lord. Otherwise we don't have much to offer others.
Finally, this older or more mature woman is to be "a teacher of what is good."
There is a presupposition in all this—something we must know in order to carry out our responsibilities to each other. We must know the Word of God. We've got to know what the Bible teaches—not only what it states specifically, but what it expresses in principle. And that is, in large part, what this book is about. What does the Bible say to us as women? Who are we in God's great design? How does He want us to live, to enjoy life, to fulfill ourselves? And what are the concepts we are to teach our women friends?
Sharing Invaluable Lessons
Certainly we are all still working through our own learning process. We always will be. As we find our way, with God's help, through our own times of difficulty and darkness, we are able to offer our deeper understanding to those we love.
One of the lessons Titus 2 teaches us is to be "husband lovers." As we develop healthy relationships between ourselves and our husbands, we incorporate such qualities as friendship, pleasure, and enjoyment.
Young women, especially newlyweds, need us to teach them patience and wisdom. A lot of us have acquired these qualities through hard experience, but that isn't necessarily the best way to learn. I am amazed at how much help is received when one woman explains to another the basic differences between men and women.
Not so long ago, a young woman stormed into my office. She was an attractive twenty-year-old, but her face was clouded with frustration. "You wouldn't believe how disappointed I am in my husband!" She took a deep breath and shook her head. "You know we've been married less than a year, right? Well, he's just about stopped talking to me! I'm so upset . . ."
"What happens when you try to talk to him?"
Her answer was just what I thought it would be. "Oh, he's either watching the news, listening to the stereo, messing around with his computer—whatever. Everything seems more important than what I have to say. He mumbles one or two words, and that's it!"
I couldn't help but smile, "You know, Carole, that's really fairly typical of men."
A frown of disbelief creased her forehead. "It's typical? You mean it isn't just him? He makes me feel like I'm the most boring woman in the world!"
Much has been written about male-female communication. Norman Wright has addressed this issue with particular insight in his books on communication. He points out that women amplify and men condense. You know what I mean, don't you? You're desperately trying to tell the man in your life the whole story including all the details. He says, "Get to the bottom line! What happened?"
Or, he comes home from work and tells you the bottom line.
You immediately want to know, "But what happened to begin with?"
He looks at you with frustration. "I just told you, didn't I?"
There are a number of other basic differences between men and women. Most women are relational; most men are analytical. Face it, some surveys indicate that less than 10 percent of the men in America have one personal friend. Did you think it was just your husband who didn't have any friends? As we are learning to love our husbands—to enjoy and appreciate them and, yes, to be their friends, we can teach other wives to do the same.
We can also help women to be "children lovers." This is a hostile world for children. If they are not murdered in the womb, they risk neglect, abuse, molestation, and incest. It is important for us to try to encourage young mothers to stay home whenever possible and to take care of their own small children. Young mothers need older "veterans" to give them perspective and hope. Sometimes just saying, "This too will pass!" can help a mom get through another exhausting day.
Paul also pointed out that older women need to teach younger women to have self-control. That word doesn't mean just abstaining from impulses. It means to make someone sane! It also means to be discreet. To be sensible. To be unafraid of the future. It means to yield to the Holy Spirit's control.
How on earth are we going to teach those lessons? By example. By transparency. By humbly sharing how we've had to learn some tough lessons ourselves. This means that we have to be open, honest, and vulnerable. The women we share our lives with have to see that we understand because we've "been there."
Prayer, Purity, and Wise Words
I think it's wonderful for women to take the opportunity to pray together. I don't know how many times I have been in my kitchen making a meal while talking on the telephone to a friend about a personal problem.
One of us will say, "Let's pray right now."
Without taking any time away from our responsibilities, we've prayed together right then and there. Within a matter of days, my friends and I have recounted to each other how God mightily used that one quick moment of prayer to change the course of circumstances. And it's just that much better to actually sit together and pray at length about mutual needs, dreams, and difficulties.
Women are best equipped to teach other women about sexual purity—chastity before marriage and fidelity after. Purity implies being a "one-man woman." We need biblical truths to counteract our contemporary culture. Marriage is supposed to be a commitment without alternative. And in this day, when even Christians are engaging in immorality and are embroiled in divorces, we especially need to deal with this very essential and sensitive subject.
And isn't it delightful that we have the opportunity to share with other women helpful suggestions about home management? One of my favorite verses is 1 Timothy 5:14. It says that the woman is to be the manager of the home. (The Greek word literally means "house despot"!) Unfortunately, there is such an overemphasis on marital submission in some circles that many women feel more like a servant than a queen. In the home, a woman is not only responsible, but she is also authoritative. She manages the house (not her husband), and expresses her creativity and skills while providing a safe haven for her family. These accomplishments are bound to give her a great sense of satisfaction.
Paul also advises us to teach each other to be subject to our own husbands. This has been mistaught, overtaught, and often taught in such an unbalanced way that most women flinch inwardly when they hear it. I believe we are going to make some surprising discoveries when we come to that chapter. (See chapter 5, The Truth About Submission.)
For example, did you know that biblical submission is voluntary submission to the leadership of your husband? You submit because you are obedient to Jesus Christ, not because God or your husband compels you to. By His design, you and your husband are a leadership team of equals, and he simply has the final word. This is not just his privilege—it is his responsibility. Furthermore, it doesn't imply submission to all men by all women. And it most certainly does not mean, in any sense, that women are inferior.
Why is the role of women so important to God? What is the purpose of our teaching and caring for each other? Paul explained it by saying: "So that no one will malign the word of God." The Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament puts it this way, "So that we will be a good advertisement for the Christian faith."
In the first century a Roman writer enviously commented, "What women these Christians have!" It was obvious they were different. Proverbs 31 describes a godly woman who was honored by her husband, by her children, and by the community. When you and I live the kind of life God intended for us, it's going to make an impact on others. Each of us has a circle of influence that we can powerfully impact when we are the kind of women God wants us to be.
It all sounds great, doesn't it? Women helping women; women understanding women; women having a great deal of influence in the lives of others. But how can we apply all this to our daily lives? First of all, we must be available to each other. Let's try not to get our schedules so full or so inflexible that there is no time for people. I get really concerned when someone says, "I wanted to call you all week but I didn't. I know how busy you are!" I hope I'm never too busy to care.
Ruth and Naomi—A Life-Changing Love
Additionally, once we've decided to get involved with others, we must seek God's counsel and direction. There is a story in the Bible that will demonstrate how beautifully one woman can make a transformative difference in the life of another. The Old Testament book of Ruth is an exciting, wonderful narrative with special meaning to women helping women. We can particularly apply it to relationships between older and younger women, but it speaks encouragement to us all.
Naomi and Ruth shared what we call a symbiotic relationship. A parasitic relationship occurs when one person does all the giving and the other does all the taking. A symbiotic relationship is one that is mutually beneficial.
The story of Ruth, in its historical setting, is a diamond sparkling on black velvet. It was written when the Hebrews were ruled by judges, and there was no king. Judges 21:25 comments that in those days "everyone did as he saw fit." We have a society much like that today. Unfortunately, when people do what is right in their own eyes, it often turns out to be wrong.
So it's no surprise that we read in verse 1 of Ruth, "In the days when the judges ruled, there was famine in the land." In the Old Testament famines were usually intended to bring people back to God. We read:
There was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
After ten years, Elimelech, Naomi's husband, and her two sons died. Naomi had lost everything—except for the two Moabite women her sons had married. In all the darkness, Naomi and her daughters-in-law finally saw a little spark of hope. They heard that the Lord had come to the aid of His people, and the famine was over in Israel. Upon hearing this news, Naomi made the decision to go back to Bethlehem. Orpah and Ruth decided to join her.
Naomi must have been a wonderful mother-in-law, considering that those two women wanted to leave their own society, their own home, their own background—everything they knew that was familiar—and were willing to go with her.
It was the custom regarding widows in that day that their deceased husband's brothers or other near-relatives in the family were responsible for them. Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, "I don't have any more sons, girls, so you'd better not come back with me."
Making the Right Choices
In so many words, she released them. She was willing to give up their companionship rather than deprive them of the opportunity to find other husbands. She was unselfishly concerned about them. She knew she would be abandoned and lonely, but she put their interests first.
I think this is an important principle. When we are ministering to other people, we must not be self-seeking. We should always consider the other person's interests and needs rather than our own. Older women whose kids have left the nest often yearn to feel they are needed. Sometimes they inadvertently become demanding and possessive of their young friends.
Naomi was not only unselfish, she was also encouraging when she said, "May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me" (Ruth 1:8). She was saying they had been good wives. Women who reach out to others must be upbeat, encouraging, and supportive. They should help their friends find their strengths, while not obligating them.
After Naomi released the girls, "They wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her."
Orpah made a logical decision. She decided to go back home to Moab to look for a new husband there. This is the last we hear of Orpah—she walks off the pages of history.
But Ruth made a different choice. "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.
In these beautiful words Ruth convinced Naomi of her love and commitment. Naomi's people and God would be hers, too. She even took an oath. Ruth was determined to stay under a godly influence, with no material benefits, rather than go back to Moab and its false gods.
Just as Naomi respected Ruth's decision, we shouldn't impose our opinions upon our younger friends. It's our role to explain the possible consequences of their actions, then to allow them to make choices. We are not to take authority over others, but rather to serve as advisers. This is very important, especially in older/younger relationships. The elder is not the boss. She has not acquired a new child. She is a guide, a mentor, an adult advising an adult.
Each One Helping the Other
When they finally arrived back in Bethlehem, the women there were shocked by Naomi's changed appearance and lamentable circumstances. "Can this be Naomi?" they said.
"Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty." God did bring Naomi back empty, but we are about to see Him fill her again—because of her relationship with Ruth.
Naomi returned from Moab with Ruth just as the barley harvest was beginning, a time of hope and anticipation. But that's not what Naomi was feeling. She said, "The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." She was depressed and in despair.
And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor."
Now we begin to see the mutual benefits of this relationship.
Naomi said to her "Go ahead, my daughter." Ruth is strong and young and Naomi has been weakened by passing years and a heavy heart. Ruth sees that it will be her responsibility to provide for them both. And she does so without any hesitation. She loves Naomi and she wants to do her part in providing for their livelihood. So she says, "I will glean."
As it turned out, she found herself gleaning on a property belonging to Boaz, a man who was from the clan of Naomi's husband Elimelech. Naturally, for people of faith, "As it turned out . . ." never describes coincidence. It indicates God's leading.
When Boaz arrived from Bethlehem he asked the foreman of his harvesters, "Whose young woman is that?"
The foreman replied, "She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. . . . She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter."
So Boaz said to Ruth,
My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.
At this, Ruth bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner ?"
I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
So Ruth worked in the field until evening. Then she threshed her barley and carried it back to Naomi, who was amazed when she saw how much Ruth had gathered. Ruth also brought Naomi her leftovers from lunch. Do you see what their relationship was like? Even while she was enjoying a meal, Ruth kept Naomi in mind.
"Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!" Naomi was understandably impressed.
Ruth told her, "The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz."
"The Lord bless him!" Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. "[The Lord] has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead." Then she added, almost as an afterthought, "That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers."
God's Unexpected Blessing
See what happened? Because Ruth worked hard all day, made contact with Boaz, and brought home such a generous amount, Naomi's faith was renewed. The ministry of one faithful woman helped renew the faith of the other one who was despairing. Naomi had to admit that maybe God hadn't forgotten them after all. He certainly put Ruth in the right field.
The kinsman-redeemer was the closest male relative to a widow's late husband. And as she thought about Boaz's relationship to her family, I think the wheels in Naomi's mind suddenly started to turn. She told Ruth to stick with Boaz and not to switch to another field.
Do you notice the open communication between the two women? Naomi asked questions, Ruth answered, and there was honest dialogue between them. When we go to each other for help, or for advice, we need to tell each other everything we can think of about our circumstances. We should have open communication, with no hidden factors. Otherwise the advice and counsel we are giving may not be correct.
Of course the story of Ruth and Naomi had a happy ending. Not only did Ruth marry Boaz and provide a home for Naomi for the rest of her life, but they had a son. Generations later, a direct descendent of Ruth and Boaz was also born in Bethlehem—His name was Jesus. How much more could God bless the friendship of two women who cared for each other so sacrificially?
I have outlined ten principles demonstrated by Naomi and Ruth which give us a model for older/younger relationships.
1. The older woman must be a good role model.
Her life must attract the younger woman.
2. The older woman must have the right motives.
She should not be seeking to meet her own needs, but trying to meet the needs of the younger woman.
3. The older woman must be an encourager.
She should support, praise, and admonish without obligating the younger woman to herself.
4. The older woman must be an adviser, not an authority.
She mustn't impose her will, but should respect the right of the younger woman to make decisions and to accept responsibility for the consequences.
5. The relationship should be a mutual ministry.
The younger woman has much to offer the older woman and must contribute what she can to the relationship. It should not be a one-way street.
6. Communication is vital.
There ought to be open, honest, and mutual communication at regular intervals for the relationship to flourish.
7. Both parties have responsibilities.
The older is responsible to counsel, train, and protect. The younger is responsible to be teachable, to accept counsel, and to respect the wisdom of the older.
8. God's Word must be our authority.
The older must instruct and advise according to God's Word and should encourage the younger to claim her blessings.
9. Both parties can experience blessing.
10. Such relationships will be influential in the future.
Investing in One Another
My life has been deeply touched by an older woman who reached out to me. I received Christ into my life when I was about seven years old. Like a lot of Christians, I was up and down spiritually. I would go to Sunday services or to a church camp and come back full of godly determination. Then, in no time, I'd be down in the valley again. Finally, when I was twenty-eight years old, married and with one little boy, I came to the end of my rope. I told the Lord that if He could not make a stable, consistent Christian out of me, I simply did not want to live any longer. Have you ever felt that way?
At the time I was attending a small, ladies' Bible class in Long Island, New York. The teacher was a slender, silver-haired woman with the most radiant smile I've ever seen. She was single and had endured a great deal of physical suffering, including a mastectomy. I'm sure that's why she was able to express God's Word with such compassion and love. Dorothy Stromberg was about fifteen years older than I, and for some reason she took an interest in me.
One day, unexpectedly, Dorothy asked me if I would be willing to teach a weekly Bible study for a handful of women. I wasn't at all sure I was the right person for the job, but agreed to try. That little class never amounted to more than about a dozen ladies, but I continued to teach it for five years. And Dorothy was always there—the class was held in her home. I know she could have taken over a hundred times and done a better job, but instead she quietly listened. She prayed. She encouraged me. I can still hear her deep, hearty chuckle. And out of her own rich spiritual insights, she shared truths with me that I have seldom learned from anyone else.
Dorothy was delighted with my children—she genuinely loved them. And she was interested in my husband and me as a couple in ways that seemed remarkable for a maiden lady nearing fifty.
As I focused my attention on God's Word and on the needs of others, my spiritual instability became less and less a problem. Meanwhile, more opportunities came along for me to teach and speak. Today, more than two decades later, the Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to speak to thousands of women every year.
Now in her seventies, Dorothy Stromberg still writes to me. That dear woman has had more influence on my life than any other person outside my family. She was there to inspire me and correct me. She loved me deeply, although we really had nothing in common except a devotion to God's Word and the desire to share it with others.
Whatever benefits you may receive from this book or from my teaching must also be credited to the account of one precious woman, Dorothy Stromberg. She invested her life in mine.
Now it's your turn! Isn't it time you invested in someone, too?
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