While our youngest son was home from college for the weekend, he asked me how many true friends I have. When one’s eighteen-year-old, who is exploring his new world away from home, asks something like that, the writer puts down her pen and settles into a verbal, son-initiated (gasp!) conversation. I treasured every minute of our hour-long exchange. It took me back years to a ladies Sunday school class where I found myself straddling the fence—of the picket variety, with spear-like points that make one intensely uncomfortable. On one side of the fence was my reaction to the topic of “friendship,” as introduced by the story of Ruth and Naomi: Friends are all good and well, I thought, but one must be cautious. On the other side of that fence was the thought: How wonderful to have a “to the ends of the earth friend” like Ruth. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends and wasn’t a friend. It’s that my introverted personality, combined with painful experiences as a teenager, made me cautious with the depth of friendship. And so I continued to straddle the fence until our leader, a beautiful, God-breathing woman, demonstrated what the Lord intended when he commanded us to love one another.
She asked if one of our ladies would read a passage from the book of Ruth and pause after each sentence. Then she knelt before a surprised lady and, with each pause between sentences, put Ruth’s words into her own words while holding the woman’s gaze with an intensity that made me duck my head behind my Bible (I do not do drama).
Ruth 1:16-17: Don’t force me to leave you. Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and I will be buried there with you. May the Lord strike me down if anything but death separates you and me!” (God’s Word Translation)
After the second sentence, I peeked at the scene. Back to my Bible. Deep breath. Another peek. A glance at the floor. My, I mused, I really ought to repaint my toenails. Maybe one more peek. That last time, I made it through the end of our leader’s demonstration without looking away. And when she rose before the speechless, visibly moved recipient, it was obvious we were all affected. I was awed…and touched…and needy. At the risk of vulnerability, I had to get off the fence on the side of Ruth. Not that I was ready to toss out the teabag tag I had been holding onto for years that quotes sixteenth-century Diane de Poitiers: To have a good enemy, choose a friend; he knows where to strike. But the reminder to never allow a friend too near didn’t belong on my refrigerator door. Baby steps…
That was years ago, and I continue to take baby steps with friendship, but what joy to look back and see all those steps have added up to strides. We’re commanded to love one another, and so I continue to work toward gaining friends—and being a friend—like Ruth. We should all be so blessed and a blessing to others.