At the time of writing, it seems as though the “10-Year Challenge” has resurfaced on social media. If Facebook were a high school classmate, no doubt it would earn the superlative “Most Likely to Tempt to Envy or Depression” by a landslide.
Now we get to see even more of the seemingly wonderful lives of others as they compare the single, childless, apartment-with-roommates life they led a decade ago to the happily married, enough children to fill a Christmas card, homeowner (or graduated to a bigger home) life they find themselves in today. Hashtag “Blessed.”
My intention is not to poo-poo on the sincere expression of gratitude or the attempt to find some pockets of light in a dark world. If someone is confident that participating in the 10-Year Challenge will result in glory to God and will benefit their neighbors who view it, then by all means, post it!
But it did strike a personal chord, since 10 years falls in an interesting place for me. As I thought of what my post would look like, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. By the grace of God, likely both.
Ten years ago, I was young, healthy, active, adventurous. I was living in L.A. with a great job, a great (at the time) support system, a great condo decorated in the spirit of Anthropologie, active in ministry, surrounded with friends. Was it perfect? By no means. But life was, for the most part, happy, good, fruitful, and it made sense.
Today, I am oldish (dreaded “middle-aged”), chronically ill, houseless, unmarried, and childless. Is it all bad and awful? By no means. But life, for the most part, feels sad, regretful, empty, seemingly lost, too late for redemption, and not making sense.
As I pondered these things, I was reminded of a woman who understands. A woman who also would have (and did) find the 10-Year Challenge in her life pretty discouraging. We find this woman in the Old Testament book of Ruth: Naomi. Ten years earlier, by her own account, she left Israel full. She had a husband. She had sons. They were setting out for Moab due to famine in Israel.
While in Moab, she seemed to be getting fuller. Her two sons married. The family was growing. They had food to eat and could support themselves. But then, in a narrative arc that shares similarities with Job, Naomi loses her husband. Difficult to be sure, but at least she had her two adult sons to provide for her. That is, until not just one, but both of them died.
After living in Moab for ten years, Naomi returns to Israel accompanied by her plucky daughter-in-law Ruth. Imagine moving back to a place you’d lived ten years earlier, but with a life that had imploded since you left. I know what that feels like. I was in L.A. for ten years before I had to move back to Texas, the land of my childhood and college years. I didn’t want to see anyone from the previous life I’d led so many years ago. I didn’t want to face the conversations of “What’s been going on with you for the past ten years?” After all, who wants to hear that story? And I certainly didn’t want to tell it.
That’s what Naomi had to do. The “whole town was stirred” by her return, and the women asked, “Is this Naomi?” She told them not to call her Naomi (which means “pleasant”), but Mara (which means “bitter”) because she left Israel full but has now come back empty. And not just by bad luck, but “the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.”
There’s lots that could be said, but my purpose in the post isn’t to do a Bible study on Ruth. The point is, Naomi’s 10-Year Challenge only reminded her of how good life used to be and how awful it was now. She wasn’t growing into fulfillment and fullness as the years of her life passed and time began to write its lines upon her face. She was caught in a spiral of senseless-seeming loss that put her in a financially and relationally vulnerable situation, and life became more of a living death.
What about you? Can you relate to Naomi? Does the thought of the 10-Year Challenge evoke more lament and grief in you than lightheartedness and glee? If you can’t relate to Naomi, do you have friends who can? Brothers and sisters in the body of Christ who can? If no one comes to mind, will you go find them? Because they need you.
To those grieved by the 10-Year Challenge, I have good news for us. If you know how the book of Ruth ends, you know that God’s purpose was to make Naomi full and pleasant once again. Stories like Naomi’s and Job’s can be a double-edged sword in that the ending is partially encouraging, partly discouraging. It’s encouraging because we see the full purposes of God played out and the story has a happy ending that includes temporal blessing. We know that’s true for us spiritually and eschatologically, but we also know it’s not a promise that things will end up full and pleasant during the rest of our earthly lives.
We need patience. And we need hope. The fullness will one day fill the emptiness to overflowing. The bitterness of life will one day give way to pleasantness. Not simply in a disembodied spirit existence in the sky somewhere, but with a real body on a real new earth in the presence of God. The 10-Year Challenge is only discouraging because it’s situated in the middle of the story. But the story isn’t over yet. And I promise, for everyone who loves Jesus and is loved by the triune God, our stories will end just as wonderfully as Naomi’s and Job’s. It’s the Eternity Challenge, and it will be worth the wait.