What is the most important quality that you look for in a friend or a partner? What character quality do you want your children to have? In my research I found an article about “What singles consider a must- have in a potential date.”  Any guesses?

Whatever your guess, I can guarantee that you’re wrong. Are you ready for the most important quality that singles look for in a potential date? Teeth. That’s right. Teeth. And what comes after that isn’t much better: for men it’s grammar and hair. And in case you are wondering, women aren’t any better: they are looking for teeth, grammar, and clothes. Really?

To be fair, there was another survey about qualities that singles consider must haves for relationships and these do get a little deeper. The top two are the same, just in reverse order: Some who I can trust and someone who treats me with respect.  I also noticed something interesting.  Men are looking for someone physically attractive but that didn’t make the top five for women.  That’s kind of a relief for me as I get older.

There are a lot of opinions about what character trait is the most important in a relationship besides teeth and grammar and clothes.  I’m guessing that at the top of your list is something more substantial:

  • Love might be at the top of your list
  • I’m guessing that respect might make your top five
  • Personality and sense of humor are probably up there.

Today I want to make a nomination for the character trait I think should be number one and I’m not going to tell you what it is at the beginning. Instead, I’m going to tell you a story from the Bible about a woman who epitomizes this character trait and at the end of her story I’m going to let you guess what it is. Are you ready? Let me tell you about Ruth.

Story Time

Ruth has an entire book of the Bible with her name on it.  It’s hard to get more famous than that.  As we look at her life I think we will see what I believe is the top character quality we need to see all of our relationships succeed: Our marriages.  Our relationship with our kids.  Our relationships with our parents. Our friendships.

The book of Ruth was written during the time where Judges ruled.  This verse describes how people lived back then.

 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.–Judges 21:25

There were no rules.  You just did whatever seemed right to you.  Does that sound familiar to you?  This was no time of life to be a young, unprotected woman but that’s the culture Ruth found herself in.

Famine was a common experience in those days, mostly based on rain patterns.  If there was no rain, there were no crops, if there were no crops, there was no food, and if there was no food, people starved.  That isn’t really our reality.  795 million people in the world or roughly one in nine people live like that today, but that’s probably not really an issue in your neighborhood but food was serious business in Ruth’s day. Sometimes the only solution was to move away from home to somewhere where there was food. That’s what Elimelek and Naomi did; they moved away and were literally running for their lives.

From Bad to Worse

Who are Elimelek and Naomi, you may be wondering? You’ll see in a minute, but right now the situation is about to go from bad to worse because Elimelek dies, and Naomi is left alone with her two sons.

When Naomi lost her husband she was put in a difficult situation.  I think we can understand at least some of the heartache she felt losing her soul mate but that wasn’t the only reason for her pain. In those days there were few, if any, jobs for women. Men were actual sole bread winners.  They provided food and shelter and clothes.  Generally, I think women still want their husbands to be protectors, but back then it was essential to have that kind of protection.  Remember, these were the days when everyone pretty much did what they wanted to do.  The husband held the weapon that kept the criminals away; again not a reality we might be able to relate to but believe me, it was real for Naomi.  Back then, the death of a husband meant more than just the loss of a companion, and friend and lover.  It meant poverty and hunger and homelessness.

Enter Ruth

And just when Naomi thought it couldn’t get any worse:

4 (Her sons) married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.—Ruth 1:4,5

Fun Fact: Did you know that Oprah was actually named after Orpah, the Biblical character just mentioned, but her mother accidentally misspelled it on the birth certificate.

In the case of the loss of a husband, you were okay if you had sons.  Sons could work. Sons could protect you.  My son is home this week and I’ve realized that he could easily take over for me and my wife would actually be much safer, and would probably move up a couple economic levels since he is currently finishing up his last year at law school.  She would have to do a lot more cleaning though.  Just saying.

Naomi was now in dire straights.  No protection, no money, no food and now it wasn’t just her, she had to take care of her sons’ wives. Add on top of all of this the intense anguish of losing her only two children.  Naomi finds herself in a desperate situation with very few options so she takes the only one she can think of; it’s the option many of us take in time of trouble—she goes back home.

Home Sweet Home

Naomi is going home.  She’s going back to family members that she doesn’t like but that’s her only option.  And her intention is to go alone because, as strange as it seems in this day and age, she knows that the only real hope for her son’s wives was to go find another husband who will be able to protect and take care of them.

Naomi knows this; it’s another brutal reality of her life. These two girls are the only people in her life.  She has been away from home for over a decade.  She has fallen in love with these two ladies.  She doesn’t refer to them as “in-laws” in the Bible, she calls them her “daughters.” She doesn’t want them to leave her but she knows its best for them so she tells them to leave and here’s what happens:

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye,–Ruth 1: 14

No Time for Good-Bye

Orpah left.  If ever there was ever a good time for Naomi to leave, this was it.  She had nothing.  No husband, no money, no property, no sons.  There is no scenario in which this works out.  Despite all the odds going against them, this is what Ruth does:

but Ruth clung to her.—Ruth 1:14

Then she says one the most famous lines in the Old Testament:

16 … Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.–Ruth 1:16-18

I Ain’t Leaving

There are a lot of character qualities we want in our relationships.

  • We want to be with people that have a good sense of humor.
  • We want to be with people who are loving and kind.
  • We want compassion.
  • We want to be with people who look good on our arm and who we can show off and can bear cute kids.
  • We want to be with people who are industrious.
  • We want people with good teeth. (Apparently that’s very important.)

There are lots of options for the most important quality for a person to have if you are going to be in a relationship with them, but this is my nomination: “I ain’t leaving.”

I’m going to give it to you straight because that’s just what I do: If you want your marriage to be good, if you want to have a strong relationship with your kids, if you want to have friends that give joy to your journey, learn to say this line, “I ain’t leaving.”

  • Even though we are in conflict, I ain’t leaving.
  • Even though life is hard right now, I ain’t leaving.
  • Even though we’ve hurt each other, I ain’t leaving.
  • Even though you stepped out on me, I ain’t leaving.
  • Even though my kid is really getting on my nerves, I ain’t leaving.
  • Even though we haven’t had sex in forever, I ain’t leaving.
  • Even though my kid is acting spoiled and entitled, I ain’t leaving.

That’s my nomination. Sometimes that’s all I have.  I don’t know what I’m doing, but ain’t leaving.  It hurts and I don’t know how to make it stop, but I ain’t leaving.  I’m tired of this attitude I’m getting, but I ain’t leaving.

One Caveat

Now don’t get me wrong, I would never ask someone who is being abused to make this statement.  There is a time when you are literally beaten and cheated on and disregarded that the only thing you can do is leave. I understand that.  But generally speaking, this is the one character quality that I think is most important in a relationship.

Just the Beginning of the Story

Let me share with you how this quality pays off for the people in this story.  The rest of the book of Ruth is essential a love story that could be made into a Hallmark movie. I’ll spare you the sappy details and jump to the ending:

The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.–Ruth 4:17

Naomi didn’t actually have another son but Ruth did and this child becomes the protector that Naomi never thought she would ever have again. There’s something else you should know about this child; he’s the father of David. Do you know who this David is?  He’s David the giant killer.  David the most famous king of Israel.  That is Ruth’s great grandson.  Not only would David make a name for himself, but Ruth would be counted in the line of people that create the genealogy of the Savior of the world.  Jesus was related to Ruth! What can I say? God definitely rewards those who stay and by the way, God doesn’t leave either; even when you think he’s forgotten you, he hasn’t. So when life gets hard simply say this:  “I ain’t leaving.”