- Introduction (00:01:52)
- Ruth Had Naomi’s Back (00:06:45)
- Modern Day (00:13:28)
- A Foreigner in the Land (00:17:38)
- Taking Care of Family (00:21:45)
- Wrap Up (00:28:33)
- References and Footnotes
1 Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity. 3 Support widows who are genuinely in need. 4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn to practice godliness toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God. 5 The widow who is truly in need and left all alone has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; 6 however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command this also, so that they will be above reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his own family, especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:1-8 CSB
Hey guys! Welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast. So today I want to talk about the person that is Most Likely to Have Your Back. This is the “ride or die” loyal friend that you know you can count on. Whatever is happening, they've got your back. They're going to help you get through it, and you know, I think that this is the person we all desire to have in our life. We may not be so good at being this person, but you can bet everybody wants this person in their life.
And I want to point out up front that when I say they having your back, I don't mean following you up. So there are... I'ma use an extreme. OK, let's say I got locked up and I was in jail. There are one or two reasons why I could be there—OK, technically they're three, but we’re not going to get into the third one because I feel like that's a whole podcast on its own, and that's you know false accusations and the system. And y’all already know, we be here all day talking about this, so we're going to ignore that one for the sake of this podcast and for the sake of time—but either I actually committed a crime or there's some law that is unjust and I've inadvertently broken it or I protested it. Think like the Civil Rights Movement: like, Rosa Parks getting arrested for sitting on the bus or a black person getting arrested for simply being present in a white only space. So, if I've been arrested because I legitimately broke a law, like I've done something that I should not have done, when I say this person has my back, sure they may come bail me out or they may come visit me in the prison and not bail me out, but they're going to come to me, they're going to come find me, and they're also going to have the conversation with me about what happened that put me in that position. Like “Why did you commit this crime, you know better. What are you doing? What's going on? Why didn't you reach out to me to help you before you went and robbed the bank?” You know, things like this. OK, but on the flip side, if I'm in jail because I was protesting some unjust law or something went down, I'm talking about the person that's in the cell with you. Like they went to the march with you. They got spat on with you. The whole nine yards. That's what I really mean when I say they have your back. Not somebody that's just like “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, What my girl said.” I don't mean that person is just hyping you up and following along with foolishness, OK.
But like I said, we all desire this person in our life. Now, some of us might not be quite ready to handle the truth, so we might not necessarily want somebody who's real enough to check us when we're wrong, but we want somebody that we can count on, somebody that's reliable. And like I said, it’s a little hard to actually be that reliable person, but the truth is if I'm expecting you to be that person for me, I need to be that person for you. Right? And for a while, there has been an issue that was I guess weighing on my heart that I've been thinking about over the years, for over a year, and trying to figure out what's going to happen in the future, and it deals with this issue of loyalty and having someone's back.
A couple of days ago the group chat that I'm with in the young adult group at my church, someone posed a question in reference to the rich man in the Bible that was told to sell all of his belongings and follow Jesus. And we got into a discussion about what that looks like, whether we would be able to do that—like I said what it would look like in today's society and all of these things, and while the conversation kind of went in a slightly different direction than what we're going to talk about today, as I was talking in this conversation a lot of these ideas also started to formulate in my head because I realize this situation that I've been thinking about also falls into that category, in a way, of would I sell all of my belongings to have somebody's back per sé (and you'll understand why I'm saying that as we get into the topic).
Ruth Had Naomi’s Back (00:06:45)
So the person that we’re talking about today is none other than Ruth. I know y'all wasn't ready for that because when we talk about Ruth, we always talk about Boaz. Ruth and Boaz. The poster child of you know like happy couples and singles’ ministries because every time I've heard a singles’ ministry, they're telling us to wait on our Boaz and all of this stuff. And it gets into this whole like romance or the romantic idea of Ruth and Boaz, but that's not what we're going to talk about today. Boaz isn't even important in the aspect of Ruth’s story that we're going to talk about right now.
So Ruth is an important person in the Bible. How do I know this? I know this because Ruth is one of two women in the Bible that have an entire book named after them, and the entire story is about them. It's not many women in the Bible that can say that. So we know they’re important because people took the time to talk about them, and I mean that was a big deal! On top of that, Ruth is one of four women named in the lineage of Jesus. The lineages in the Bible are almost solely patriarchal. It's all about the men, you know, this person begat that person begat that person, and it’s all men all the way down. They don't typically take time to talk about the women in the lineage, and so the fact that Ruth is called out and mentioned in that lineage also speaks about her importance and her significance. And I'm saying that in the terminology that significance and importance that there are things that we are meant to learn from Ruth; there is something about her story that is important and relevant to us today.
I found the most relevant part of her story, particularly for the conversation we're about to have, at the very beginning of Ruth. So in the beginning of Ruth, we find out about this family that is fleeing Israel, specifically Judah, I think. They're fleeing this area because there's a famine, and they're trying to go to a place that has more food, more opportunities—Y’all know the deal. We still have this issue in modern-day: people fleeing their countries for better opportunities in other countries; that's basically what happened. So this family goes to Moab in search of safety, stability, security, etc. It's a man, his wife, and their two sons. While they're in Moab, the man dies and the two sons take wives that are Moabites. One of these women is Ruth, and eventually both of these men die, as well. But Ruth and the other woman do not have children.
Now if Naomi, who was the woman—the mother—if she had had another son, then there could have been a levirate marriage and one of the two women could have married the other son and tried to have children, which would have continued the lineage, yada yada yada. But there was no other son. So at this point, Naomi can't really do anything for these two women and there's nothing left for them. So Naomi tells them to go back to their respective families and she's planning to go back to Israel. One of the women listens and goes back to her family, but Ruth decide that she's going to stay with her mother-in-law and she makes the decision to go to a foreign land with a foreign people, convert to a foreign religion, because, you know, she was a Moabite, she was pagan, and now she is telling Naomi that Naomi's God will be her God and where she goes she will go.
Like we talkin’ about like she had her mother-in-law's back. She was ride or die, ready to give up everything, sell everything and go. Now, we don't really get the details of this family dynamic, all right. I'm not really sure how close Ruth was with her mother-in-law. Like it says that 10 years passed before you know all of this stuff I guess kind of came out, but it doesn't exactly specify how long Ruth was married to her husband. Like how long did she know Naomi? How... We don't know, like had she already converted to following and worshipping God or was this a spur-of-the-moment thing that happened as she was deciding to follow Naomi back to Israel? We don't really know all of the details, but we do understand that Ruth felt an obligation to take care of this woman.
Naomi was also a widow, but Naomi was not of marriageable age. Like it wasn't that she should go off and get married and find another husband and start having more children. She was not going to be able to do that, and she wasn't going to be able to have anybody that would take care of her. And women couldn't have jobs and things back then. So, what was going to happen to Naomi when she left? And this is probably what Ruth was saying, “Who's going to look after you? Who's going to take care of you? Who's going to pay your bills? Who is going to protect you and provide for you and make sure that, you know, everything is OK?”
Now, Ruth on the other hand, she was younger, which is why Ruth ends up being the one who's gleaning the field and getting food for them. But she was also of marriageable age, which is why she was able to marry Boaz, and then she could secure finance and the well-being of both her and her mother-in-law, and that's obviously, you know the story, that's how things play out. But Ruth had enough sense to know that she… Even though like legally she didn't have an obligation to this woman, morally, she felt like she did have some sort of obligation to her.
Modern Day (00:13:28)
So let me switch gears a little bit to kind of pull in how I think this relates today and how this relates to me specifically, and what I've been I guess asking myself for the past year. Last year in May, life got really crazy. So at the beginning of May, one of my uncles died. Two weeks later another uncle died. And about a week later my great aunt died. Then at the end of the summer, in August one of my high school classmates was given like a two-week prognosis to live, maybe it was 3 weeks... It was weeks, OK. It was a very short amount of time. And so basically over the course of you know 4/5 months, like 4 people that I knew died. And I realized a lot of things over the course of those couple of months.
The first thing I realized is that I come from a very old family, and I don't mean old like old money, ‘cause we ain't got no money. I mean old like there are extreme age gaps between generations. So my parents are... I mean my dad is almost 70; he ain't there yet, but he's getting really close and my dad is the baby in his family. OK, so I'm giving you an idea of the age of my aunts and uncles, and so when all of these people in my family died back to back like this, I realize that these people are aging and I'm not there. Now, one of the reasons that I live in South Florida and not in California is because I did have enough sense to know that I didn't want to live that far away from my family. I can fly to my family in about an hour. I can drive to my family in about 11 hours. And I wanted to be in the position where if something were to happen I could get to my family with fairly reasonable time. OK? And you know California is it out. But for the field that I work in California is like primetime. That's where all the computer science jobs are: California, Seattle, even some in Texas and in Arizona. You know, maybe New York, but all of these places that are tremendously further away from home than I am now.
There really aren't any jobs in my field at home. And the ones that are, are for less-experienced—I don't really know how to explain it, but they're definitely not going to pay what it's worth, I guess. So it's basically like, I have a PhD in computer science, the jobs that I could find at home are the jobs you could probably get without having a degree at all, or all you need is a bachelor's, and they're not going to pay you for the fact that you have a PhD, so I might as well not have gone and gotten it type of a situation—which is one of the reasons why I'm not home. But as all of this was happening I was like oh my goodness like, “What... What would I do if I needed to be there for my parents?” Like would I quit my job here? Would I sell everything I have down here and go back home?
A Foreigner in the Land (00:17:38)
And it's an interesting thing for me to think about when I look at Ruth. Ruth went to a foreign land. The Israelites were not the most friendly when it came to welcoming foreigners. Now, yeah ok, we know they used to intermingle with people even though they wasn't supposed to, and they got into a whole lot of things. The Israelite men loved them some non-Israelite women. Like it was a thing, OK. But just because you are allowing somebody to participate in your society or marry into your society, does not mean these biases that you've been taught just disappear.
We see this in the New Testament. Peter was, you know, adamant. There were a lot of people were like “Nah, we're not really here for the Gentiles, like we don't talk to Gentiles.” When Jesus went and talked to the Samaritan woman, people were looking like “What are you doing? You're not supposed to talk to her. Like she's not, she's not one of us.”
And the same thing we can see that in today's society. How many white women have married black men in have said mildly racist things about their black daughter's hair? And you know what it doesn't even have to be a white woman. I remember distinctly, I was in high school, I think—middle school? Probably middle school—and I went to a pool with my aunt and my uncle. My aunt by marriage, my uncle by blood; my aunt is Vietnamese. We went to a pool, so obviously my hair got wet. And for those of y’all who know me, this is when my hair was relaxed, OK. This is not all natural Shiree, so my hair wasn't even in full affect, y’all. This is baby curls at this point, and when she saw my hair, the first thing out of her mouth was “Oh I'm glad that [insert her daughter's name]’s hair didn't come out like that, or isn't like that.” And I don't think she meant harm when she said it, but like this is what I mean by you can marry into people and you can... She doesn't actively hate black people, but the things that you've been taught, the things, the systematic, you know, ideas, you know, beauty standards, what you expect, cultural norms, they are still programmed in your mind, and so like subconsciously what you're thinking is that you don't… You're glad your daughter is not really black, like she’s only kind of black. Like that's basically what you just said to me.
I imagine that's the same kind of thing Ruth stepped into. For anybody listening that’s a minority, you know what it's like to be the only, or you know the oddball in the space of the majority—particularly if it's a hostile environment, where you're seen as an inferior person, whether it's because you're a woman, because you're black, because you're Asian because, you know, whatever, and that's not the best feeling.
So the fact that Ruth was willing to go through that says a lot, a lot about her commitment to Naomi. I have to ask myself, like you know, Ruth at most knew Naomi for like 10 years. My momma birthed me. My dad, you know that's been my dad forever. Like we talking about almost 31 years I've known these people! It should not be hard for me to leave where I am now and go where my parents are at the drop of a hat because they need me, because that is my responsibility.
Taking Care of Family (00:21:45)
And so, I mean it's just something that... I'm not going to lie that's not what I want to do. And I have my fingers crossed... Y'all my grandmother was 92 when she passed away. She was still in her full, right mind. She was living at home by herself, cooking, cleaning, doing her own thing. I hope both of my parents are like that. I wish them great longevity, and great health into very very old ages, but I also realize that I have to start thinking about the fact that there may be a time where I do have to go home to help out. Even if it's not for my parents but for other members of the family, ‘cause I have a large family, and this is what we're supposed to do, is take care of each other.
So generally speaking I don't go home that often. The last time I went home was in August. Like I said earlier in the podcast one of my friends from high school actually had cancer and she passed away in the fall—and actually I think it might have been September when I went home. Y'all don't quote me on dates, OK, it was in the fall. And when I found out that she had been given like a final date, I was upset because she was a really nice person. I thought she was cool, we got along, etc. etc., but I was also concerned for a mutual friend that we had. So the other friend was way closer to her than I was, but I was closer to the other friend than I was to her. I don't know if that makes any sense, but basically I was concerned for how this other friend was going to take the death of this friend. And that friend was in her last trimester of pregnancy, and so she was, you know, she was dealing with a lot of things herself. She could not travel, and like I said about this whole West Coast situation she lives on the West Coast and she was not able to come to her friend. I know she would have given anything to be there but she could not. And I happened to be in the middle of planning to go home anyway so I was like okay I'm going to go, and I'm going to go see her. And while I was doing this, you know obviously this was a short-term visit, like I'm just going, you know, to tell her that I'm thinking about her to give her a hug for the friend that can't come, and to just be there. But when I was there, I learned so many things that I did not know. Like for instance, the fact that her father who actually worked with my father, he had retired, her mother had retired. They quit their jobs to travel to take care of her, because you know she was going to different hospitals and her husband works, and just all these things. Like the things that they gave up to take care of her.
And I started thinking about all of the ways that we as people try to help each other, or try to take care of our family members. Another instance of this is when the recession hit in the early 2000s, they found that black families were hit harder than other families, but it wasn't just systematic racism that played into this. There was also the fact that black families were more likely to try to help family members. If there are two brothers, one brother gets laid off, one brother still has a job. The brother that still had a job was trying to support the brother that didn't have a job. So instead of one home struggling, both homes were struggling, because they were trying to redistribute the money to keep both people afloat. So both people were taking a hit.
And to be honest, that’s how it's supposed to be. Like, sometimes it feels like we should just cut off the dead weight, and pull ourselves up. And some people will tell you that. But one of the things that I've really been understanding for myself and reminding myself is that I am not here to be Dr. Shiree Hughes, the computer scientist with the coolest job, getting the mega paycheck. Like if I get to do that that's great, but God put me here for some totally different responsibility, and He has asked me to have His children's back. And he gave me one particular group of His children, and that is a family that I am supposed to be there for. No matter the situation, I am supposed to be there for my parents. I am supposed to be there for my cousins or whatever the case may be. Whatever family member. Like I am the first line of defense being there, like I said, for my parents.
And that transcends some of the more selfish ideas that I may have. So I, you know, like I said it's hard, ‘cause you're like “I want to go out and see the world. I want to travel. I don't want to be cooped up in this small town where everybody is related to me, and you know, they have very, very few vegetarian options for food.” But the fact is, if the time came, would I sell everything and go home to be that rock for my parents? And I think that if Ruth can go into a foreign country that would have been hostile to her, change religions, and you know struggle for a while—’cause she didn't know what was going to happen when they got there. If she can do that, then I can move cities. Like it's not that big of a deal. It really isn't. Like I can take a job that is quote-unquote below my pay-grade, and make less money, and deal with it. Like… Sometimes we have to swallow our pride. And it's a lot harder to do than it is to say, but it's something I've been thinking about and it's something that I think we should all think about in our lives.
Wrap Up (00:28:33)
Where is God calling you to be? Who is he calling you to be there for? And if you had to fly across the world to be there for that person, would you drop everything and go?
References and Footnotes
- So for some reason as I was talking Set it Off popped into my mind and that’s why I said this
- Matthew 19:21
- Esther is the other
- Ruth 1:16-17
- Context! I meant for the time period and in the eyes of society. Even today the perceived value of women decreases as we age. However, as a never-been-married 30 year old, you know I don’t subscribe to the idea that someone is “too old” to be married.
- This being the bias against non-Israelites
- Reference to Acts 10, where God has to explain to Peter that he should receive Gentiles