Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you I occasionally have issues paying attention. I frequently miss things right in front of me. I have a bad habit of misplacing things and forgetting to do important things. I have countless examples and I am sure my wife has even more.
I like to think it is because my brain is occupied with such lofty thoughts it has no room for trivial things like the location of car keys or not giving my son allergy medicine the day before an appointment when he is supposed to be off of it for three days and therefore having to rearrange everyone’s schedule. In these instances, those closest to me aren’t that impressed with my lofty
(Okay, I did that on purpose. Except when I wrote it originally, I did not.)
The point is, I am a very distracted person most of the time. I have things going on right in front of me which I am not paying attention to.
This year for Advent, I am reading through Ann Voskamp’s book (thanks Allen) and it is really beautiful. It is a daily reader which walks through the story of the Bible from Creation through Jesus. Last week, she hit on the story of Ruth, and she pointed something out I had never noticed before.
The story of Ruth begins with Naomi moving to the enemy country of Moab where she marries a Moabite man and marries her sons off to Moabite women. Eventually all of the men in the family die. Without a man to support them this left the women with few options: they could live in extreme poverty and probably die starving, they could become prostitutes, or they could move back home and live off their family in disgrace. The latter was usually not an option.
Naomi decides to move back to Israel, but Ruth wants to stay with her. Ruth decides she is with Naomi no matter what happens. If Naomi dies of starvation, Ruth will be right there with her. Naomi will not be alone in this hopeless situation.
And the chances of survival go up a great deal if you are not alone. Not only that, but Ruth is still young and attractive. She still has a chance to bring hope to the situation. Ruth gives of herself to provide Naomi with a future.
So they move back and Naomi changes her name to “Mara” which means bitter and she says she went away full but God brought her home empty.
This is the interesting part Ann points out.
Naomi has missed what Ruth has done. She says she comes home with nothing. But in reality, she comes home with Ruth.
To be sure, Naomi is in an awful situation. But God is providing in the midst of it. Naomi just misses it.
Naomi had something she could be joyful for right next to her, yet she defines herself as bitter. It was right in front of her, she just wasn’t paying attention.
This is easy to do, especially in difficult situations. Our darkness creeps in and we focus on how dark it is rather than looking for places the light might be breaking in.
As it says in Ann’s book: “Joys are always on their way to us. They are always traveling to us through the darkness of night. There is never a night when they are not coming.”
Notice the language here.
This is the nature of joy. Joy is always present; there is never a darkness when joy will have gone away; we just need to train our eyes.
When we are looking for joy, we will find it. It is always present, always being offered. We just have to learn how to see it and celebrate it.
Joy brings peace because we know God is with us, even in the difficulty. Joy brings hope because it reminds us God has not forgotten us and is moving us toward a better future. And joy brings love because joy needs a release.
Joy is different in nature because it wants to be celebrated. It wants its energies release. It wants to change how we experience and interact with the world. It wants to make us the kind of people who are not bitter, but who are hopeful and looking for the light in the midst of an all too dark world.
When we begin to celebrate even the small joys, we are transformed into joyful people. Joy re-orients us and changes us.
Joy is always there.
Joy never goes away.
But are we willing to see?