Turning on our axes

God keeps things interesting.

Back in June I joined in a study of the book of Ruth at my church, right? A short thing, four weeks, chapter a week. I used to read Ruth routinely in my youth, when I was too old to be allowed to bring secular books to worship but too young to escape sermons via volunteering elsewhere in the building, so I figured it would be like visiting an old, dear friend.

And…it was. But around the time I get dismissive, or start muttering about the condescension of the Bloom’s Taxonomy Level One questions in the lesson book, I’m brought up short.

  1. God gave me a brilliant opportunity to practice keeping my mouth shut, which I haven’t been exercising lately. (But I know so many things! And you should, too—know all the things I know!) I was only so-so at mouth-shut-ness, I think, but practice is about the doing more than the evaluating.
  2. I met all sorts of people I hadn’t yet encountered, fulfilling my primary reason for picking up a summer study. Twenty-some years in a congregation are no reason to get complacent about one’s network, though it’s easy enough to do so.
    Better than that, there were a key few Very Interesting People that the study knocked me against. I suspect there will be new and interesting sprouts coming from those encounters when fall arrives.
  3. I had one of those lightning-bolt moments, where a question crashes through the furniture in my head in just the right way, and I think: OH! It’s like that-!

Week two (Chapter Two) moves into week three (Chapter Three). The widow Ruth has showed up to pick grain from the ground on Boaz’s land for nearly two months, and now her mother-in-law Naomi tells her to head over to the threshing floor after dark to lay down at Boaz’s feet. We have been discussing Ruth’s submitting to others’ will—God’s, Naomi’s, Boaz’s—as well as Ruth’s boldness in the actions she takes.

One of my friends (her youngest is the same age as my youngest) asks, “I don’t understand how we, today, are supposed to act—with boldness? With submission? I don’t understand how we can do both, how these are connected.”

And I say: Boldness and submission are not opposites here.

In our life of following the God of Abraham, the opposite of boldness is timidness, the opposite of submission, willfulness. To stubbornly sit in one spot and metaphorically shake our heads, saying, “Nuh-uh! Not gonna!” sets us completely opposed to God’s intent for our persons.

We may feel safer by opting for timidity, but it’s not the faithful move. As we discern God’s intent, the faithful act is to move into that intention—to do the thing we understand we’re called to do. Acting regardless of whether we feel prepared, or worthy, or secularly authenticated… that’s boldness. God says, “Go,” the world says, “What???,” and we take a deep breath and a big step. Boldness belongs on action’s axis.

Submission and willfulness belong on the axis describing the condition of the heart. Or, if you prefer, one’s relation to God. When discerning God’s intent, submission says, “I see; I will,” and willfulness says, “You say, but I won’t.” Modern, American definitions of submission end up with all sorts of overtones of wrongness, which makes this concept a lot harder for us than it might otherwise be. But if we remind ourselves that God (by being God) is infinitely trustworthy as well as infinitely powerful, submission stops being a stupid move of abdication and shows itself the wise course. Who wouldn’t want to leverage the best mind(s) when choosing what to do?

Who in their right mind would want to stand like a toddler and shout, “You are not the boss of me; you can’t make me!”? Or slouch away like a teen? I often find it… ummm… bracing to catch myself in a willful pose opposite my God.

How embarrassing.

All that doesn’t mean that our discernment processes are as clear as Ruth’s—after all, she’s at the center of a millenia-old story. If we ever arrive at that place, all our rough edges are likely to be burnished off, too.

But I do like me a map. Preferably one I can hold on a piece of paper, where I can make a dot to show myself “I am HERE,” and then see where I need to go to get there.

At the far corner of Submissive and Bold, both listening to God and taking God’s action.

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