Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Choosing Contentment: Final Chapter

In the book of Ruth, we are given a rich and sentimental portrait of divine and human love. Bible interpreters point to themes of redemption and loyalty. There’s also a sustaining note of contentment.

Ruth, as you may recall, is the daughter-in-law of Naomi, who has lost both her husband and two sons. Ruth is encouraged by her mother-in-law to return to her original home to start life anew. Ruth, instead, has “clung” (Ruth 1:14) to Naomi and vowed:

“… 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)

The two women then journey together from Moab to Naomi’s homeland of Bethlehem. When the townspeople come to greet them, Naomi speaks of divine disfavor and emptiness. It’s the picture of a woman utterly spent and heartbroken.

If Ruth had any illusions that there would be immediate respite in Naomi’s hometown, she would have been sadly mistaken. Naomi carried the pain with her. And now the two widows faced the bleak prospect of fending for themselves.

At this point, Ruth had two choices. She could sink into despair. Or she could put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

The next time we hear from Ruth she has proposed a way to secure food—the dropped or discarded remnants of grain from the fields—so that the two women can survive. Ruth has a plan. She has subordinated her own grief and is actively trying to regroup.

There are virtues exhibited here. And certainly contentment is by-product of those virtues—if not a virtue in and of itself. The biblical account of Ruth depicts a woman who's made a choice and is honoring that commitment with faith and action. She is a woman without a husband in a foreign community facing hunger and poverty. But she is not defeated. She has faith. She has hope. She is abiding in the theater of uncertainty and transition without self-pity or complaint. And she will be redeemed and richly rewarded for her loyalty and perseverance.

Contented people are stable people. Unfazed by fads and fancies and “grass is always greener” fantasies. Not to be confused with complacency which makes us dormant and dull. Rather, it’s about living our lives with a spirit of gratitude and ever-ignited hope. Changing what needs to be changed. And aspiring to a state of peace and grace around what can’t.

Question: Do you have discontent in your life? What are you doing to change it? If it’s unchangeable, what is the good that can come of it? As Stormie Omartian has said, let's ask ourselves “What’s right with this picture?"

(Photo by Icey Cake. See flickr.com for restrictions.)

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