My mom has a lot of sayings. A lot. She is chock full of expressions, metaphors, and phrases which she uses often and which have, whether for good or ill, become a natural part of my own vernacular.
One of the expressions she repeated often when my sister and I were children is “Now don’t forgot…you never know who knows you who knows me.” She inherited the phrase from her own mother and the point it served was to remind us that, even if she isn’t physically with us, we should still act in the respectable and honorable way she raised us. We could never be sure that word of what we were doing or who we were with wouldn’t find its way back to her, so we should always be sure that if it did we wouldn’t be worried about it.
Now, as a very well-behaved adult, I don’t worry too much about whether my mom hears who I’m hanging with or what I’m up too. Frankly my life isn’t exciting enough to cause anyone much concern. But I am reminded of the phrase, or more the concept, when I read the story laid out in Ruth chapter 2.
“Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) Any Jewish person of the day would have heard those words and immediately put together the importance of Boaz’s role in the story. Naomi and Ruth are lacking the male role (father, sons, husband) necessary to assure their security or safety. What they need at the end of chapter 1 is a kinsman redeemer, and the first sentence of chapter 2 lines Boaz up as the man to fit the bill. So for the hearer, both historical and modern, the suspense is almost entirely removed. We can almost count on the story ending well because we can see the person that God has lined up to care for Ruth and Naomi.
However, unlike the biblical narrator, God does not tend to be so forthcoming when it comes to how things are going to play out in our own lives. Giving us the play-by-play is not his top priority, not in our lives, and not in Ruth or Naomi’s. We read the story and can see where God’s provision might come in, but from where Ruth is standing, things are looking about as bleak as they can get.
Her husband is dead, she has left behind her homeland and all that she knows, and her only company is her bitter and depressed mother in-law. She leaves the house that day with a simple goal; find someone to take enough pity on her to let her gather the meager and undesirable grain left behind in the field. Her hope is that it is enough to provide sustenance for herself and Naomi. In that moment she chooses, despite her circumstances, to be faithful and do what my mother would call “the next right thing.” She could never have imagined that the landowner would take notice of her, and she most certainly could not have imagined that he would also be her kinsman redeemer. God’s plan for Ruth’s good is glaringly obvious to us but unimaginable to her.
In this past year I have grieved loss, learned to love people who are not easy to love, and been forced to choose to make “this people my people and this God my God” in a whole new way. My job this year has been particularly challenging to me in every aspect. My work ethic, character, and faith have been tested in every way and I often feel like I am going out to the field and hoping to gather up just enough to get by. Sometimes I wonder if I am more a Naomi than a Ruth in my attitude towards it all. It has been all too easy to look at my circumstances at work or in my community and become discouraged. But I am reminded that, just as Ruth could not have imagined Boaz, I cannot imagine how the Lord is going to provide for me.
But unlike Ruth, I know who my Kinsman Redeemer is and I know that he sees me. When I feel unseen at work, or in my church, or with friends or family, I can count on the fact that I am seen and known by my Kinsman Redeemer. And, in the same way that Boaz’s overseer was able to report Ruth’s faithful and hard work, I too want the report to be that I have worked hard and been faithful. And I am encouraged to be faithful in this season of working, hoping, and waiting, because I am confident that at just the right time the Lord will also provide exactly what I need. And at the end of the day you just never know who knows you who knows Him.
Alexis Stanford lives and works in Northern Virginia and is a member of The Falls Church Anglican.