“I don’t want to be that girl,” my friend Fiona says, “who waits by the phone.”
And suddenly it all becomes clear. “But Fiona,” I say, “you are that girl. I am that girl. My mother is that girl and her mother before her. We’re all waiting by the phone.
“You think there is a cure for waiting by the phone, but there’s not. The phone call doesn’t cure it. Dating the guy who calls doesn’t cure it. Marriage doesn’t fix that ache to be remembered and singled out and loved. Lovesick is just how we are. It’s an illness. Even when you are married, you have times when you wait by the phone.”
I feel for Fiona. I forget the colossal risk a single girl takes when she goes so far as to be slightly interested in a guy. I know being interested is a gamble. What if he’s not remotely interested back? Which makes love like playing a crooked slot machine in a corrupt casino. What if I’m not loved back? Or what if he loves me, then changes his mind and leaves? Or (and this is plausible to the point of actual) he loves me but he doesn’t say it the way I need to hear it? Or when I need to hear it. What if I’m trapped in a marriage where waiting by the phone is a more accurate euphemism for marriage than for dating? What if he waits till I’ve invested everything and then he makes the ultimate exit of dying? What will my heart do with that insult of all insults? That first spark of interest is a painful risk—an omen of the deeper risk of involvement—and I forgot about that.
Waiting in Antiquity
Every one of us is waiting for someone who will be there, who will pay attention to our words, the petty ones and the precious ones, someone who won’t leave or opt out or lose focus. Someone who will call just when we need for them to. And our lovesickness has symptoms that emerge when we’re waiting. Disappointment, discouragement, sorrow, fear, impatience, irritability, anger, bitterness. The darker side of lovesickness is our inability to fully do for others what we crave for ourselves. We try, we really do, but we’re not always good at it. Someone is waiting on us to deliver and we fail…a lot.
It’s been this way since the fall. When our ancestors loved, they rolled the same dice. Waiting has never been safe. Somewhere around 1000 B.C., Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, met and married men who turned out to be colossal risks. Naomi returned to her homeland and told her friends the unvarnished truth: “I left full and I have returned empty.” She and Ruth arrived in Israel not just heartsick, but as heartbroken widows.
Which makes what happened next pretty darn amazing. Naomi orchestrated another courtship for Ruth. And Ruth cooperated. The older woman effectively said, “Ruth, dear, take your broken heart and offer it to a stranger. Wait by the phone. You may end up looking like a fool, but, who knows, you might get a husband in the end.”
And Ruth did it. At least these days if you wait by the phone you can do it in the privacy of your own home. He doesn’t have to know you’re waiting. But Ruth had to do something I’m not sure many of us would do. Naomi instructed (easy for her to say):
"Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don't let him know you're there until the party is well under way and he's had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He'll tell you what to do."(Ruth 3:3-4)
Here’s where I might have shrieked at my mother-in-law, “Wait and see what he says? Are you crazy? Lie at his feet?”
But it worked. You know why I think it worked? (Aside from the culture at the time and the fact that Ruth may have been prime marriage material, whatever that means.) I’m guessing here, but one small observation says something significant to me. Boaz—the potential husband—woke to find Ruth under his blanket…asleep. Asleep! Ruth took a monumental risk and waited for the outcome. While she was waiting she slept. I don’t know about you, but when I am impatient or anxious, especially about a relationship, I do just about anything but sleep. Ruth slept without the benefit of an Ambien or a white-noise machine or a glass of Merlot.
A woman who sleeps in these circumstances is a woman at peace. The DNA of peace is trust. Ruth had lived through enough to know she could never fully trust husbands, or any other mortal for that matter. They might up and die on you. Ruth was waiting on Someone else, the God of Israel Naomi called “The Strong One.” How do I know that? After both of their husbands died, Ruth begged to go with Naomi to Israel, saying, “Your God will be my god.” Naomi was her only connection to the God she had already embraced. Sure, she loved Naomi, but it looks like she loved her God even more.
Ruth could wait on Boaz because she knew how to wait on The Strong One. Waiting on others is an exercise in disappointment. It makes for one-dimensional living. Waiting on the Strong One is a sure bet every time. It makes for a life that lives and breathes and grows beyond us.
One time my sister said, “I don’t have road rage, I cause it.” Well, we all have disappointment and we cause it. We’re mortal and lovesick and infected with sin. That’s why waiting on others is such a gamble. It doesn’t mean we don’t do it—just think what we would miss—but it does mean we don’t expect an immediate return on our risk. We know how often others have not “shown up” for us and how often we have not “shown up” for them.
But God doesn’t have our disease. He can be waited on with utter confidence. Look for the word “wait” in the Psalms and Proverbs and you’ll see proof. The writers typically used the word one of two ways. First, connected to a direct object: God who is a Rescuer and a Friend on whom the writer waits. Second, connected to a subject: the enemy waiting in the bushes to pounce. Make two lists of both usages of “wait” and you’ll find the ratio is about two to one. For what it’s worth, those ancient lovers of the Strong One cried out in devotion to God twice as much as they cried out in fear about their enemies.
Ruth was able to wait by the phone (or under the blanket) for Boaz because she waited for his God first. She could take the risk, not because she knew Boaz would be all she hoped he would be, but because her true Kinsman Redeemer was her all and all. She became David’s great-grandmother and, one day a thousand years later, one of only three women mentioned in Jesus’ ancestry. Waiting gave her life a meaning it would never have had otherwise.
So here’s what I want to say to my friend Fiona:
“Fiona, be that girl. Just wait on someone else. Be that girl with all your heart.”