At FSU, there were four sophomores taking Organic Chemistry. They were doing so well that the weekend before finals they decided to go to UF to hang out with some friends. After all that college fun, they slept all day Sunday and didn’t make it back to FSU until early Monday morning. Rather than taking the final, they found their professor and told her they had gone to UF for the weekend with the plan to come back in time to study, but, unfortunately, they had a flat tire on the way back, didn’t have a spare, and couldn’t get help for a long time.
The professor thought it over and agreed they could make up the final the next day. The guys studied that night and went in the next day. The professor placed them in separate rooms and handed each of them a test booklet. They looked at the first problem, worth five points. It was something simple. “Cool,” they thought, “this is going to be easy.”
They finished the problem and turned the page. On the second page was written: (For 95 points): Which tire?
Having close people in your life is crucial. Your friend gets your joke. Your co-worker offers congrats. Your spouse hugs you hello. We’re social. We crave feeling supported, valued and connected. This is a big key to being very happy or not so happy, to having better health, lower blood pressure, and a longer life. We live on the strength of our connections.
We need to connect to others and keep them with us. Ecclesiastes 4:9 and 10 say, “Two are better than one…: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
We get the connection we need when for example we get help from a friend who picks up the kids from school. We receive support when someone says, “I’m really sorry you’re having such a tough time,” and then let’s you spill it out. We feel valued when someone likes the same thing we do, like stamp collecting or yoga.
This good stuff doesn’t come as often or easily as much as it’s important or helpful. The truth is, we’re asked more often to give than to receive. We’re called upon more times to be the one who keeps the connection or deepens it or starts one than those who have it happen to us.
It’s the way it goes. If you’re someone who can pay attention to another person, be yourself, be open enough to be kind and look for the good, then
good stuff can happen. You can make friendships and connections happen and deepen.
But sometimes, we’re the ones stepping on our own toes and making it harder for ourselves to find strength through connections. We can be our own worst enemy when we wait for someone else. Instead, reach out, a lot. Take some risks. You may need to meet lots of people before finding one or two who suit and who stick.
We also make it hard on ourselves when we don’t realize we’re the stumbling block. I know we all have our own personalities, our flaws and strengths, but do we have to stick to our flaws as tightly as we stick to our strengths? It’s not good when we let a personality tick continual to shine. We need to pull it out, and cut off its head, and step on it. If you’re someone who doesn’t think he or she’s got one, then that’s one of them, one of those ticks sucking up your blessings. Whatever’s bugging others about you is a parasite, draining you of connections and life. It’s got to go.
Realize how much more you want deeper connection to others. We ought to get tired of being on the outside looking in at others. God is sending us people who want to be with us, let them in.
Our scripture reading has a well-known portion in it. People are often surprised to find that the words from Ruth 1:16b-17, something you may hear at a wedding to connote the joys of beginning a new life together, didn’t occur originally from good times. They were said when the bottom had been struck. When things looked dark. Ruth’s words made restoration and a new life possible: “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.’”
This is a pure expression of complete commitment that says in so many words, “We are all each other has, and I’m not leaving you!”
Famine sets the stage. In the opening scene, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, leave their Bethlehem home in search of food in Moab because there is starvation occurring in Israel. This is an ironic since Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
In contemporary language, Elimelech and his family were immigrants and/or refugees. Theirs wouldn’t have been an easy lot. Can you imagine if Moab hadn’t let this family or others in? They may not have survived.
Before long, perhaps unexpectedly, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi and her two sons to make it on their own. Eventually, Mahlon and Chilion
married local women, Orpah and Ruth. The family seems to have adjusted to their “new normal.” Then Mahlon and Chilion died. These losses were the final straws—devastating.
The news that there was bread now back in Judah must have been music to Naomi’s ears. She decided to go home. After starting back, she tells her daughters-in-law they should return to Moab. Having experienced being an outsider/refugee/immigrant in Moab, perhaps Naomi wanted to spare Orpah and Ruth a similar experience in Judah.
Verse 14 says Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. Not even another plea in the next verse changed anything. Ruth refused to leave, “Wherever you go, I will go.” She would stay with Naomi and create a new life for herself in Judah.
You see, Ruth goes toward connections. She doesn’t run from them. Ruth headed in the direction where she believed she would have the greatest chance for deep, positive, human connection.
She wouldn’t go home because back there she was nobody. With Naomi, she had grown into a full person. It wasn’t worth the risk to return home when what she wanted was a better life with love, respect, and hope. She had found these with Naomi.
Ruth’s genius was partly forced on her, since her homelife was nothing she could return to. But mostly she knew life when she saw it. She recognized non-refundable connection when she had it. She knew Naomi mattered to her and how much she mattered. The power of two meant the world to Ruth. The strength of this connection meant everything. The rest as they say is history, including David being born to Ruth’s grandson.
Realize how much others mean. Don’t be fooled by how strong we feel on our own. Our strength comes from being tied together with another or others. The truth is, the Lord is our strength. God with us is the most important connection and power we have. We need to keep it at all costs.
In today’s world, it’s hard for younger generations, especially college age students, to make connections that feed them. Technology has its drawbacks; parents are overly involved. So, their homes may be a lot better than Ruth’s was, which means they can return home. But we need to be able to make our way out into the larger world, especially in such an individualistic society as ours is.
The thing is, we don’t always know when we’re being affected negatively by our surroundings and culture. Younger generations think it’s
simply normal to have fewer friends than other generations did or have less time face-to-face time with live humans. It’s having hugely negative impacts
And we see that today. College health services are inundated with students overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, stress, fragility, fear, loneliness, helplessness and a feeling of victimization. One college health staff reported that 75% of the students on campus are in treatment. Too many are too isolated. Too many don’t make connections and friends easily or fully. They didn’t have what we had growing up, and it’s costing them.
The truth is, empathy is decreasing in younger generations. And empathy for others is more than feeling sorry for someone in a tough situation. Empathy indicates how well we connect to another person. The opposite of empathy isn’t meanness as much as it’s isolation. Isolation and loneliness rise when empathy and compassion wither. This is true of anyone at any age.
Don’t settle for being lonely. We mustn’t accept being left to ourselves. Draw closer to the connections you already have. Move forward rather than away. Let your faith give you courage again. Don’t lose the one or ones who are most important.
When we’re short on friends and feeling lost without connections, we need to take some risks by reaching out. Be willing to tolerate new situations, and strangers. Let go of self-consciousness. You’re not the only one in this boat because the truth is if you feel this way, so do others. Those feelings won’t kill. They will pass in time, and you will grow stronger and more resilient having gone through it.
We want to build strength through connection, and the attempt to make connections. God rewards those who are moved by their spirit to connect to another one of the Lord’s children. God is bringing people to us, but you have to be willing to do your part. Trust in your own strength and God’s good will for you.
No matter one’s age, having friends is necessary, and deep friendships heal. The power of two is real. It’s the strength of connection that saved Ruth and Naomi. It’s the power of you and a friend, the strength of you and a partner. It’s the strength of God grace toward you.
Can the church say Amen?