[Part One: House of Bread: A Love Story ]
Just for the fun of it, I entered the word “love” into Google. As I hit the return key, I experienced a sudden feeling of panic, thinking I had made a terrible mistake and was about to be accosted by porn sites. Whew! Was I relieved when the top-of-the-page links were for dictionary definitions of the word.
Then I read the definitions. Only one of them came close to the true meaning of love, which was Merriam-Webster’s fourth definition found near the bottom of the page. Sadly, our culture equates love with feelings and happiness and sex. As the old song goes, we’re “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Is it any wonder there’s so much loneliness and brokenness in the world?
Definition: love, noun
1. An intense feeling of deep affection
A feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
2. To feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone
These definitions beg the question, or rather questions, of what one is to do in a relationship when they don’t have intense feelings anymore? What if I don’t feel deeply romantic towards my spouse? What if my affection isn’t constant in my marriage or with my children? Am I no longer true to my authentic self if I stay in these kinds of relationships once the feelings are gone?
The U.S. Census Bureau reports about 12 million single parent families in this country, and over 80% of them are headed by single mothers. That is a heart-wrenching statistic. Think of all the stories behind those numbers⎼stories of abandonment, betrayal, desperation, pain, poverty, and loneliness. Our culture has embraced the Hollywood lie that deep romantic feelings lead to happily-ever-after relationships–and that lie enters our thinking at a very young age. When the realities of life collide with the dream, relationships shatter because they were built on an illusion—a fairy tale gone amuck.
What is Love?
Love is not an intense feeling, a deep romantic attachment, or constant affection for another person although these things often accompany love in its true nature. Love is not the servant of ephemeral feelings. So what is love? What does it look like in the lives of real people?
A story that shows us what true love looks like, indeed, what it truly is can be found in a little book written a long, long time ago. But the setting of the story is very much like our own where the only rule seems to be “if it feels good, do it.” The characters in the story immediately capture our attention because of their ironic names. Elimelech, the father, means “My God is King.” His wife Naomi means “to be pleasant.” Their two sons, Mahlon and Chilean, mean “to be sick” and “frailty” respectively.
The story begins with a famine in Bethlehem, or “House of Bread,” where Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, and Chilean take leave for greener pastures to the east, the pastures of Moab to be exact. Remember Lot? The Moabites’ bloodline traced back to Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter. And things never really improved. The Moabites continually thrust a thorn in Israel’s side. Even worse, they worshipped Chemosh, thought to be a god of war. Chemosh apparently needed human sacrifices to stay happy (see 2 Kings 3).
Life and Death in Moab
So “My God is King” and his wife “pleasant” make the long trek over to Moab (which means “Who’s your father?”), with “sick” and “frailty” in tow. Famine or no famine, Elimelech had no business taking his family to Moab, but he makes the move anyway, and while sojourning there he dies. How easy it is to make important decisions with a view to our security and happiness rather than God’s word and will. “My God is King” appears to have been in name only.
Bereft of her husband, Naomi takes comfort in still having two sons. Next we’re told that Mahlon and Chilean marry Moabite women. All is not lost. The family name will live on.
But time passes and no grandchildren arrive, and then Naomi’s worse fears materialize—“sick” and “frailty” go to be with their father. Naomi finds herself between a rock and hard place–no food stamps, no medicaid, no government assistance. The land of compromise has stripped her of everything she holds dear.
Comedy can have two distinct meanings in the literary world. One meaning is humor and the other is story pattern. In the Book of Ruth we find story pattern with a U-shaped comic plot that involves a descent into tragedy, followed by an ascent into a happy ending. Following the death of her husband and sons, Naomi has now reached the nadir of her existence and she feels it keenly. She is at the bottom of the U. Misery has overtaken her, and what was once pleasant has now become bitter.
Naomi dreamed just as you and I do. We dream about marriage and children and even grandchildren. We dream about friendships and jobs and education and all sorts of good things. And then the unthinkable happens and those dreams die. Now we look at our lives through the spectacles of suffering and see nothing but pain and unanswered questions. Why? Why me? What did I do wrong? Where is God?
Although Naomi doesn’t know it, life at the bottom of the U is about to change. The road to repentance points in the direction of Bethlehem and grace will pave the way.
[Part Three: House of Bread: To Stay or to Go ]