Labor That Is Not in Vain
by Mark Ross
They were an immigrant family fleeing famine and economic hardship in their homeland, but it was more a journey of fear than faith. She was a native of their new country, from an undistinguished family whose name had already perished by the time her story was written a few generations later. Though of a different faith and culture, she married one of the sons of the immigrant family sometime following the tragic death of her husband’s father. There would be much more hardship to come.
For ten years of marriage she suffered with childlessness, as did her sister-in-law married to her husband’s brother. A dark cloud seemed to hang over this family. Were that not enough, both her husband and his brother would then be taken by death, leaving both widows childless and with an aging mother-in-law to support.
When news reached this family of widows that the Lord had shown mercy to her homeland, the mother-in-law determined to return. The women set out together, but along the way they came to a fork in the road. The mother-in-law knew that she would face very uncertain circumstances. She also knew that her widowed daughters-in-law would face additional hardships. So she determined to set them free from their obligation and urged them to return to their fathers’ houses. Though at first both persisted in standing by her, only a little more prodding was needed to give flight to one of the young widows. But in the face of bitter and uncertain circumstances, the other made a startling declaration in vowing lifelong commitment to her mother-in-law:
Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:16–17)
These words clearly go beyond mere human loyalty. What is so remarkable is that the daughter-in-law emphatically commited herself not only to the woman but to her God, the Lord who seemingly stood by silently when her mother-in-law’s husband and two sons were taken in death. Something about that faith moved the daughter-in-law deeply. Something about the Lord called her to faith and trust.
The daughter-in-law’s faith was expressed in a great commitment, what the New Testament expresses as presenting her body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1). What was that commitment? In a word, she committed her life to caregiving. What she could foresee in life did not go very far, but as far as she could see, she would be caring for her mother-in-law. When they returned to the homeland, she lived out that commitment by gleaning in the fields after the reapers.
In time, there would be marriage and a child. Both would be great joys, and both would mean more caregiving: first for her husband, then her child, and perhaps, eventually, for even more children. She was clearly much younger than her husband, so in his later years caregiving would increase. Almost nothing in her life was spectacular. So far as we know, she never travelled much after settling down, never spoke at a conference, never held a job that today would be considered special. She was a caregiver, and it kept her pretty busy all the time. It was exhausting.
By the blessing of God, all this care-giving would have a glorious result. She would be the great-grandmother of King David and, across the distant years, an ancestor of great David’s greater Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. She might not have lived to see even the beginning of this great work of salvation, but for her that was not the point. The point was that as one faces life and bears its burdens and griefs, faith in the Lord means service in tedious things, daily things, burdensome things, and repetitive things. God will take care of the outcome. For some of us, discipleship is in caregiving under difficult circumstances. As this story reminds us, it is faithful service, noble service, divine service. It deserves the recognition of others, and it enjoys the blessing of God.
She probably never felt that there was much choice involved in it. It just needed to be done. To think of it as noteworthy for others would have surprised her very much. To discover that it was a divine revelation would have been almost beyond belief. Yet so it is, and we must receive it as such.
Her name was Ruth. She was a care-giver. For most of her life, she was nothing more. She did it all for the Lord. Thus, her name lives forevermore. Caregivers of the world, rejoice. Your labor is not in vain in the Lord.