Note: This piece was originally published on my Patreon last May. To celebrate my 1 year anniversary on the platform, I decided to dig into the archives and share one of my posts on my regular blog.
Confession: I missed out on a lot of Christian Purity Culture because I found it so mind-numbingly boring. But in the last 24 hours I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole so to speak.
I’m writing a play about the life of Ruth. Writing a play is a great way to really dive into Scripture, because you have to get to the root of what people were actually saying, putting it into as simple language as possible. I giggled and giggled to myself, because Ruth legit just asked Boaz to marry her.
“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I posted on Facebook, “if there was a Christian dating advice book based on the story of Ruth? Ladies, find a rich guy, sneak up to him while he’s sleeping, and ask him to marry you.”
Well, it turns out that I really am out of the loop on the world of Christian dating advice books. Because there are plenty, my Facebook friends informed me. Books with titles like…
- Lady in Waiting: Becoming God’s best while waiting for Mr. Right
- Boaz, the Promise and the Wait
- Lord, is Boaz lost? Or am I just in the wrong field?
- She was waiting on Boaz and lost a real man
- Your Boaz will come
- How to be found by the man you’ve been looking for
And I don’t know, maybe there’s some good advice in those books. But I’m weirded out by all the references to “waiting,” and to Boaz “coming.” BECAUSE THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE STORY OF RUTH.
My roommate had Lady in Waiting on her bookshelf, so I read it…and by “read” I mean “skimmed” because I still find it boring…and wow. Okay.
Lady in Waiting is based on an idea: If you just “wait,” not chasing after a boy at all, not going to Bible College or whatever just because there are eligible guys there…if you focus on following God instead…if you stay a virgin…ta da! The perfect man will just…appear. God will bring him along, and somehow, magically, you’ll be all married and stuff.
And look, I can see how that sentiment might be useful for teenage girls. They have plenty of time. Focusing on their spiritual life instead of their romantic life, learning to wait on the Lord, that’s solid. My primary beef with the book is this dubious connection to the life of Ruth.
Like, there was a whole chapter dedicated to the importance of remaining a virgin until you’re married. Is this a Biblical concept? Sure. So just use plain Scripture to back up your point. Don’t use the story of Ruth. Because Ruth was not a virgin when she married Boaz. Why would you go on and on about how special it is to save this one special gift for your husband, and then base your argument entirely on a romantic story where Ruth’s “special gift” was gone?
Yes, I’m irritated.
Moving on. Can we get good romantic advice from the life of Ruth? I think we can. Here are five ACTUAL romantic lessons I’ve gleaned (hee hee, see what I did there?) from Ruth.
1. It’s okay, even good, to get married for practical reasons.
I think it’s fair to say that Ruth and Boaz were genuinely, madly in love with each other. It’s not stated in Scripture, but it’s implied in the way Ruth gushes about how kind Boaz is, and Boaz enthusiastically agrees to marry Ruth and then rushes off early in the morning to get things settled with his relative who technically has “first dibs.”
But Scripture makes it very clear that their romance was about practicality.
First, from a survival standpoint. The only way for Ruth and Naomi to not starve was for Ruth to work, dawn until dusk, picking up random bits of grain that the harvesters had left behind. It was heavily implied that Ruth was in grave danger of being raped while gleaning. Boaz says “I have told the men not to touch you,” in Ruth 2:9, and later, when Ruth tells Naomi about Boaz’s kindness, Naomi says, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed” (Ruth 2:22).
So basically, singleness for Ruth was not a time of patiently waiting, finding fulfillment in God instead of a husband. It was a time when she was, except for the kindness of Boaz, in daily danger of rape and starvation.
Second, while Naomi implies in Ruth 1:8-13 that Ruth will have difficulty finding a husband in Israel, Boaz implies in Ruth 3:10 that Ruth could easily marry a younger, perhaps handsomer, man than himself. “You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor,” he says.
Lady in Waiting uses that statement as proof that Ruth didn’t “chase boys,” even though she’d literally just asked Boaz to marry her, LOL. From context, though, it appears that Boaz is complimenting her on choosing a practical husband, one who could provide for her and be her kinsman redeemer, instead of just going for a hot guy.
And obviously, the times are much different now than they were in Ruth’s day. Singleness does not mean rape and starvation anymore, thank God.
But there are still tons of practical reasons to get married. Companionship, sexual satisfaction, children…I mean, maybe you don’t think you need children, but who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?
Ruth needed a husband for practical reason, so she found a practical solution. Why shouldn’t we do the same? If you need a job, or a car, or a tooth pulled, you don’t just sit around “waiting,” hoping it will magically happen to you. You make an effort to overcome the obstacles in your way.
(Added caveat, since this is my real blog where people still frequently misunderstand me: of course I think you should be in love with the person you’re going to marry. Obviously. I’m just saying, we should’t be ashamed to admit that we want marriage for practical reasons too, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to look for practical solutions.)
2. Be a person of character. Seek a person of character to marry.
Lady in Waiting talked a lot about being a woman of character, like Ruth. I think this is solid. Boaz’s comment about Ruth choosing him instead of the younger men makes me think that he probably thought Ruth was very pretty, able to snag a hotter guy if she wished. But he mostly admires her character. When he first meets her he praises her kindness to Naomi (Ruth 2:11), and when he agrees to marry her, he says, “all my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of character” (Ruth 3:11).
But it irritated me that Lady in Waiting implied that if only you did everything right, you would end up with your “prince.” “When you picture the perfect man for you, what is your prince like?” The book asks on page 56. “To marry a prince, you must first become a princess.”
Who says we get to marry a “prince?” Boaz was no “prince.” He had good character, sure. He was able to provide, and he was very kind. But his comment on “younger men” makes it sound like he wasn’t the youngest or hottest man available.
Ultimately, just as he chose Ruth because of her character, Ruth also chose him because of his character and usefulness. This idea of waiting for your “prince” is kinda weird, not Scriptural, and certainly not practical.
3. Let others meddle in your love life
An enormous aspect of the story of Ruth that we usually brush over is the way that Naomi meddled.
I mean, sure, Ruth did some pretty brazen things like spend the night with Boaz (innocently) and ask him to marry her. But it was 100% Naomi’s idea.
After my first point, where I argued that we should think more practically about marriage and not be afraid to “make something happen,” you probably wondered, “Does Emily think that girls should ask guys out? What is she really saying here?”
What I’m really saying is that I think we should let others meddle in our love lives.
And parents, married people, concerned aunts, I think you should meddle. Set people up on blind dates. Invite single people to your parties so they can all hang out and get to know each other. Chatter with your married friends about the single people they know that might be good matches for the single people you know.
I mean, obviously if the single person expresses discomfort, back off. But I just think it’s weird that our culture is all about single people, on their own, with no help whatsoever from meddlers, finding their perfect match. I guess it’s because the USA is the most individualistic culture in the world. But it’s honestly not that practical.
4. Your spiritual life is more important than your love life
This point, central to Lady in Waiting, is actually true. And it actually can be backed up by the story of Ruth.
Like I said before, it’s a little hard to say how many marriage options Ruth actually had in Israel. Naomi implies that the options are limited, while Boaz implies that Ruth could have married a younger man than himself.
However, it’s clear that whatever Ruth’s options were in Israel, they were worse than her options in Moab. Naomi’s motive for sending Ruth home was all about the provision and protection she’d have there. “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband,” she says (Ruth 1:9).
Instead, Ruth chose God. “Your people will be my people, and your God my God,” she says in Ruth 1:16.
She chose God, even though it put her in danger of starvation and rape. And I think that is extremely powerful.
5. It’s okay if your love story is weird and unconventional.
This right here is why I ultimately love the story of Ruth and Boaz.
Lady in Waiting tries to skew Ruth’s unusual courtship method as a common practice of the day, hardly worth noting. Heh. I find that unlikely.
I mean, come on. It’s just so weird. There are no other courtship stories like it in Scripture.
Furthermore, the book of Ruth implies that Ruth was in a very unfortunate, sad situation, because she did not have a man to advocate for her. Not only did she lose her husband, but she lost all the men in her husband’s family, and she left her own brothers and father behind in Moab.
You could use the story of Ruth to argue that women should chase men, and ask them out, or even ask them to marry them. You could, alternatively, argue that Ruth only dared to do such a thing because she had no man in her life to find a husband for her.
But I think the most obvious takeaway is that romance can happen in very strange ways. There is no perfect cookie-cutter formula to finding a mate.
And that, I think, is what annoys me most about books like Ladies in Waiting. They imply that if you just do everything according to their foolproof plan, everything will turn out okay for you. And then they stretch and pinch the bizarrely beautiful romance of Ruth, trying to make it fit into the perfect mold they’ve created.
That’s not the point.
The point is that things go wrong, but God’s redemption is still there. Romance is bizarre, but we work with what we’ve got. There are countless ways you might end up with a kind husband or wife who is a good, practical match for you.
And will it involve sneaking up to them in the middle of the night and asking them to marry you?
Well, who knows?
In April 2019 I launched my Patreon, and it has been the most amazing, wonderful experience for me. Much, much more so than I could ever have imagined.
First, because that extra bit of income every month, though small, is steady. Most of my writer income is extremely unsteady, so having one thing I can count on is a blessing. In one year I’ve been able, while charging only $1 a month, to earn enough to buy a camera to make YouTube videos with, pay for my domain name, buy and ship some fun giveaway items, and pay for other odds and ends related to this blog.
But more importantly, my Patreon has allowed me to grow as a writer. At first I was only posting opinionated pieces. But then one month I posted an extremely vulnerable essay I’d written about a friend who’d cut me out of her life. I ended up taking that one down, because it was just too personal, but it started me on a path of experimenting with openness and vulnerability in my writing.
My Patreon supporters don’t always agree with me, which is good and healthy, but I’ve never felt misunderstood by them. What a gift. And their response to my vulnerable writing was so encouraging that it fundamentally changed how I wrote my book, and even how I process my life. They made me feel like my feelings matter, and that meant everything to me.
All I’m saying is, it’s been a good year, and I’m so grateful.
Up until now, my Patreon has been like the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Every post I’d ever written was available, so someone who signed up in March got the same content as someone who’d been signed up from the beginning. But I’m going to start taking posts down once they’ve been up for a year. So on Thursday, I’m going to take down my first post, Is Toxic Masculinity a Thing? And on May 13 I’m going to take down How Mennonites Set Women Up to Reject the Head Covering. Etc. You get the picture. (If you want to subscribe to my Patreon, you can do so by clicking here.)
And lastly, April is drawing to a close, and with it, the April Blogging Challenge is ending! Mom will post tomorrow, I’ll post on Wednesday (probably with another video) and Mom will close the month with a post on Thursday. Thank you so much for following along, and be sure to hop over to Mom’s blog and catch up on all her posts that you might have missed!
i enjoyed this again. i always enjoy your writing.
Religious humanity is always trying to make pat little boxes. It’s as if we can’t allow ourselves to face the reality that all kinds of things happen and don’t happen in life and we can’t opt out of them just by observing the right formula. i don’t think those books are that much different than the dirty scoundrel Gothard.
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Well thought out, and written. You need to ask your parents about our romance (Alice and Marland)! Take care
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Love this!! We must not be afraid of things “out of the box” or different. We are so much of a conformist culture that we sometimes miss out on the blessings that come in odd wrapping. ☺️
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Can we have an update on your book?
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Thank you for asking! I’ll try to post an update soon ❤
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Wowwww I love this, Emily! I too have been frustrated with books that try to fit the bizarre love story of Ruth into their cookie-cutter-mold. I especially loved your point about marrying for practical reasons.
I feel like I have read just about every book on singleness/romance there is… and I finally found a book on relationships that was so good I could hardly put it down. I’m very curious to know what you would think of it! (Book review?? 😍) It’s called “The Sacred Search.”
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I should look that up!
Yes, good stuff! Maybe we could hear some ideas in the podcast. I’ve thought for a little while now that I think parents could be more proactive in helping to find husbands for their daughters. Like is it totally weird for you to be in dialogue with your dad/older brother/trusted cousin, etc about who you like….and then they go to the guy and say, “Have you noticed my daughter/sister/cousin?” I think you should ask her out. Would that be weird? I don’t really think so…..
I just moved to a new area and with that comes attending a different church. I wonder what would happen if I told our lead pastor and his wife, “Find me a husband.”☺️
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You should try it and then tell me how it goes 🙂
Help please! In which verse is Ruth’s proposal?
Thanks. Interesting interpretation is yours. Ruth certainly was not acting outside the box, but rather in full accord with the customs and procedures associated with the rights and obligations of the “kinsman redeemer”. I agree that for us to do the same would be acting outside the box!
I really enjoyed your post and your thoughts, and have sent a link to my extended family which is full of young singles! I actually “meddled” recently by simply telling a nephew who is in his mid twenties, about a young lady that I thought might make a good match. I sent him a link to her blog and to her parents’ blog, so he could see lots of pictures and see their lives, and would you believe it? One of the first posts I discovered on her blog was a paper she wrote for a Bible college class about how weddings ought to glorify God by their simplicity, etc., instead of being lavish and expensive. I knew he would agree, and I sent him that link. I was amazed that he wrote back and was open and interested and said that he hoped they might meet. No pushing on my part, just letting him know.
My husband and I got together because acquaintances of his heard me speak at a missionary service and told him about me. He wrote to me while I was teaching English in Ukraine and we started writing before we even met! We had a very, very unconventional courtship, too. But it was beautiful and romantic and captivating and very, very happy. I have written a book about our unconventional courtship in Ukraine and am just trying to work up the courage to finalize the details to get it printed. If you would like a copy, let me know!
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I read Ruth last week and I figure out that Boaz “talked to her heart” (Ruth 2,13). I belive that this event added extra willing in obeying Noemi’s counsel.
Another thing that called my attention is that both Boaz and Ruth belived they weren’t good enougth for reciving each other kindness (Ruth 2,10 and 3,10, as a foreign woman and as an old man). It gave me confort for my soul.