Country Pastor column: Famine and harvest
This summer seems to have slipped right through my fingers before I could even grasp it. At the time that I write this, it's already Labor Day weekend, the Minnesota State Fair is almost over, young men are colliding in football plays, someone's already drinking a pumpkin spice treat and the harvest is about to begin! I am a lover of all things summer, so it is always hard for me to see the leaves begin to turn, the days grow shorter and to feel the air get crisper. It's a season of grief for me because I know it brings its harsher friend, winter, right behind it. Yet for many that I know, this summer has been plenty harsh, and the incoming fall, the promise and blessing of harvest, is precisely what they need.
See, sometimes the seasons of our lives don't quite mesh with the seasons of nature around us. Summer isn't always full of sunshine, lemonade on front porches and lazy fishing trips down the river. Sometimes it's full of days spent getting tests with the beeping of hospital equipment echoing around you. Sometimes it's spent indoors tending to a loved one whose mind is slipping away as quickly as the summer days. Sometimes it's having the rug ripped out right from under you as a tragic accident steals your little boy or a heart attack robs you of your beloved. These are summers which beg the question, "how could there possibly be a God in all this?"
The book of Ruth is a fitting story of faith in such seasons. I appreciate it because it allows us space to grieve, to mourn, and even to be mad and bitter at God. In the first chapter of the book we encounter Naomi, a woman who has lost everything. She had to flee Bethlehem (translated "house of bread") because of severe famine (the irony is thick), her husband died, followed by the deaths of both of her sons, leaving her a foreign widow with two widowed daughters-in-law, and no one to take care of them. She is heartbroken. She is angry. She is bitter. She is in a season not of warmth and sunshine, but of coldness and emptiness. She begs her daughters-in-law to turn back to their Moabite families. Orpah does. But Ruth insists on staying by her side. Here in the midst of utter devastation and loss, Ruth embodies the love and faithfulness of our God. Naomi doesn't really want her there. Naomi is angry and broken and feels betrayed by God, and yet, God is there in and through the tender actions of Ruth. As the first chapter closes we read that Naomi and Ruth are just returning to "the house of bread" and we catch one last subtle detail: it's the beginning of the barley harvest.
Though I struggle with the end of summer, Ruth serves to remind me that fall brings the beginning of the harvest. The harvest is full of signs of God's abundant provision—pounds and pounds of barley and wheat is what we see in the following chapters of Ruth! Boaz enters as another sign of God's care and provision. New love blooms, all is not lost, but all is redeemed!
Our lives are full of such pendulum swings between seasons. We each will experience deep seasons of grief, loss and heartache. But we will not be left alone in them. Even in seasons of seeming famine, God sends us our Ruths to abide with us until we enter another harvest season where abundance awaits, new life is granted, losses are redeemed, resurrection is lived into! Who has been a "Ruth" to you? How has God used you to be "Ruth" to someone else? What is your hope this harvest season? May God bless you with an awareness of signs of such abundant harvest in your life! Amen.