Most of us, at one time or another, feel we have little value to offer to the world around us. Whether this feeling has a pervasive death-grip on our lives or it is merely held in the fleeting moments of our pessimism, we know it is often a very real feeling.
What difference can I make?
What do I have to offer?
Is it worth my time?
Does that situation really need my input?
But then there’s this word I’ve been thinking about…
It’s defined as any process of “transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.”
I love this.
In our faith community we’ve been teaching through the book of Ruth. If you know anything about the story, you know there are a few main characters living in interesting circumstances. Naomi (really the central character) is the mother whose family leaves Judah (the place of God) and heads to Moab (the place without God) due to famine (caused by God). While there, her husband passes away, her sons get married, she gains two daughters-in-law (Ruth and Orpah), and then her sons pass away. With nothing left, in complete and utter emptiness, Naomi decides to head home to Judah where the food has returned. Ruth, the unlikely Moabite hero, determines to go with Naomi and together, hopeless, they return.
With nothing left, Ruth decides to follow the Old Testament gleaning laws, where an alien in residence is left the scraps from the harvest in someone’s field. She finds herself desperate and picking up the leftovers in the field of the other character in the story. But what she finds is a man of God, a man named Boaz who not only offers her the scraps but in fact invites her to his lunch table. Ruth goes home with enough food for more than a week of eating.
The beauty here is Naomi’s response upon Ruth’s return:
“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20)
Many translators wrestle with Naomi’s statement here, questioning whether “his kindness” refers to Boaz or to Yahweh. Some even think the author leaves this intentionally ambiguous.
I kind of like ambiguity.
In fact, I think the ambiguity of the hope in this verse points us back to that word alchemy.
The process of changing something of little value to a substance of great value.
I wonder about the emotions of Ruth as she found herself a foreigner in a foreign land, leaving her own family behind and now on hands and knees gathering scraps in someone else’s field. But then, God’s hand moves and Ruth finds something greater than scraps.
She finds hope.
The alchemy of hope is when our courage to act surpasses our feelings of inadequacy and collides with God’s sovereign hand.
In many ways, your head is not lying to you.
You have little to offer.
You are broken.
You don’t have it all together.
You are a bit of a mess.
But… you also have this divine spark, this thing that leads to courage.
And when that courage is enough to make you act, you just might find yourself in the place where your tiny gasp of bravery runs headlong into God’s plan in action, and the powder keg of hope explodes into the world around you.
All around you are people desperate for hope.
People just like Naomi, crippled by their suffering and fear.
People longing for some sense of light, some sound of companionship.
You may be among them.
But the reality is, deep at work in the Kingdom around us, God is waiting to work the alchemy of hope… longing to pour out the blessing of people touching people with the power of his grace.
May you be bold enough to stand at the edge, smile, and wave hope to the world around you.