While most studies on the book of Ruth focus on the book’s namesake, in Renewed: Finding Hope When You Don’t Like Your Story (Abingdon Press), Heather M. Dixon
focuses in on Ruth’s widowed mother-in-law instead. “I’ve always read and taught Ruth from Naomi’s perspective because ultimately, I think it’s her story,” Dixon explains. “For all believers, a transformed heart is one of the key identifiers of life with Christ and as readers, we get to experience that journey with Naomi—from bitterness to renewed joy. Her transformation echoes that of anyone who has struggled with a hard story and found Jesus to be faithful along the way. It’s also my personal belief that Naomi’s response to grief has often been judged too harshly. I wanted to give my readers a safe place to explore feelings of bitterness as they learned to look for God’s movement in their own story.”
In Renewed, women glean wisdom from Naomi’s perspective, a woman who lived a story she didn’t choose or like. Forced to chart a new path as she mourned the loss of her husband and two sons, Naomi learned that the journey from bitterness to renewed hope and joy was rooted in God’s promise of redemption.
Q: Is it OK to grieve the parts of our stories that we don’t like or is that self-pity? What can we learn from Naomi’s bitterness about her situation?
You have permission to grieve! Naomi was bitter because of her circumstances (and who wouldn’t be?), but she still remembered God’s sovereignty. Did He punish her for her bitterness? No, He was always working for her good as He brought renewed hope to her life. Her story reminds us that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to say this is not what we wanted. It’s okay to acknowledge this isn’t how things should be. We don’t have to be afraid of expressing our honest feelings to God because he understands. Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus, even when He knew He was about to raise him to life.
I think our society has much to learn from an example that values a natural and healthy grief process over stoicism. What’s more, the expression of grief is an acknowledgement that this broken world needs Jesus. When we let it, grief can be a vehicle for deep intimacy with Jesus.
Q: We’re familiar with how Boaz was the kinsmen-redeemer who rescued Ruth, but how did he redeem Naomi? How does this parallel the gospel story and our need for a redeemer?
The gospel story is rooted in redemption and renewal. From the pages of Genesis 3, the promise for redemption through Jesus has always been God’s plan for this world. (“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15) The kinsman-redeemer promise extended to Naomi also. When Boaz married Ruth, he redeemed all of Naomi’s property that she acquired through the death of her husband and sons. For Naomi, Boaz’s purchase of her property promised provision and care for her future. Without Boaz, she would be debt-ridden and destitute, but his redemption of her property made way for the renewal of her story.
Similarly, through His death on the cross, Jesus purchased our salvation with His blood. He redeemed all that may have been lost from our past circumstances and the entire debt we owe to God for our sins. His purchase promises our provision and care for eternity. Without Him, we would be unable to pay the debt we owe to God. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we have everlasting hope for renewed joy.
Q: How was Naomi reminded that God would always provide?
I adore that one of the motifs from the book of Ruth is the empty-to-full motif. Naomi was empty in every way at the beginning of her story, but it ends with her being full—full with food, family, happiness, offspring. God provided for her every need. God provided companionship for Naomi through Ruth’s determination to stay with her. God provided food for Naomi and Ruth in what would have appeared to be a stranger’s field, but it wasn’t. God provided family through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. He provided happiness through the birth of her grandson, Obed. And He provided offspring and blessing and security through Obed’s family line, which was the human ancestral family line for Jesus.
Q: What does Naomi’s story teach us about hope for our own situations?
I remember watching my elementary school friends on the playground, climbing up the tall ladder to mount the slide and zooming down it without fear. Hands up and laughing all the way down, they were free and joyful. I didn’t think I could do it myself, but watching them gave me hope. If they could do it, maybe I could too. I sense the same feelings rising when I read Naomi’s story.
She was a woman who walked through what many of us fear the most: the death of precious loved ones and life-altering change. And yet, if God could renew her story, why couldn’t He do it for mine as well? Naomi’s story teaches us that God is sovereign, loving, strategic, and compassionate. Her story prompts us to courageously lift our chins and say “He did it for Naomi, He can do it for me too.” There is hope in that. As a second-grader, I raised my hands as I slid down the slide. As a woman who has experienced much grief and change, I now place my story in God’s capable hands, knowing that God is always working for my good, even when I can’t see it. And that renewed joy is always just around the corner when I am walking with Jesus.
Q: Did you write Renewed for a specific audience of women?
Yes, absolutely. I wrote Renewed for any woman that is carrying a difficult and life-altering story. I wrote it for the woman who is not just walking through a season of hardship, but who has experienced a story that they did not choose and cannot change.
I also wrote it for the woman who yearns to trust God’s sovereignty and His plan for her life even as she grieves and is angered by her circumstances. Trusting God and grieving your story are not mutually exclusive. Renewed is for the woman who needs an honest space to do both as God fills them with hope.
Q: Tell us about the format of the study. How long does each lesson take and how many weeks are in the study?
Because we lead busy lives, this study is designed with just four weeks of study, and three days of lessons each week. Each day’s lesson will guide you through personal study of a passage from Ruth as well as application of what you’ve learned. This study is intentionally designed to offer a flexible but thorough plan to walk through the entire book of Ruth. You may find that setting time aside on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to go through each lesson works best for your schedule. Or perhaps it may be better to work through them on the weekends. Depending on your learning and study style, I would expect to spend 20-30 minutes on each lesson.
Q: What other Renewed resources are available to go along with the study?
The study itself includes a participant workbook with leader helps, but a DVD with four 20 to 25-minute segments (with closed captioning) is available for separate purchase also. The teaching videos are also available via AmplifyMedia.com, and streaming from Cokesbury.com.