When Your Mother-in-Love Is the Best Example
A look at the love between Ruth and Naomi
We’ve all heard the jokes … and the stories that aren’t so funny
Oh, the relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law … there’s nothing quite like it, is there?
We’ve all heard the stories — some funny, some horrifying. And they’re usually all about conflicts between two generations of women who love the same man, albeit in different ways.
Growing up, I never had a close relationship with my own mother. In fact, sometimes the relationship was downright hostile.
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So, I wasn’t really expecting my relationship with my mother-in-law to be that much different. But God surprised me.
Unconditional love is better than a relationship by blood
My mother-in-law (truly, a mother-in-love) was actually the one who got my phone number for her son to call me and ask me out the first time. She knew me from church, and I guess she thought maybe I’d be okay for him. Maybe she was following the leading of the Holy Spirit, who knew that even though neither one of us is perfect, we would be perfect together.
Over our long three years of dating and trying to sort out who the two of us were in Christ, and who we wanted to be together, she never wavered in showing me love and generosity.
I’ll never forget the day we were at one of Liz Curtis Higgs’s women’s conferences in town. I was engaged, but not yet married, to her son. She walked right up to Liz, with me in tow, and proudly announced, “She’s going to marry my son.”
I don’t really remember what Liz Curtis Higgs said, or how she responded. I’m sure she offered some kind words and a gracious smile. But I remember what my mother-in-love did — and what she said. Such a contrast to my mother’s declaration of, “You’re not my daughter if you don’t do what I want you to do.”
Words have power…and they reverberate in people’s minds long after you finish talking to them. My mother-in-love always offered words of love acceptance — beautiful gifts to me, since I was so hungry for them.
I wonder what Ruth’s relationship with her mother was like
I’ve often wondered what Ruth’s home life was like before she married Naomi’s son. We don’t really know anything about her, other than she was born in Moab.
Was she an orphan? The Bible text indicates that she wasn’t. Naomi tells both of her daughters-in-law to return to their mothers’ homes (Ruth 1:8).
Did she have a difficult relationship with her mother? Maybe, maybe not. We’re not told. All we know is that she never even turned around to say goodbye to her mother or father (maybe she’d already said her goodbyes). She certainly didn’t turn back to go home, as Orpah did.
Instead, she clung to Naomi, saying:
“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.” (Ruth 1:16, NIV)
There’s no question what Ruth’s relationship with Naomi was like
Naomi had suffered three horrible losses. She’d lost her husband, and then both of her grown sons 10 years later. Naomi, an Israelite, was suddenly a widow with no means of providing for herself or for her two Moabite daughters-in-law.
When she heard that the famine she and her husband had tried to escape was now over, Naomi determined it was a good time to go back to the land of her birth, Judah (specifically, Bethlehem in Judah; see Ruth 1:1 and 1:6).
At first, both of the daughters-in-love headed out with her. But somewhere along the way, Naomi decided it would be best for them to go home to their families of origin. In fact, she told them to go home (Ruth 1:8–13). Orpah finally acquiesced — albeit tearfully; Naomi must have been one fantastic mother-in-love.
As we know, Ruth chose to stay with her. Often, we look to Ruth as the great example of faithfulness in this story. But I think we have reason to admire the faithful example of Naomi, as well.
The power of interpersonal influence
Most likely, Naomi greatly influenced Ruth during their time — at least 10 years — together. The older woman must have been a shining example of faith, grace, and love to the younger one. It obviously resulted in her spiritual conversion.
Ruth rightly became convinced Naomi’s God offered something none of the Moabite gods ever could. Did she hear this in Naomi’s words? Maybe she saw it in her actions? Maybe it was a little bit of both, just as I saw the grace and love in my own mother-in-love’s words and actions.
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Other people are watching and listening to you
Some days, it can be tempting to believe you’re not influencing anyone. But Ruth’s bold confession of love and faithfulness shows that others are watching how you live. You can have a tremendous impact on the people living in your household — and even on those who don’t live with you — by simply being faithful to God and relying on Him.
Let’s pray and ask for God’s help to do just that.
Dear Lord, let us be shining examples of Your goodness and faithfulness within our own homes. We want to impact our families, friends, and everyone we meet for the good of Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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