Imagine this: a woman meets a man, marries, and has two boys. These two boys meet and marry two women. Then, the husband and both boys die. The widow tells the two women who were married to her sons to go back to their families. One of the women leaves, as the widow asks. The other woman, though, stays. In fact, the woman who stays pledges not only her presence, but also her devotion to her mother-in-law. The widow tries to reason with this woman, but to no avail. Whatever the future would hold, they would face it together. The daughter-in-law promises that she would always be with the widow. She would never leave.
This is how the book of Ruth opens. I wonder what we might learn, even from this first scene, about how we live out friendship and how we face an uncertain future – together.
A visit with my best friend and his family stirred these questions in me. I have known this friend since the first day of college. Together, we celebrated marriages, the birth or adoption of children, graduations, jobs, homes, children’s baptisms, recitals and programs. He walked alongside me during my divorce to my first wife. No one was more excited than he when I told him I had met Jenny, who is now my wife. Though he is healthy and just a year older than me, he asked me to preach at his funeral one day. I asked the same of him.
The power of friendship in the face of uncertain futures is that no matter what we go through, we aren’t alone. The gift of friendship means we have someone who understands us and maybe even someone who can visualize a future for us that we may have trouble seeing. The joy of friendship comes in the stories, laughter and tears shared with one another. The consolation of friendship comes in conversation and the knowledge that we are heard and understood.
There is more to friendship.
I’m not sure Ruth and Naomi ever meant to be friends. Given their familial relationship, conditions were good for them to be anything but friendly to one another. One rumor or gossip could have killed the relationship between them. But the experience of living in an uncertain time caused them to forge a friendship that perhaps neither could have imagined. It is in the surprise of their friendship where God is found.
It is not hard to be friends with those whom we already hold close. In the story of Ruth and Naomi, though, we are invited to open ourselves to the possibility that the gift of friendship can be found not only in those relationships. Maybe the gift of friendship is also waiting in relationships we have yet to form. In a world with an uncertain future, the power of friendship brings hope, comfort, consolation and joy. God is found in friendship.
Paul Lutter is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Mora.