But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die–there will I be buried. May the Lord to thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” –Ruth 1: 15-17
All the great Love songs are all about “What I’d do for Love.” “I would do anything for love,” sang Meatloaf. Pop music has, on countless occasions, defined Love as a thing that exists primarily when people make HUGE, bold, dramatic displays of affection to one another. All well and good. But this Advent Season I can’t help but think about the other part of Love…the oft overlooked, or unheard part of any vow…the mysterious antithetical remark Meatloaf ends his famous chorus with, “but I won’t do that.” I’ve always wondered…what is it? What will Meatloaf not do? How does Love inform…not just what I choose to do…but what I won’t do?
There are, certainly, plenty examples of Love to be offered in our Advent texts and in our holy Christmas stories. But for my money, there may not be a greater, more powerful example of “Love in Action,” than the hero from the book of Ruth. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi are utterly alone in the world. Their husbands have died, their only other relative, Ruth’s sister-in-law, has left for home. They now face a world that doesn’t think of women as anything other than property, uncertain of how–if at all–they will make their way. Naomi begs Ruth to return to her home, to try to meet another man who will give her children, so she will be cared for. Ruth tells Naomi, “Where you go, I will go…your God will be my God…where you die, I will die.” It is a selfless commitment, born out of nothing but the Love Ruth has for her mother-in-law…and it begins with a plea from Ruth to Naomi, “Do not press me to leave you.”
As much as Love inspires us to great acts of kindness, compassion, and justice…that inspiration requires a moment of inaction in order to take root. Love is shown not just through what we choose to do, or how we choose to act…it is also demonstrated…perhaps powerfully so…in what we refuse to do.
My love for my partner begins with….refusing to demean or attempt to control her.
My love for my body begins with…refusing to engage in (in)activity that causes undo harm and suffering for myself as I age.
My love for my neighbor begins with…refusing to think of him/her as anything other than Another Child of God.
My love for my environment, my planet, God’s Creation begins with…refusing to ignore the resources I use, and the effects those uses have on the environment. Refusing to deny that my behavior has ripple effects far beyond myself. Refusing to become apathetic or inactive when I think about how daunting the task of living in healthy, productive relationship with the environment can be.
We’re told in scripture that there is no greater act of Love than to “give your life for your friends” (John 15:13). This may be true. But this is a season of anticipation…expectation…preparation…of not doing, and naming that as powerful.Mary refused to give up her mysteriously conceived baby. Joseph refused to give up on Mary. They were both refused a place to sleep at an inn on the night of Jesus’ birth…surely this should demonstrate the power that we have in choosing what and who we refuse. Who was not refused a room that night?
“Who do you love?”
Love forces us to refuse, to forsake, to deny just as much as it requires us to act. In the moments when you don’t know how Love is calling you to act, try to begin with what you won’t do. Refuse to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Refuse to deny welcome and hospitality to those most in need. Refuse to turn away Children of God who look, act, or believe differently than you. Even Jesus tried to turn away someone who didn’t belong…but that woman’s love of her daughter refused to allow him to do it. Even Jesus needed to be corrected…even he was challenged to look at what he was doing and what he was refusing to do.
Ruth refused to leave Naomi…she walked away from everything she had ever known…into an uncertain future…changed the face of Israel and Judaism forever.
What she did for Love.
What I do for Love.
Refuse to give up.
Refuse to not care. Refuse to let anger win the day.