Purpose in the midst of emptiness

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What do you do at the latter stage of life when the road ahead seems narrow, dark, lonely and frightening? What do you do?

Well, if you are like Naomi in the book of Ruth, you go back home. You go back to the folks who knew you ‘when.’ You go back to the place where folks have no choice but to take you in. You return to family.

Going back home can be traumatic. Folks there generally measure you against a past image. Their reference point tends to be unrealistic, outdated and wrapped up in their personal expectations of you.

That’s what happened to Naomi when she returned home after the death of both her husband and her two sons. Listen to the question the women who knew asked. They said, “Can this be Naomi?”

What do you think they saw? Was it the fact that she had aged? Could it have been the wounds left by the death of her husband, and the scars caused by the death of two sons? Perhaps they saw the fatigue from traveling and the anxiety that generally accompanies poverty and homelessness. I imagine all this must have marred her.

Listen to Naomi’s response to the women, “The Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). The grief, loss, anxiety and perhaps even shame are captured in her response. She is now old and empty, and old age is definitely the wrong time to be empty. Yet there she was – hungry, poured out, devastated, and possessing nothing.

Sometimes emptying out is less about our mistakes and more about stepping into God’s purpose. Naomi had not sinned, yet she was afflicted and it was painful and humiliating.

In her season of emptiness Naomi waited and hoped in the Lord. So, let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, to wait. “Wait in hope for the Lord,” (Psalm 33:20).

Just as we were born with nothing, ‘emptying out’ return us to nothingness where we are left naked, hungry, wanting and vulnerable. There, we again learn the ways of the Lord as He directs, protects, provides and preserves. He is the same God who said, “No one is to appear before Him empty-handed,” (Exodus 34:20) and so always leads us back to a place of rest and provision.

If you are empty and waiting, be encouraged. Just as Naomi’s heart, home and hands were filled, so too will our desires be fulfilled. God will not leave us empty-handed for long.

He always provides. He continues to order our steps and He will use even this time of loss, grief and perhaps even shame to perfect us and to fulfill His purpose through us.

Hope in the time of struggle

I’m looking out my bedroom window at my new patio.  It’s gorgeous!   The sand colored pavers contrasts beautifully against the brunette colored retaining wall creating an artistic pop of color within the tree covered setting.

The patio was my sister’s idea.  She started the project five years ago and got distracted midway through.  The area has remained an eyesore covered by tarp for the past five years.

My backyard used to disturb my neighbors. They kept prodding me to finish the project. However, I did not have the time, finance or know-how needed to build a patio.  So, I placed the unfinished patio on my prayer list and I fervently beseeched the Father for help.

Over this past summer He answered. He brought friendly consultants, miraculously stretched existing supplies and sent two full weeks of warm, sunny weather.  The patio was completed and my neighbors are thrilled with the results.   The finished patio is my newest symbol of hope.

Hope is quite precious in this season of unemployment.  After months of no replies, invasive interviews and disturbing rejection letters, I struggle to remain positive.

I’ve been unemployed and uncomfortable for far too long.  Friends now wonder if I somehow brought this on myself, and some fear that my circumstance might be contagious.  Others worry I may be tempted to ask for a loan!

Yes, I’ve been in this painful place way too long.  My financial resources, both the brook and bird that brought me sustenance, are drying up.  The days and months of unemployment have left bruises and scars and I’m now bone tired and discouraged.

Into this valley come a word Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’. Ezekiel 37:4.  God is saying to the cries of my heart “My daughter, hear my Word.  Don’t just listen, hear what I’m saying.

To hear you must first give me your full attention.  I see your mind wandering during prayer. You are distracted by worries. Divided attention is the same as a divided mind.  So, while in my presence let me be the only One on your mind.  Allow my worship, my Word, my thoughts to dominate your mind.

Rehearse my Word. Repeat them over and over again in your mind until they make sense. I am your shepherd.  You will not want. Let your thoughts about joblessness, your bills and your weariness become my thoughts. I will lead.  I will restore. I will provide.”

My friends, in your days of struggle and weariness, what do you hear the Lord saying?  What Word comes to you about your struggles?