I spent far too much time, as a child, desperately trying to fit in.
It’s understandable, given that our school system — like our corporate office culture — is designed to homogenize people, reducing everyone’s individuality to a standardization of “average” that really approaches mediocre. Basically, we want people to just be quiet and do what they’re told, and some of the best enforcers of this mandate are our peers, which is why we are all intimately acquainted with the term, “peer pressure.”
Naively, I thought that once I grew up everything would be different — but how could it be? When we are trained from toddlerhood to conform, at what point will we break away from this culture and finally follow the narrow, individual path set before each one of us? It’s so much easier, and far more accepted, to stay on the wide road with everyone else — keeping up so that we are not ridiculed for being behind, but not so far ahead that we are labeled “overachievers.”
When I discovered Christianity and slotted myself into a church, I thought, “NOW I will find complete acceptance,” but as many of you have learned as well, too many Christian groups are just that — groups — and the same issues that plague lonely children on the playground affect them as adults, in the pews.
This is why I love the words uttered by Ruth, the Moabitess, to her mother-in-law, Naomi, when the latter decides to return to her homeland, Bethlehem in Judah, after the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons, one of whom was Ruth’s husband.
Naomi, knowing that Ruth as a foreigner, outsider, and Moabitess to boot, will not be remotely welcomed in the land of Israel, urges her to stay in her own country, among her own people and within her own culture, where she will find as much acceptance as humans generally do find among one another. (As a side note, it would be interesting to know how well accepted Naomi had felt in Moab . . . I am reminded of many statements I have heard and read along the lines of, “I felt more welcome around ‘sinners’ than I did at church.”)
But Ruth answers:
“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.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Ruth’s words, while they are brave, noble, and loyal, are backed not by the virtue of Ruth, but by the love of Naomi. It was because of Naomi’s love for her that Ruth made this overture, and that love must have been great indeed when it superseded the pull of Ruth’s own culture: consider this — she felt more comfortable in a setting where she was considered an outsider than she did in the country where she belonged.
It was Naomi’s love, her unconditional acceptance of her daughter-in-law, that drew Ruth forward, and this love was so strong that it supported Ruth through the ramifications of this decision.
From this, we can draw two important thoughts:
1) Naomi is an example to us of what it looks like to accept other people, regardless of their culture, the way they dress, the manner in which they dress, their lifestyle. Naomi saw Ruth not as a Moabitess, but as her daughter,
2) Naomi is a shadowy image of the real thing, Christ Himself, whose unconditional love for us, His children, enables us to live within a school system, an office, a workplace, a church, where we do not feel this acceptance because somehow, in some uncomfortable way, we’re just too “different.”
We’re all different, you know. That’s how He made us. And He loves us, each of His precious, beautiful creations — all foreigners, but all welcome in His household.