It's our last week of summer, and we are spending it just how any suburban family dreams to: being struck down by Hand Foot and Mouth Virus...aka Leprosy. (See also: the plague.) Two of the kids have it for sure and at the time of writing this Peter just called up from giving the baby a bath to tell me he is pretty sure there are sores forming around Titus' mouth. So that's awesome. I think I will just shimmy out this third floor window and run away. Think anyone will notice?
This might be the right time to confess something. I am a total quitter. When it comes to fight or flight, I think I was skipped over for the fight gene. I am a runner. And I don't mean exercising. My running consists more of hiding or useless coping mechanisms or flat out quitting. When the stuff of life piles on, I slink down under it. So I guess that makes me a slinker too. Whatever that is. Quitting gets a little harder when you have a brood of kids, so I have had to learn to fight a little, but its mostly done dramatically, sulkily and with no shortage of martyrdom.
At different times in my life the stuff has gotten so thick around me that the tension of it is palpable. I feel a desperate need to escape it all. The pressure of it all is squeezing me so tight, that I just want to pop myself out of its grip and scurry away, like the poor Rabbit my daughter almost strangled. That bunny waited for just one more tight squeeze around the middle, used the force of her throttle to propel itself and then jumped head long. That bunny bolted for some greener pasture. There are moments or seasons where I just feel overcome by the need to escape.
When Depression and Anxiety were holding me captive. This past year when things were kind of horrendous at Peter's job and we had no idea how we would pay for our life. When my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Anywhere but here.
This past winter I was part of a Bible Study on the Book of Ruth. If you aren't familiar with the story of Ruth, it begins with the story of her not-yet-in-laws: Naomi and Elimelech. These two lived in Bethlehem, but there was a famine in the land so Elimelech decided to move his family to the land of Moab. I have read this intro to the story many times and just kind of glossed over it. But this time our study took us a little deeper, and it became one of my favorite parts of the whole study. From other references we learned that Moab did not exactly have good history with the Isrealites. In fact, in Deuteronomy 23:3-6 we read that Moabites are banned from the temple because of the curse they called upon God's people years ago. God tells his people "You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever."
Alrighty. That changes things. Where I used to think Elimelech was resourceful , maybe even a noble provider for his family, now I think of his actions differently. He was disobeying a command of God. What motivated him to do this? Why did Elimelech run? Certainly fear was part of the motivation. Elimelech probably figured desperate times called for desperate measures. The problem didn't seem to be going away. It would be better to live in Moab, against God's command, than to suffer and die in Bethlehem, right? If God wanted them to stay maybe He should have stopped the famine.
When I looked up the Hebrew meanings of the words "Moab" and "Bethlehem" I found that Moab means "desirable land". Bethlehem means "house of bread". Elimelech left the house of bread to go to the desirable land. Ever since reading those definitions the words Moab and Bethlehem have become metaphors for me.
This past winter during a time of intense struggle Peter and I prayed for wisdom and deliverance. We sat on our living room floor pleading with God, telling Him "whatever you want from us, we will do it. Wherever you want us to go, we will go." I earnestly cried out to God telling him we wanted to be in Bethlehem- the house of bread, not seeking our own Moabs. Peter casually looked for jobs in different cities. We lay out our hands open to the leading of God. Where do you want us, God? Are we missing something? Just show us and we will go!
It felt so "surrendery". And it was, kind of. (Is kind of surrendered even a thing?) I never wanted to leave our family, our home. Even entertaining the idea was an act of surrender for me. But any charm I saw in it was just the quitter in me trying to make a mad dash from the hard stuff again.
We were ready for a change. A change of career. A change of location. Whatever the sacrifice was, if God was going to lead us there, we were ready to go. I mean really, anywhere but here. What we really wanted was a end to the season we were in. Maybe all of this was God's way of directing our path to a different place.
But the word never came. Days and weeks and months passed. As much as we wanted to escape under the guise of obedience, God made it clear that what he wanted was for us to stay.
Stay in Rochester. Stay in this job. Stay in this season of struggle. Stay in this holding pattern. Stay walking by faith. This was our Bethlehem. This was our "house of bread". The irony stung a little, as it must have for Elimelech, who knew the meaning of the word Bethlehem. "'House of bread', really? There's a famine!" That's how the past months had felt for us as well, a definite famine- not merely a financial one; we felt desolate in many ways during this season. God really wanted us to stay right here in our famine, and He had made it clear that this was our house of bread?
I'm sure we have all heard stories of people who answered the call of God to go- go to the mission field, go to college far from home, go take a job in ministry across the country, go serve our country overseas. God said "go" and they went. How noble. But what about when God says "stay"?
I am not just talking about a physical location here. What about when we just long an end to the season we find ourselves in so we can go on with our lives, go onto the next? What about when we just long to get a break from this season that seems to drag on like ten seasons, but God says "stay"? Stay? Even in the famine?
The quitter in me weeps at the thought of staying. Life is never easy, but sometimes new struggles would be welcome. The sameness of all this struggling and waiting, and struggling and waiting makes me weary. I can relate to the psalmist who cries out to God saying "How long O Lord?" (Psalm 13:1)
I am such an Elimelech. I might have done exactly what he did when he moved to Moab. Sometimes staying is harder than going. Sometimes walking by faith feels like I am walking on a treadmill. My legs are moving, but the scenary isn't changing. It feels like I am not getting anywhere. I just want to go, but God says stay. He has something for me here. What does he have? I am calling it bread.
Jesus taught His disciples, and us, to pray for our daily bread. This has become a literal prayer for us at different points in our life. It has been faith deepening to see God provide. During our famine, our reluctant stay in this Bethlehem, God has also provided spiritual bread. He has nourished me with his prescence, His Word and a growing understanding of Himself.
I don't know how it would have turned our for Elimelech if he had stayed in Bethlehem. He died shortly after moving to Moab. Within ten years both his sons were dead too. I don't want to claim that is why they died. I just find it ironic that the very outcome Elimelech was trying to avoid by fleeing to Moab met him there anyway. But God is redeemer. Despite Elimelech's disobedience God turned this story into a beautiful one. Ruth married one of Elimelech and Naomi's sons. After he died she insisted on accompanying Naomi to back to Bethlehem, despite Naomi's urging for her to stay in Moab. In her well-known speech of sorts Ruth tells Naomi "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) Ruth made her choice. She chose not only Naomi, but she chose God. She abandoned the Moabite gods in pursuit of the Bethlehem one. She knew God had something for her, there in the house of bread. Ruth became part of the lineage of Jesus.
I know He has something for me too. So I am changing my "anywhere but here" to "Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay." It's a battle, but it's one I am learning to fight.