Her hoped-for plans were probably similar to my own, I imagine. Get married. Have kids. Raise a family. Live a blissfully normal, predictable life. When she caught the attention of the new guy in town and was whisked away into plans of marriage, it appeared to be the beginning of all her hopes unfolding.
Just when life seemed to settle into a sturdy and stable routine, things went seriously wrong. The marriage festivities were long over and impatience grew. Maybe it was not a disgrace for a woman to be childless two or three years after the wedding day, but ten years had earned her a new title: barren. The hope for a family of her own faded into quiet humiliation. She would not become a mother. She could not embrace the life she longed to live.
Then it happened, her worst nightmare. The woman without children was now also without a husband. He died and left her with another unwanted name: widow. Everything she had hoped for herself had been ripped away without any expectation for restoration.
As if things were not painful enough, she had to learn to navigate a whole new life. Grief changed her. Faith inspired her to do something crazy. She’d go somewhere new, even though there was no hope of fulfilling her dreams. And once again, she would take on a new, uncomfortable role: foreigner.
None of it was part of Ruth’s plan.
A Widow: Plans Unfulfilled
Ruth and Mahlon. They’re two names you don’t often hear together because this part of the story, and the undoubtable grief she must have felt, is hard to swallow. Mahlon was probably the fulfillment of what Ruth had been waiting for. He made her a wife. She hoped he would make her a mother, but those plans would not be realized. Mahlon died after ten years of marriage, leaving Ruth without a husband and provider. She was a widow, and she would carry that with her for the rest of her life.
The wound of unfulfilled plans burns with the grief of what could have been. Whether it’s the loss of someone close to us or coming to the dead end of a long-awaited dream, when we’re forced to confront the reality that our plans will never be, it can feel like the death of our future. But just as the unfulfilled plans were just the beginning of Ruth’s story, we can also trust the disappointment we experience now is not the end.
A Foreigner: Plans Redirected
The path God leads us toward may not always make sense to us. If it’s not the plan we hoped for ourselves, it will be challenging to understand how it could possibly lead to something good. Embracing a new direction requires courage — courage to let go of the past, and courage to move forward with God’s plans for the future, especially when we can’t see what comes next.
When Ruth first married Mahlon, it probably never entered her mind she would someday move to a different place with her mother-in-law, and now as widows. It was a scary and big change. Since she would be a foreigner in Naomi’s homeland, she would not only leave behind her familiar life, but it was unlikely she would ever marry again (Ruth 1:11–13).
But something remarkable began to take shape in her heart. Naomi urged Ruth to go back to Moab like her sister-in-law, to her false gods and her people. Ruth, however, would not take the easier path. God had grabbed her heart in the midst of pain and grief, and he gave her the courage to do something unimaginable. She would follow her mother-in-law to a land where she would be rejected. She would choose to follow God, and he would set her on a new path, call her to take on a new role of provider for the unconventional family of two, and write a new story with redirected plans.
This is the comfort and hope God provides in the midst of our plans that dramatically change over time — often against our will. When we turn to him and seek his will for our lives, he will be faithful to capture our heart and infuse us with the strength we need to go where he leads (Psalm 37:4–5).
Barren: Plans Delayed
God’s plans — although challenging and uncomfortable — did not disappoint. Eventually Boaz enters the story and shines brightly, foreshadowing the love Christ has for us. He takes on the role of Ruth’s kinsman redeemer, even when he was not required to (Ruth 3:12). Boaz would give her a son, bringing joy to both Ruth and Naomi’s life. But that was just the beginning of what God had in store for Ruth.
Ruth’s son would be King David’s great-grandfather (Matthew 1:5–6), meaning the once-barren widow and foreigner was a part of the lineage of Christ. Even though Ruth did not receive the family she had longed for when she first married Mahlon, the delay, redirection, and discouragement opened a path for her to receive something better. She would be folded into a new family that would bring us a Savior.
Broken Dreams Are Doorways
God loves us, in Christ, like he loved Ruth. He calls us into his family, and because of grace, we are given a new name (Isaiah 56:5). Sometimes our own plans that are unfulfilled, redirected, and delayed become the pathway he uses to bring us to that place of hope and new identity.
We cannot and will not see the whole picture of what God has begun in our lives. The full realization of the gift of being a part of God’s family is still ahead for us, when Christ returns and we are united with him for eternity (1 John 3:1–2). Then will we understand how every tear and broken dream led us to God himself and his good plans for us.