Fiery loeLast Sunday night I met up with one of my NextUp cohorts. (NextUp is a small group ministry run by Grace@Work that seeks to help emerging Christian leaders clarify their vocations. ) During the meeting one of the members said that there was a danger that you could be so concerned in discovering your personal life mission that you ignore concrete opportunities to help others that are already in your life. That was wisdom, and wisdom confirmed by the book of Ruth.

In my regular bible readings I had once again returned to this delightful short book tucked away between the horrors of the book of Judges and the hopes found in 1Samuel.

The story begins with tragedy. There was the tragedy of famine that forced a family to be refugees in a foreign land. There was the tragedy of death that took away a woman’s husband and two sons.

The woman’s name was Naomi. Losing all the male members of her family in a patriachal society went way beyond personal losses, deep as those wounds must have been. It also meant losing her economic status. When we read “So the woman was left all alone..” (Ruth 1:5a NET) we know it is time of deep loss.

But like all good people, Naomi’s thoughts are of others first even in the midst of her pain. (I just visited a good friend fighting leukemia and so much of the conversation was focused on his reassuring me of his support.)

In the midst of her loss, Naomi’s concerns are for the welfare of her two daughter in laws now also widowed. She lays no guilt trip on them to manipulate them to stay with her and take care of her. Instead she urges them to return to their families in Moab so that they can be cared for (Ruth 1:7-13).

But Naomi is not the only one who thinks of others before herself. One of her daughter in laws is also cut from the same cloth. Ruth chooses to give up the security of home and country to stay with Naomi, to care for her.

If she had returned to her family of origin there would be security and indeed another marriage could have been arranged. Orpah made that choice and there is nothing in the narrative that overtly condemns here for doing so (Ruth 1:14).

But Ruth makes the better choice. She chooses not to abandon a woman all alone. And the narrative shows us the reward for such a choice. She abandons obvious security so as not to abandon her mother in law. And in the end God does not abandon her.

As many have found out, often when we let go of some legitimate need to do what is right God finds some way to give us what we need too. “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NET).

In the end Ruth finds love, security, and the privilege of being King David’s great grandmother. She becomes a player in God’s salvation history. She finds her destiny.

Neither Naomi nor Ruth were looking for their life mission. They were faced with decisions in the ebb and flow of life. And they chose loyalty and love. Yet in doing so they became linked to God’s higher purposes.

Does that mean we shouldn’t be trying to figure out our vocations? No, I believe that like Jeremiah, we were all created for a specific life mission (Jeremiah 1:4,5). And that as we attend to our A B C’s, our abilities, burdens and the concrete circumstances of our life, we get real clues as to what we should be doing.

The irony is that in the highly competitive world of the global economy, pursuing one’s vocation gets much harder. One is happy just to be employed. We seem to have come full circle.

There was a time when vocation was a concept confined to the clergy. Everyone else just pursued the family business whatever that was. With the Reformation came the understanding that all were called to some work in the world, not just the clergy. People began to understand that they should attempt to discover their vocations and pursue them.

Now, we find that in the chaos of the new economy we are just fighting to keep our jobs. There is increasingly less space to pursue our vocations.

I still believe we should try to find our personal life missions. Some of us may have to pursue our vocations outside our gainful employment. God has made all of us unique. It would be a shame if that uniqueness becomes another casualty of globalization.

But whether we end up discovering and pursuing our vocations or not, we still have to live our lives as best we can. Daily, all of us are confronted with decisions we need to make.

Maybe, if we follow the example of Naomi and Ruth, and make our choices based on fidelity and love, we find that we were on the right track after all. You can’t go too far wrong with faith, hope and love.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan