By Marcia Hornok
“And how are you?” said Winnie-thePooh.
Eeyore shook his head from side to side. “Not very how,” he said, “I don’t seem to have felt at all how for a long time.”1
WHEN DREAMS DIE
One Bible person with an Eeyore outlook was Naomi. A famine uprooted her family, and they moved to Moab. Her husband’s death left her a widow and single mother, stranded there in a foreign land. Her two sons married Moabite women before they also died, leaving no one to carry on the family name.
With nothing to show for more than ten years of isolation from her homeland except three graves, she called herself Mara (“bitter”) instead of Naomi (“pleasant”). She concluded God had dealt bitterly with her. “I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:21). If you are like me, you sympathize with Naomi and her worst-case scenario, because you have also felt that way.
When Naomi left Moab to return to Bethlehem, Ruth insisted on going along. She immigrated permanently to a foreign country where the law said of her people, “Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live” (Deut 23:6). To her own widowhood, she added the loss of relatives, friends, and homeland. Yet she purposed to move on and trust in the God of Naomi, “under whose wings [she had] come for refuge” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth reached out to her embittered mother-in-law in four ways.
RUTH TO THE RESCUE – HER COMMITMENT
First, Ruth verbalized her commitment. She promised to stay with Naomi for life. “Where you lodge, I will lodge…where you die, I will die” (Ruth 1:16-17). A main factor of despondency is isolation. Someone who feels depressed often withdraws from people, which only reinforces loneliness. How can we be Ruth to that person? By staying available and initiating frequent contact. We can pursue a relationship even if our friend or relative tries to drive us away, like Naomi did three times to Ruth in chapter one.
When my husband gets discouraged, I want him to know I am on his team no matter what. His problems are my problems, and his goals my goals. We partner together in life and ministry until death parts us or our Lord returns. I try to be his advocate and support.
RUTH OFFERED TO HELP
Second, Ruth sought Naomi’s approval before trying to help. At barley harvest, Ruth saw she could obtain food for them by gleaning. But before grabbing her basket and running off, she asked Naomi’s permission. “‘Please let me go to the field and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.’ And she said to her, ‘Go, my daughter’” (Ruth 2:2).
Discouraged people often believe they have no control over their bad situation. We add to that sense of powerlessness when we force our answers on them. That sends the unintentional signal that our insight surpasses theirs. A year after my mother died, I made this mistake with my 78-year-old father. Sensing his pessimism, I pointed out his faulty thinking and offered advice. That only made him feel more helpless. He needed sympathy, not solutions and Scriptures. I should have asked what he wanted: How can I help? May I tell you what another widower I know did? Would you read this book if I ordered it for you?
RUTH MET NAOMI’S PHYSICAL NEEDS
Third, Ruth gleaned and threshed all day and kept back some of her lunch to take home to Naomi. “Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied” (Ruth 2:18). Naomi’s need for food reminds us to discern a depressed friend’s practical needs. Is she sleep deprived—should I offer childcare? Does she need a change of scenery? Exercise? Help with chores?
Physical touch is another need we can meet for loved ones and same-sex friends. A hug reminds them of their connectedness to other humans. Discouraged spouses need us to pay special attention to them sexually. Physical intimacy provides escape from cares and releases tension. It can be a happy antidote to feeling ineffective or overwhelmed.
After Ruth verbalized her commitment, included Naomi in her plans, and met her physical needs, Naomi’s minor key changed to a major key. She praised Boaz and even the Lord: “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” (Ruth 2:20a). Quite the opposite of how she felt about God in chapter one!
RUTH SUPPORTED NAOMI’S PLANS
When Naomi told Ruth to bathe and anoint herself, go out at night, uncover Boaz’s feet while he slept, and lie there until he woke up, Ruth might have experienced culture shock, but she did not challenge Naomi. She said, “All that you say to me, I will do” (Ruth 3:5).
We honor others by hearing them out, and this often sparks them to think of their own remedies. When my widowed dad decided to write a book involving a doctrine I do not hold, I typed it for him, made editing suggestions, and got it ready to self-publish. The book met his need for significance and gave him purpose.
What if a depressed or grieving friend wants to make a major change that others think is rash and unwise? Ask your friend to discuss the pros and cons with you to help you understand his or her
viewpoint. Without deflating your friend’s self-esteem, you can attempt to channel his or her thinking toward more constructive options by asking relevant questions.
In summary, Ruth never agreed with Naomi that God had treated her unfairly. Nor did she contradict Naomi’s distorted outlook or chide her for being ungrateful. Instead, she helped Naomi emotionally and physically by being a loyal companion, making her feel needed, providing food, and affirming her ideas.
Naomi’s idea for Ruth and herself was a success. When Boaz and Ruth gave her a grandson, Naomi’s friends said, “May [the baby] be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:15). Because Ruth nurtured her, Naomi regained her ability to nurture. She “took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him” (Ruth 4:16). Through Ruth, Naomi experienced God’s blessings, and her hope revived.
When people we care about go through periods of pessimism, melancholy, or grief, they need more than our prayers.2 They need the gift of our presence, practical provisions, and emotional support. If we find them “standing in the thistly corner of the forest” like Eeyore, we can follow Ruth’s example. Every Negative Naomi needs a Reassuring Ruth.
Marcia is Ken’s grateful wife, serving with him in Utah where he pastored for 39 years and they raised six children. Now they enjoy 13 grandkids. Her latest work is a guilt-free Bible study of Proverbs 31.
1 A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh (New York, NY: Dell, 1926), 45.
2 This article does not address clinical depression or suicidal tendencies, which may need professional help.