“Leaning in to Option B”
May 13, 2018
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”
I want to begin with a test. But don’t worry if you forgot your number 2 pencils, this test isn’t for you.
Has anyone heard of the Bechdel test? *Pause* This test isn’t an examination given to people, but it’s a test applied to stories told through books, television, movies, and other forms of popular culture. It’s a pass/fail test asking only one question: Do two female characters share a conversation about a topic other than a man? Bonus points are awarded if the names of the women are also provided. Disappointingly, many well beloved films fail to meet this criteria; Avatar, The Avengers, two of the Harry Potter films, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy each fail to represent two women discussing something other than a man. While films such as Wonder Woman, the Sound of Music, Black Panther, and the Wizard of Oz indeed pass the Bechdel Test.
This morning’s story from the book of Ruth is unique in that it is one of only three instances in the Bible to pass the Bechdel test. Of course, many women are present in the pages of the bible, yet their lives are often represented with minimal complexity and they often remain nameless as property of their husbands or fathers. Today’s story is rare, as the story tells us that Ruth and Orpah lift their voices within a genre of story that so often keeps women silent.
The poignant exchange between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi arises amid terrible circumstances. The book of Ruth begins with Naomi, her husband, and two sons seeking refuge from a famine in their homeland of Bethlehem, and then settling as immigrants in the land of Moab. Their family grows when the two sons marry Ruth and Orpah, who are both Moabite women. Then, suddenly, Naomi’s husband dies. Soon after, each of her two sons die also, leaving Ruth and Orpah likewise widowed. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah, who became family through their respective marriages, are now left with tough decisions as they navigate this unimaginable tragedy. Without the resources provided by their male kin, it is unclear how they will find the means for survival. Naomi receives word that the famine in her homeland of Bethlehem has been relieved and decides for herself to return. Her daughters in-law accompany her, but part way through the journey Naomi suddenly stops. Overcome with grief, she urges Ruth and Orpah to abandon her to her own despair and return to their own mothers in Moab. Naomi believes that it’s too late for her; that this is the end. The three women are standing together in their grief, yet Naomi momentarily wishes to isolate herself. Ruth and Orpah are now faced with the decision to stay or return.
Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and the author of a recent book entitled Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. She reflects on her journey of grief after the sudden death of her husband. Option A represents the original plan, the ideal situation, life before her husband’s death. Option A is what we wish to be true. Option B is what we now have to work with. As Sheryl’s friend said to her in a moment of deep mourning, “Option A is not available, so let’s kick the heck out of Option B.”
We lead lives that are in constant transition, in a world that is unpredictable and often volatile. Day in and day out, circumstances change, dreams are dashed, and plans fall through. For reasons beyond our control and sometimes as ripples of the stones we ourselves have thrown, Option A becomes unavailable and we find ourselves left to make the most of Option B.
And here’s the good news: like Naomi and Ruth we don’t face Option B alone. We are members of a sacred human family, bound together as the kin-dom of God.
“Let’s kick the heck out of Option B…. together, standing side by side.”
On days like today when we celebrate the meaningful relationships in our lives, we not only remember the ones who have shared the joys of our brightest days, but also those who choose to accompany us on the long journey through the darkest nights. The family who calls. The friends who sit by our side. The church who holds us in prayer.
The ones who speak insistently of hope when we are unable to see past what is missing.
These are the faces of the faithful who commit to pouring love over our lives again and again.
Ruth’s remarkable words of commitment to Naomi are not only a promise to care for her, but a vulnerable vow to open her own self to be changed, and to leave the familiar behind.
“Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”
Ruth does more than stay for a moment; she commits to Naomi for a lifetime. The Hebrew word used to describe Ruth’s commitment is “hesed’. Hesed is a kindness, loyalty, and “love”… more demanding even than love. It is an obligation that is not dependent upon how one feels toward another. Our modern colloquial version of this perhaps sounds more like the words “I love you, even when I don’t like you.”
These loyal relationships unfold differently for each of us. Ruth commits to staying with Naomi; Orpah’s act of faithfulness is to the mother who raised her as she returns to Moab. But each chooses love.
Ruth’s words to Naomi may sound familiar, as this passage is a popular reading for weddings. Couples choose the words to represent their covenant to one another, looking toward a lifetime of being changed. We’re well into the time year when these transitions are at the forefront of many of our minds. It’s the season of weddings, graduations; beginnings, and endings. For many of us these natural transitions feel like leaning into option B, as option A fades into the distance. At my own graduation celebrations this weekend, I held in tension the feelings of grief and gratitude. There is a deep sense of loss as I transition from one of the most meaningful seasons of my life. But above all else, I am filled with gratitude to have been part of a community that holds each other through the journey of woes and joys. The Beatles said it best, I got by with a little help from my friends. And now many of us are moving to the next phase of our journey, while others will remain rooted for a while longer.
In our relationships, in our jobs, in any community we are part of, whether option A is still on the table, or changes have presented Option B as a call to stay or a call to go, know this:
we are loved unconditionally by the God who is not limited by options but is ever-present in each of life’s curve balls and in the stillness. The words of Psalm 139 remind us that there is nowhere beyond God’s presence. “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
For we serve a God who knows no bounds… a God who is committed and faithful to us even before option A and beyond option Z. And when we, the faithful come alive in our commitment to love and care for one another, rejoicing together, mourning together, and laughing together, our lives are enriched by the God who is transforming the world and making all things new.