When you think of a woman you utterly respect, what does she look like? She might be your mother, and she might not. Perhaps your wife, or even a family friend. More often than not that woman has a proven track record of wisdom. Flawless? No. She’s probably poked your eyes with pins a time or two, but likely you respected her in the morning.
Ruth of the Bible was a woman of excellence, and the whole city knew it. She followed her mother-in-law into a foreign country to serve her and be a companion in her old age. It was mainly because Naomi had walked out faith in the God of Abraham. Ruth had abandoned the religious beliefs of her family and adopted the faith of her mother-in-law. This was extreme sacrifice to accept a life of likely widowhood and poverty, when she legally could have returned to her family of origin and lived much more extravagantly.
The plot thickens though. There’s a man, you see. (Hum, there’s always a man when the plot thickens. Just sayin.) His name is Boaz. And so as to shorten this blog entry, she basically asks him to marry her. I know, right? Shiggy-diggy. She goes for it. His response?
Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, … You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. … do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. Ruth 3:10-11
When I think of what it means to be a woman of excellence, I’m a bit dumb-founded because this book of the Bible (or any) was written in a time when women were incredibly oppressed. Okay, understatement there. But the whole city knew she was a woman of excellence. That says to me that she didn’t go around in secret begging for mercy every step of the way.
She had a voice. She made herself heard … in wisdom.
She had compassion. She served sacrificially, and people knew it.
She knew how and when to stand, in her Esther moments, and she didn’t back down.
She knew what it meant to pay the price of obedience, and to walk that out before God. Yup, she put on her big-girl knickers and dealt with stuff.
She had the humility to admit her wrongdoings, and to correct them.
A woman of excellence.
Looking back to the woman of excellence in your own life, we both know she had failures the length of her arm. And yet. Her successes outweighed those failures by far.
A real woman keeps standing up when morning comes. She keeps clothing herself with courage and humility. A real woman sets her face like flint, and is unashamed because she knows her King.
Have you ever had someone pre-judge you? You know the routine. Before you’ve exchanged ten words with one another you realize that the person you are just meeting has you all figured out. You meet a co-worker for the first time and she decides that you are worthy only of her criticisms for your style of clothing, your hair, your work habits. She decides, and verbally conveys, that you are lacking in class because you ride the bus to work or speak with an accent. Putting on my big-girl panties, I will refrain from evaluating the source of these cutting criticisms. Why? Because, drat it, I have done it myself.
Think about it. You meet someone who is intelligent and has charisma, and he reminds you of the last creep in your life who was handsome, intelligent and had enough freaking charisma to fill an auditorium. You never intended to develop a prejudice, you just did. He looks like, acts like … that other guy. Why would this fella be any different, eh?
Both scenarios require humility that’s got some fish and vinegar in it.
When someone has aggressively criticized you, only you as the offended can really offer them a chance to change their thinking. Make it easy on them. “Hey, I’m just wondering if I’ve done something offensive. Your evaluations of me seem harsh. It seems like you are kind of distressed….”
However, when you’ve quietly held a prejudice in your heart toward someone, it’s a little more difficult. You have to release them from that judgment, and decide in your heart that Big Hank is not Smooth Stanley after all. You would do well to let Big Hank be Big Hank for a while, i.e., not conclude who he is or how he’ll be with you or anyone else.
The point is this. Prejudice really kills friendships. The little overtures of kindness and the laughter that makes the days go by quickly … that’s all a little heap of ashes when we love our selves and our selfish opinions more than letting others be who they are. We suck all the air out of the room by trying to keep our little prejudices alive.
I’m preaching more to myself here, than anyone else, thank you very much. Love still covers a multitude of sins. Give it a whirl sometime.
Sorting through conflict is my least favorite activity. Yet as a corrosively analytical-type I spend significant quantities of time revisiting conversations and interactions that didn’t go the way I thought they should. I don’t believe its a waste of time to analyze. I think it can be a source of wisdom if we are willing to take a dispassionate view of ourselves and the person with whom we were conversing. The problem lies in the fact that I’m usually powerless to turn a situation around to the point where I feel jubilant about things. Spoken words have that effect. And some conversations are so botched – yes, I’m capable in that way – that its pointless to revisit with the person at all.
How does this relate to art, beauty, hope and the pursuit of God?
Relationships can be beautiful, sometimes. Most of the time they are just a tangly mess of funky, dissatisfying conversations. They mirror our imperfections and unless I believe that there is beauty in the process, moreso than in the end result, I am without hope.
One of the most beautiful things that can happen in a relationship is that business of humility and deciding mid-conversation that I don’t have a horse in this race. The conversation won’t be about changing this person’s perspective so that it matches mine. At the risk of sounding rather competitive, it’s a conscious effort on my part to state my perspective and then ever so gently back off so that the other person is free to think or conclude whatever they wish…even to the extent that they might become arrogant and want to teach me a thing or two. No matter. Humility in relationships means engaging in the dance of dialogue without running away or demanding that I’m right. Close enough to get hurt but offering enough space so that they are free to adopt my perspective or maintain their own … that’s art. I wish I engaged in it more often.