“And so Naomi was back, and Ruth the foreigner with her, back from the country of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.”
Ruth 1:22 MSG
In sixth grade, my dream job was to be a cartoonist. Well, actually, my dream job was to be an animator for Disney. I had been told I could draw well; clearly, the next logical step is to want to work for the most well-known art company in the world, right?! When the reality set in that my drawing skills didn’t quite add up to me creating the next big Disney film, my ego was a bit put-off.
Enter college. By my senior year of college, I thought my future would be at some big fancy, design firm in a swank city. Life threw in several curveballs (another post for another day) and I found myself in rural North Carolina with slim possibilities for my dream of black clothes, steaming cups of cappuccino in the midst of exceedingly creative people.
Have you been there? We have hopes and dreams. We have ideals we hope we achieve. We often reach up and out, straining to get somewhere, straining to reach the top. We are on a search for the pinnacle and too often, our dreams are dashed. We are not chosen for the job. Our health becomes a burden. A relationship we cherish crashes and burns. An unexpected turn crumbles our groove. We lose our focus and give up. We get tired of trying and resign ourselves to life as is.
Other times, we make it. We’ve reached the apex. We’ve bought our dream car. Gotten the home we’ve always wanted. Gotten the promotion. Our status climbs to the next rung. And then, we realize, it’s not nearly as glamorous as we thought.
I remember the year I got engaged. We planned and planned for the wedding. The day arrived. Our wedding was absolutely amazing. A dream come true kinda day. Chris and I, in love, surrounded by all the people we love. It seemed as if love was all we needed. When the lights dimmed, and a few weeks rolled by, the difficult learning curve of marriage set in. In those beginning days, I recall how Chris and I would argue over if a sponge or rag should be used to wash dishes (his sponge won the battle). Glossy magazine photos of a stunning bride and groom don’t display the grit of real married life.
I recently finished a little gem of a book entitled “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer. This book was a breath of fresh air in a culture that deems success as how big your bank account is and how important your title is. The encouragement in this book is to live, rather than grasping at what your dream is and attempting to pull it in, to listen to your life and let it speak from within, outwardly.
Many times, we have a goal in mind. We meet a person who has the job we believe we would be perfect for. We hang out with a couple who has it all together and we attempt to imitate it. We see an athlete who has the body we wish we had and we decide we will go after that regimen. The advantage of a goal is it can help press us forward in our lives. However, living from the inside out approaches life differently. In many ways, this is a practice of letting go of “the goal”. Instead, it asks the question, “What is your life saying and how does one follow along?”
This question draws me near as a friend. I don’t need to be anyone I’m not. I get to simply be me, paying attention to my own life, not worrying about taking on the characteristics of others’ lives. In addition, this question leads me to listen closer to the still small voice within me. This wee voice, the Holy Spirit murmur, guides me. She is often challenging, yet always leads me towards living vibrant. This vibrancy gives me an indication of how God created me. When I am aware of this spark, I observe. I notice this spark often leads to giving of self. When an unexpected interruption lands in my life, I give myself the time to process through it, not rushing for it to be over, but staying the course with it and seeing where it leads. Living life from the inside out has much more to do with listening presently to where I am and responding with care.
This inside out approach to living requires taking one step at a time, unsure of where the road is headed. It requires staying open to the possibility that life is leading in a new direction. Living inside out requires a delving in to “know thyself”. Knowing thyself invites reflection on where you’ve been and offers healing for your road forward. This work is to welcome the present as a present. This releases us from having to strain for that which we have falsely deemed as “special” and “worthy” and rather follow that of the Spirit working with us where we are currently. When we do this, we become people who are living from a space of aliveness. We are better able to handle the heartaches, the crying kids, the house chores. When we take one step towards something that speaks to us, it often leads to another something. And, before long, it becomes a gift to others. We become a gift to others. Thankfully, we don’t need to flip life upside down to live inside out. It begins with one small step.
I have a friend who recently signed up for a Spanish Class at the local Community College. When I asked her about it, she essentially said “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So, this is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m doing it”. Awesome. One step. I have another friend who is incredibly creative. She opens her home to neighbors and friends for workshops. She leads them to create something. They talk. They connect. They share stories. This is bringing vibrancy. One step. I have another friend who loves refinishing furniture with paint and wax. I can hear joy in her voice when she speaks of her latest work. This gives her a mental break from teaching. One step. I have a friend who absolutely loves teaching children about faith through music. She signed up for a program to learn how to do it effectively. She just received her certificate. It began with one step.
As I was considering this topic, Ruth and Orpah kept coming to mind. Ruth and Orpah, both Moabites, married Naomi’s two Israelite sons, Mahlon and Kilion. After ten years of marriage, Mahlon and Kilion died. Once they died, Ruth and Orpah had no obligation to stay in relationship with Naomi, their mother-in-law. Naomi, now a childless widow, was leaving Moab and heading back to Bethlehem, her original home. She planned to travel alone. Naomi with kind words and a blessing spoken over them, told both girls to “Return home, my daughters” (Ruth 1:12). Orpah wept and said goodbye. But Ruth did not. Even though Ruth had no reason to stay, she took one step. In determination, Ruth said bravely, “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)
Now, Naomi was in a pretty lousy place with God when they set out. It’s not as if she said to Ruth, “Wow, you’ve got to come back to Bethlehem with me. Girl, when we get there, you will have an amazing job, a hot husband and you will be known as a girl in the lineage of CHRIST. We’ve got to DO this!” No, there was no goal for Ruth. Instead, Ruth had a bitter mother-in-law telling her how God had turned His back on her. They had a difficult journey ahead of them. And, Ruth was a foreigner, an outcast, going to a land where she would be a misfit. There was total and utter uncertainty. But, Ruth, this strong woman, this woman who knew herself, took one step. She made a bold declaration. And it changed the course of history forever.
Sometimes, we can’t quite see what our one small step could lead to. Some days, it feels like not much of anything when we volunteer at school, choose kind words over sarcasm, or go to work with prayer in our toolbox. Some days, our one step towards following the voice that says “You are worthy as is, follow the desire I laid in you”, seems totally crazy to others. Yes! When we allow our path to unfold before us, living the unknown, we are letting the reigns of control release and allowing God to lead our path. This is living in the Spirit, this is the adventure of God.
The beauty of adventure with God is when we least expect it, the harvest comes.
“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” – Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
How do you see yourself as an original fingerprint of God’s handiwork?
With a Friend:
What was your favorite way to spend time when you were growing up? How do you incorporate this into your life now? How can this become a gift to others?
With a Child:
Instead of asking a child what they want to be when they grow up, ask them what they love spending time on now. This may lead to clues about where their natural gifts lie.