Waiting for Boaz
By Ivy Grimes
Whatever you believe about the Biblical roles of men and women in society, if you've spent much time in a church singles group, you might agree with me that they're typically not hot spots of healthy dating activity. Some common complaints I've heard in my own years in singles groups are that the men never ask the women out, the women are too eager to be asked out, single-sex friendships are tenuous where two friends have the same crush, opposite-sex friendships are tenuous where one friend has a crush on another, and couples who do happen to meet in the group pull a fast vanishing act once they're married.
Churches try to address this problem through special retreats and sermons aimed at singles. You might hear your pastor or small group leader advise single women to "Be like Ruth and wait for your Boaz to ask you out!" or single men to "Man up and ask women out!" I would submit to you that where singles are discontent in churches, one possible remedy is egalitarianism.
I would submit to you that where singles are discontent in churches, one possible remedy is egalitarianism.
In fairness, single women hear a lot about Ruth because there aren't hundreds of stories about prominent single women in the Bible, particularly not stories about single women getting married. Of course, there's also Esther, who used her polygamous marriage to a brutal king as a political tool to save lives, which is a rather complicated tale! So we're left with Ruth, often painted as a gentle, submissive woman who meets the man of her dreams—the Bible's answer to a fairy tale maiden who becomes a princess.
Ruth lived at a time when women had very few rights. When her husband died, she was left without means to support herself. Faced with the limited options of leaving town with her mother in-law Naomi or returning to her family, she decided to set off with Naomi into a life of uncertainty and poverty. Ruth had to scavenge at the edges of rich men's fields to have enough to eat (a sort of agrarian panhandling). Naomi had a male relative nearby, so Ruth took the initiative to scavenge in his field in an attempt to attract his attention and escape poverty—but also to avoid being assaulted by men working the fields, as Naomi told her she might be if she went to the field of a stranger.
Ruth succeeded in attracting Boaz's attention, but the marriage proposal came after she approached him. She sneaked into his house at night and lay at his feet while he was sleeping—a far cry from the dating advice of many pastors. Boaz was touched that she was willing to marry an old man, and he married her, saving her from a life of poverty. Ruth's story ends with a genealogy tracing her as the great-grandmother of King David, and therefore in the lineage of Christ.
This is a fascinating story, and we can read it a number of ways. It's a story of redemption, yes, and by analogy, Christ's redemption of us in our hopelessness. It's an illustration of how God loves, values, and uses people regardless of race and class distinctions imposed by society. But it's also the story of a society where the subjugation of women made them vulnerable to poverty and assault, and about a particular woman who overcame these issues the only way she could—by taking initiative to collect the resources at her disposal. Including a man. Rather than being a lady in waiting, Ruth is the one who makes many of the moves.
We live in a society still plagued by injustices based on gender, class, and race. Many women worldwide only have options as bleak, or more, as those faced by Ruth. Churches have made amazing contributions to alleviating some of the horrors of poverty and oppression worldwide, and we have much more work to do.
In contemporary middle class America, women don't have limitless options and opportunities, but we definitely have many more options than some of our sisters in other circumstances. Yet women—and men!—who buy into the idea that women must rely on men to reign supreme in relationships limit their own options.
The implication that men exist to be our fearless leaders puts a lot of pressure on men. I haven't met any more men who have life and God and relationships completely figured out than I have women. Which is to say, I've met no one like this. There is simply no clear Biblical mandate for women to wait noiselessly for men to receive otherworldly wisdom about who and how to date.
There is simply no clear Biblical mandate for women to wait noiselessly for men to receive otherworldly wisdom about who and how to date.
Let me suggest that perhaps women don't have to wait for men to ask them out, or decide the appropriate ways to date them, or plan surprise engagements. Women can—perhaps should—participate equally in negotiating every level of the relationship. After all, relationships are a constant negotiation between equally imperfect human beings, and by abdicating responsibility and agency in relationships, women set the stage for feeling powerless and dissatisfied.
Perhaps men don't always know best. Just as women don't. Relationships will always be difficult, but men and women can face these difficulties bravely together—as surely as Ruth and Boaz did.
Ivy Grimes is a current freelance writer, former lawyer, and hopeful poet. Feel free to visit her poem blog at poemchallenges.blogspot.com.