I did not expect to discover an injunction about rest while reading a commentary on Ruth – but there it was nonetheless. Naomi looks upon her two widowed daughter in laws and says, “May YHWH grant it to you: Find rest…”
Finish the sentence and you will see that Naomi is wishing these young bereft brides to find rest in new homes with new husbands. She cares about their future welfare and long-term wellness – which cannot involve wallowing in widowhood for long. They must find rest…
Commentator Ellen Davis points out that the Hebrew word for rest “does not connote relaxation in the conventional sense. Rather, it conveys a sense of deep belonging, of security.” In one single sentence she challenges my notion of rest! I always put rest and relaxation together – occasionally even saying, “I could use a little R & R.”
But this Hebraic concept of rest is not about the cessation of activity. This is not a hope for a Sunday afternoon nap (though that sounds good right about now) or a spa day or even reclining in a grassy knoll with a good book in hand.
What Naomi wishes for her family is security, the kind of security that banishes the anxiety any widow would carry into her future. Where will I live? Will I ever have children (a huge identity question for a woman in this time and place)? Who will provide for me? Will I have to beg for bread and live with the pity of my neighbors? The anxiety of a widow would be daily exhausting. In this context, rest would equal security, the freedom from these daily worries.
Finding rest would include finding a husband to provide for her. Finding rest would mean awareness that God sustains her in all aspects of life, from her pantry to her progeny. Naoimi wanted that kind of resting place for Ruth and Orpah.
I want it, too. I want to find rest from anxiety.
Anxiety sometimes plagues me – most recently about my children. I wonder if my kids will be all right – will they grow into mature adults? Will they contribute to God’s work – with an imagination for peace and goodness? Will they be good people or troubled souls at loose in the world? A mother wonders, especially during the rough seasons of tantrums, teacher conferences and slamming doors. I’ve cried myself to sleep more than once – anxious tears of an exhausted mom.
Then God in His goodness spoke. “They are okay,” He somehow communicated as I watched them play in the fast-food indoor play structure. And I knew they would be… anxiety quelled. I found rest.
Now this does not mean my work as mother was over, that I could coast on automatic pilot. No – there remain the daily chores and challenges of mothering each day. But what dissipated was the constant worry about their future welfare; my energy no longer spent on anxiety. I found rest as I parented my children.
Even today as my kids were loaded in the car and clamoring en route to a local church service, I remembered those words. I found rest – again. They are going to be okay, no need to waste energy on worry.
So I arrived at a resting place. I did not pull up to a resort spa or idyllic meadow. But I entered into the fresh awareness that God is sustaining me (and my children) and I can stop worrying.
Ruth did eventually find her resting place – alongside her kinsman redeemer, Boaz. She continued to be a virtuous woman – bearing sons, running a household and caring for Naomi (I imagine). But she wasted no energy on anxiety. May we all find our resting place – where security trumps anxiety as we move about in this world.