Friendship is truly one of life’s greatest mysteries. Why do we place so much emphasis on our relationships? Humans naturally seek companionship. We love to share experiences with other people whom we feel close to.
If friendship is key to our happiness, isolation is its opposite. Our criminal justice system uses isolation as punishment: isolation from people, loved ones, and friends. Our society places so much importance in the idea of friendship that we even created a TV series called “Friends” about young people going through life together.
We usually don’t have a choice in who our family members are, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to have relatives who are both family and friends. And sometimes our friends become our chosen family, closer even than those who are related to us by blood. Unfortunately, the opposite can also be true: sometimes our family can act more like “halfway friends.”
The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament is a wonderful story about the power of relationships, especially friendship. But Ruth’s story begins with an all-too-human tragedy, a relocation due to a natural disaster.
Naomi, her husband, and her two sons were forced to leave Bethlehem for Moab because of a famine in her hometown. Even after having to leave behind her culture, extended family, and everything she had ever known, Naomi knew she had what she needed the most—her family. However, shortly after arriving at Moab, Naomi’s husband suddenly died, leaving her and their sons behind.
I try to imagine how this must have devastated Naomi. I can only imagine having to flee my home with my family, only to face a terrible loss in an unfamiliar place. My heart goes out to Naomi; I’m sure she must have wanted to go back home. Even though Naomi knew she couldn’t return, the love of her sons must have given her some peace of mind.
As the story continues, Naomi’s two sons married women from Moab. To Naomi, this must have meant that Moab would truly be her new home. It also meant she would gain two new daughters, Ruth and Orpah.
Naomi greeted Ruth and Orpah with open arms, but this new family wasn’t what she had envisioned. Not long afterwards, both of Naomi’s sons died, and she was alone again, with only two daughters through marriage to keep her company.
Have you ever been in this situation: struggling in an unfamiliar place? Trying to keep your family together while reeling from devastating losses? These are the times when we find out who our true friends are. When things are good, we have plenty of friends. But when things get tough, friends get scarce. Why is that? Maybe it’s because those were halfway friends, not covenant partners.