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In this week’s chapters, there are a few women whose stories are told. We will be talking about two of them.
Ruth was a Moabite (or in other words, she was not an Israelite). A woman named Naomi and her family moved to Moab. Ruth married one of Naomi’s sons. Naomi’s husband and sons die leaving Naomi, Ruth, and one other woman widows. Naomi entreats the young women to go back to their families because she has nothing to offer them. Ruth pleads repeatedly to be allowed to go with Naomi back to Israel. Naomi finally relents after Ruth’s persistence. Ruth follows Naomi, and eventually, she proposes to a man named Boaz who marries her.
Hannah was a woman in Israelite times who could bear no children. Her husband, Elkanah, had two wives. His other wife could bear children and liked to make Hannah feel bad about it (presumably because Hannah also seemed to be the favored wife). Hannah goes to the temple one day and prays for a child. She promises the Lord that she will give him up to be a Nazarite. Nazarites are consecrated men who live to serve God. They tend to have more rules like not cutting their hair or drinking alcohol. After she leaves the temple, Hannah becomes pregnant and remains true to her end of the bargain. As soon as the child is weaned (around 3 years old for an Israelite), Hannah takes him to a man named Eli at the temple. As a reward for her sacrifice and obedience, she is blessed with other children.
There is a theme threaded throughout both of these stories that I don’t believe we talk about often enough; it is the idea of our own desires. Ruth was given an opportunity to return to her family, but she wanted to go and live with Naomi. Though Naomi tried turning her away, she kept pushing for her desire and was led to a better life. Hannah’s desires and her pleadings for those desires are obvious. She goes to the temple and strikes a deal with the Lord.
The stories of these two women depict different aspects of human desires. In Ruth’s story, we find a woman who has the ability to follow after her own desires. In Hannah’s story, we find a woman who is unable to bring about her greatest desire. What are some of the principles we can learn from these two stories?
Following our desires
Ruth chose her life. We are not sure what faced Ruth if she were to have returned to live with her family, but Ruth was aware of what fate awaited her should she choose to follow after Naomi. It would be a life of poverty and little chance to earn a living. But for whatever reason, it was what Ruth desired. In a time where choices were extremely limited for women, Ruth made a choice about how she wanted to live her life. Beyond that, Ruth also made a proposal to Boaz. It may have seemed like a strange ritual to us in our day, but Ruth placed herself before Boaz as a potential wife, and after sorting out matters legally, Boaz accepted. Ruth saw a good path for herself and with Naomi’s help, she moved forward.
I can think of no one who embodies this idea of someone who chooses their own path more than my own husband. My husband and I used to approach life very differently from each other, but after watching what he’s done with his life, I have adopted a method much closer to what he does because I’ve seen the merit in it.
I remember when we were buying our house. I was pretty worried about it, and he was too. And yet, his worries didn’t stop him. He did all the research, analyzed and planned and thought for hours on end, and made his own decision. I, on the other hand, wanted to pray about it forever. I prayed and prayed, and I wasn’t really getting anything. It finally came to me that the Lord wasn’t really going to give me anything. I looked at the worst case scenario (we would lose the house and our credit would be ruined), and I decided I could live with that if it meant I could take the chance to make an investment for our lives. I decided I would move forward unless I was told no. I never did receive a confirmation that buying the house was right. Perhaps this was because the Lord knew I didn’t need one or perhaps it was because the house wasn’t necessarily the right choice. Perhaps it was just a good choice, so why not?
This is so indicative of how my husband lives his whole life. It drove me nuts because I always prayed about everything, and at the time, I felt like he was leaving the Lord out of his decisions. He viewed it a little differently. In his mind, the Lord gave him faculties of mind, gifts, and desires. My husband figured he would do everything he could to make the most out of his life and simply let the Lord intervene when necessary.
It’s an incredible way to live. I equate it with moving out of the Lord’s basement. The Lord prepared me for my life, and He planted deep lessons in my heart. He introduced me to beautiful things in life, and then He wanted me to go and take those lessons out into the world. I still call Him sometimes and run my ideas by Him; He knows that I want the best life for my family and I, and He knows that I believe in His wisdom. The Lord has a plan for our lives, but sometimes He moves in mysterious ways. He doesn’t always use traditional promptings. I believe the Lord often works through desires to move us in the correct directions. Own those desires and create something on purpose.
I think we often become afraid of our own desires in our commitment to follow after the Lord’s will. We fear our own desires because they can become so loud that they might drown out the Lord’s wishes for us. We don’t want to get in the way of His direction. I applaud you for desiring the Lord’s will, but I think we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot with this thought process. The Lord’s preferred method of guiding is course correction; He does not often give us the road map ahead of time.
This idea of being worried about choosing the “wrong” path can keep us from moving forward at all. And when we do make a decision and eventually run into obstacles (because believe me, there will be obstacles), we question whether it was the right path and fail to persevere. Think about how much more engaging and growth-inducing it is for us to own our decisions and choose what we want our lives to look like. When you take the time to analyze and plan and purposefully make decisions for yourself, you don’t worry as much when you have to work through difficult things.
I compare it to the new Children and Youth program. Rather than laying out the goals that everyone has to accomplish, children and youth are now in charge of shaping their own goals. They can create their own vision of what they want their life to look like, and then they can build that vision starting at a young age. The Lord desires this process for all of us, and if He has something specific that we need to do, He will place those desires within us or at least give us the promptings we need.
Move forward with one ear leaned towards the Lord. Live your life purposefully. If you see that your life isn’t moving in a direction you care to follow, don’t be afraid to make new decisions. Check in with God, let Him know that you want the best life for you and your family, and then start walking where you want to go.
Giving our desires to the Lord
Hannah’s story differs from Ruth; she had righteous desires that she could not bring about on her own. Hannah deeply wanted a child. Unfortunately…
1 Samuel 1:6 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.
While some may have taken this for a sign of the Lord’s will, Hannah went to the temple and prayed. And let me tell you, this woman got specific. She prayed for a child and promised that she would give the child to the Lord as a Nazarite. Nazarites were men who were dedicated to the Lord.
The Lord gave Hannah her desires. She had a child and after she had weaned him (about three years of age), she took him to Eli at the temple and left him there.
Sometimes we will have the option to choose our own path like Ruth. At other times, we may find ourselves in the shoes of Hannah.
It may feel like there is nothing you can do to bring about your righteous desires, but prayer is one of the most underrated forms of power. Prayer works. It worked for Hannah, and it can work for us.
When we choose to hand over our desires in the form of prayer, a couple of things can occur. First, like Hannah, we can find ourselves with our righteous desires fulfilled. Prayer gives us an opportunity to act and show faith in order to bring about blessings. The Lord can show forth power when we show faith. It unlocks blessings. Second, there are times when the Lord says no, but there are still blessings that come with speaking our desires to Him. It brings about a sort of relief to get it out there. When we humbly kneel and tell Heavenly Father how we’re feeling, it takes away some of the pressure and ache. It also gives the Lord an opportunity to speak back. He can respond and help us understand His choice, or in the very least, He can bring us peace.
When we try to hold our righteous desires in, it can feel suffocating. Sometimes we do it in an attempt to be strong and let the Lord play out His will, but that’s not how the Lord functions. Part of gaining experience in this life was to feel desire, disappointment, and triumph. To experience those feelings fully is on our to-do list for this life. Praying out loud for our deepest desires can bring some of those intense emotions to the surface, and this can feel intimidating. Hannah’s feelings were so big and intense that Eli thought she was a crazy drunkard. Prayer forces us to confront our feelings and wishes and own them, and then prayer gives us an avenue to coexist with those emotions.
When you pray about a desire you can’t fulfill, the Lord can take you on a thought process that will walk you through His purposes. It is those purposes that allow us to survive with these big desires.
Hannah offered up her desires when she prayed for a child, but she also offered up her desires when she handed Samuel over to the Lord. She asked for her desire: the child, but she also conceded that the Lord could do with her “desire” as He pleased. That is a fantastic example of a prayer. You ask the Lord for what you want, and then you let Him handle those desires how He sees fit.
I can imagine that Hannah loved her son enough to want the best for him regardless of what it meant for her, and look what the Lord helped Samuel become. He will do the same with our own desires. He magnified Hannah’s desires. Samuel became an incredible prophet, and the Savior was born through her line. He gave her more than what she was asking for.
I have a sneaking suspicion that even if our desires are “denied” in this life, the Lord will deliver more than we asked for in the next life. We can celebrate and live in gratitude for promised blessings as though they have already come about.