In the first place, we don’t see much advice given in the book of Ruth until the two women return to Israel. This was a brand new experience, a brand new culture with a new set of traditions for Ruth, and Naomi knew it. So did Ruth. She had no familiarity with the gleaning system of “welfare” practiced by the Hebrews. Even though it reads as if she were the one to suggest her gleaning, she would not have known the laws unless Naomi had previously taught her. And so Naomi likely told her, “This is how it’s done,” and she listened because she knew she needed it to get along in her new environment.
Do you give advice when you have a different way of doing ordinary things, or when you know your daughter-in-law is in a completely new situation? Young people nowadays are very well educated, so I have tried to keep quiet unless asked, but once in awhile the asking can be done with a sigh of frustration. If you aren’t sitting there trying to change all of her methods simply because they don’t match yours, and if there has been some indication that it is wanted, your advice will probably be graciously accepted. And if, after trying it out, she decides not to follow it, that’s fine. Don’t mention it again. We all have our own comfortable ways of doing things.
Don’t be judgmental about your advice. Just because she uses more convenience food than you did, doesn’t mean she is a bad wife and mother. Probably the time saved she uses on something that was not your talent and that you did not have time for because you cooked from scratch. Despite modern catch phrases, you can’t do it all, and different doesn’t always mean worse.
Remember, as we have seen previously, Naomi had carefully nurtured this relationship with acceptance, love, and friendship. If you haven’t done that, don’t even try to give advice. Pay close attention to Naomi’s motivation. Some of her advice came with the name of God attached (2:20). Other times it was for the sake of Ruth’s safety (2:22), or for her future welfare and reputation (3:1ff). Why, exactly, are you giving advice? Is it to impart the will of the Lord? Is it a matter of health and safety? Or do you simply think she should fold the towels the same way you do? If you are giving advice for every little petty thing that comes along, especially if it comes with that disapproving nasal whine we all recognize, it’s time to stop. If it comes with a tone of superiority, don’t bother. You might as well be holding up a sign saying, “Don’t pay any attention to me,” because she won’t. You wouldn’t either if it were your mother-in-law.
Listen to the way young women give each other advice. Never a hint of superiority or criticism, just simple sharing—“This worked for me…I read this once…I never tried it myself, but my neighbor said…” Their advice never comes with the unspoken but clearly heard, “And if you don’t do it my way, I’m going to take it as a personal affront.” No wonder they go to their peers for advice instead of us older women. But no wonder Ruth listened to Naomi. Ruth’s attitude toward advice in chapters 2-4 testifies to the manner in which Naomi must have advised and taught in those early years of chapter 1.
So, all mothers-in-law out there listen to Naomi! Giving advice is about content, manner, and motive. It should be given seldom, carefully, and for all the right reasons. I hope I’m getting better at it.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his [or her!] earnest counsel, Prov 27:9.