How Parents Can Encourage Their Families Through Life’s Challenges

How Parents Can Encourage Their Families Through Life’s Challenges May 24, 2018

How Parents Can Encourage Their Families Through Life's Challenges

How Parents Can Encourage Their Families Through Life’s Challenges

Ruth 1:1-22

Four brothers left home for college and they became successful doctors and lawyers and prospered. Some years later, they chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived far away in another city.

The first said, “I had a big house built for Mama.”
The second said, ” I had a hundred thousand dollar theater built in the house.”
The third said, “I had my Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her.”
The fourth said, “You know how Mama loved reading the Bible and you know she can’t read anymore because she can’t see very well.

I met this preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took twenty preachers and 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 a year for twenty years to the church, but it was worth it. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it.”

The other brothers were impressed. After the holidays the mom sent out her “Thank You” notes. She wrote: “Milton, the house you built is so huge I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway.”

“Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home, I have my groceries delivered, so never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks.”

“Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound, it could hold 50 people, but all of my friends are dead, I’ve lost my hearing and I’m nearly blind. I’ll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same.”

“Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious. Thank you. Mom”


As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we celebrate the ways that parents (and mother’s in particular) have encouraged their families. Every parent faces different challenges when they raise their children. In this passage, we see five different challenges that parents may face.

1. Financial Hardship (Ruth 1:1)

During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while.” (Ruth 1:1, CSB)

The first challenge that this family faced was a financial hardship. The family lived in “the time of the judges” where there was political instability. It was a chaotic time and families struggled to have a stable life. This is the backdrop to the family’s life when the famine takes place. Elimelech and his family were already struggling in this unstable political environment. Yet, Elimelech probably came from a rich family background. It is possible that because they were from the Ephrathite clan, that they were a rich family.

Penuel fathered Gedor, and Ezer fathered Hushah. These were the sons of Hur, Ephrathah’s firstborn and the father of Bethlehem:” (1 Chronicles 4:4, CSB)

So rich in fact that the family was made poor by a famine. It was devastating. The famine was so severe that Elimelech had to move his family out of his homeland. Sometimes we face the challenge of financial hardship. Because of financial hardship, we have to flee. That brings me to the second challenge parents can face.

2. Flight (Ruth 1:1)

During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while.” (Ruth 1:1, CSB)

Because of the famine, the family had to move south. They had to flee the famine and look for a better place. Sometimes, a family has to get up and move in order for things to get better. But even so, change is hard. Elimelech planned to stay for a short while. For him, it was not a permanent move. That is why the Bible says: “for a while.” We think that we are going to move and we hope the situation resolves itself soon. But many times, it does not. That brings us to the third challenge every parent faces: family.

3. Family (Ruth 1:1-2)

During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there.” (Ruth 1:1–2, CSB)

Elimelech and Naomi had two boys. Just as they were a So for Elimelech and Naomi, the children were a challenge to raise. Sometimes, we have challenging children.

By that I mean they have challenging circumstances. Perhaps they are disabled. They have developmental problems and so we have to take special care with them. Perhaps they are defiant, in which case we have to work through their trauma with them. Every child comes with self-esteem challenges. Every child is a challenge to raise.

This leads to the next challenge that every parent and family can face: fitting in.

4. Fitting In (Ruth 1:4)

Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years,” (Ruth 1:4, CSB)

This Hebrew family moved out of the country for the sake of their family and they moved south to Moab. Elimelech dies and so Naomi is left to raise two sons all alone.

Being a parent in a foreign land is hard. But a foreign land doesn’t have to be 2000 miles away. It doesn’t have to be 200 miles away. You can move from the local town to the country and still have to adjust. Cultures can be as small as a village or as large as a continent. Not only did they have to fit into the Moabite culture, and the local culture. They also had to adjust to a new family culture.

Naomi is a widow and a single parent. Then her two boys marry local girls. So she had to deal with people with different approaches to life than herself. She had to deal with two daughters-in-law: Orpah and Ruth. In this case, the Naomi had to adjust to Moabite culture. She had spent ten years there when she encountered a set of deaths. Her two sons died.

5. Fatality (Ruth 1:3, Ruth 1:5)

Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons.” (Ruth 1:3, CSB)

both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.” (Ruth 1:5, CSB)

Just when Naomi thought that she could adjust, her two boys die. We don’t know what caused the deaths of her husband and her children. But it must have been devastating. The two young men she would rely on while she lived in a foreign country were now dead. But despite all these challenges that Naomi faced as a parent, I want you to focus on how she taught Ruth and Orpah by the strength of her faith. I want you to see how Naomi used her difficult circumstances to help her two daughters-in-law. She used her bad experiences for the good of two people who needed her encouragement.


1. I can encourage my children to trust God for their needs (Ruth 1:6-7)

In this exchange between Ruth and Naomi, one sees that Ruth has learned to trust God for her needs. Naomi had heard that God was providing her people in Israel food. So Naomi trusted God to provide for her return journey. The passage starts with a famine. The family left the town Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread,” to go to Moab.

This section shows that the family returns to Bethlehem and God provides for them. Ruth 1:6 parallels Ruth 1:1. From famine to food. The people start with a famine, and God ended by providing food. The children would see this happening in the like of Naomi. Naomi stepped out in faith to return home. She has been gone a decade. Things are now different. But God still provides.

2. I can encourage my children by looking out for their best. (Ruth 1:8-9)

But before setting out, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law that they could return to their home. She blesses them with a blessing of kindness and a desire for a new husband.

Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find rest for you, so that you will be taken care of?” (Ruth 3:1, CSB)

Naomi is a widow and needs someone to take care of and provide for her. Instead, she insists on praying for her children. Naomi insists on making sure that her children-in-law now are provided for in their future. If these prayers come true as Naomi sees it right now, these women would never be part of her immediate family after they remarry.

That is the selfless love of a mother. To think of children, even when they won’t be your own. A great mother looks out for the best of everyone in their care.

3. I can encourage my children even when things aren’t looking so great (Ruth 1:10-15)

In this strange exchange, the young ladies offer to stay with Naomi. To reply, Naomi makes it clear that if they stay with her, she can’t provide for them. Naomi looks in the mirror of her life and sees that life will be hard. She can’t provide more sons to be husbands. Even if she could, it would take too long.

Naomi says a very strange phrase about herself: “My life is too bitter for you to share because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.”

Then Naomi says another strange phrase about Ruth: “Your sister has gone back to her people and to her gods. Follow her.” Why would Naomi say that Ruth should abandon God for the gods of her primary culture? Don’t you think she’d want to say something about following the Lord?

I think this was a nudge by Naomi. A form of reverse psychology. My life is tough but I am trusting God, even when things look hard. You go back (even though you have seen how I deal with life with God beside me.) Don’t you think that Ruth would be a little bit curious about what God is doing in Naomi’s life?

The character is built during the trials of life. Naomi was teaching Ruth that it is important to trust God in the trials. Naomi doesn’t dismiss the hard things in life. She doesn’t say: “Nah, it ain’t that hard.” Instead, Naomi shows Ruth how to trust God when life is hard. Great mothers do that. Great Christians do that. When our lives aren’t going so great, we show how great God is and reveals our true hearts when we trust Him during very hard times. People see that.

4. I can encourage my children by the love I express to them (Ruth 1:16-17)

But Ruth replied: Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16–17, CSB)

Here, we have a section of Scripture that is often quoted at weddings. The words that Ruth says are an outcome of Naomi’s love that she shared with her daughters-in-law. This expression of love that Ruth says to her mother-in-law, her mother in the faith, can only happen because Naomi showed so much love to Ruth.

If Hallmark used a Scripture verse to write a Mother’s Day card, this is what it would say. It is interesting the way that Ruth says this. Because it sounds very similar to the way God says He loves His people:

I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:7, CSB)

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” (Leviticus 26:12, CSB)

““Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lords declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33, CSB)

5. I can encourage my children to keep looking up even when things are down (Ruth 1:18-22)

You may say that Naomi is very discouraged. She seems like a bitter woman. Are you saying that on Mother’s Day, mothers are supposed to be bitter? No. The entire city was happy that Naomi returned. But it came at a hard price. Naomi is at a point in life where she just lost three people in her family. She’s grieving and it takes a toll on her. All the while, Ruth is watching. She is watching how Naomi adjusts.

The last part of the verse paints a picture of a future that is looking up. This is the way that the story builds tension. However, in Naomi’s life, we begin to see that although she is going through a valley, she will soon leave that valley. Things are going to look up for her.

Parents, and especially mothers, can encourage their children to keep looking up, even when things seem to be down.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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