“Lessons from the Old Testament: Lessons from Ruth and Hannah,” Ensign, Apr. 2006, 34–37
When my mother, Emma Martin, was in her teens, her mother—my Grandmother Martin—suffered a series of strokes that left her paralyzed and unable to speak. My mother assumed her mother’s role of cooking, cleaning, and caring for her father and her three brothers, along with attending school. She also cared lovingly for her mother each day.
This situation must have been very difficult, and the additional responsibilities she had to assume at such an early age must have been hard to bear. But I am told that my mother never complained and was patient and kind to her mother, father, and brothers. She did not let her circumstances discourage her or excuse her from achieving her goals and dreams. In fact, she continued to attend school and gain further education. When she graduated from high school, she was given an award for never having missed a day of school in 12 years. She had also earned the highest grades possible in all her classes.
After her graduation, my mother attended college in a city several miles away. Each weekend she would return home to care for her mother. She would change the beds, do the washing, clean the house, and prepare meals for the week for her family, and then return to school on Monday morning. When she met and married my father, they moved into her parents’ home so that she could continue to care for her parents. I was raised in that home and still carry with me the memories of my mother’s service and sacrifice. My life has been richly blessed because of her example.
Because of my mother’s attitude, I always thought it was a privilege to live with my grandparents. I came to know them in a way I could never have known them otherwise. I loved my Grandmother Martin dearly, and even though she could not speak, I knew she loved me by the look in her eyes. I learned how to read on her lap. She was always there and was never too busy to listen to me. Her attitude was one of cheer and optimism. She was grateful for the smallest things. She loved it when I helped her walk around the living room, and she loved to go for a ride in the car. She blessed my life as a young child and as an adult.
Both my mother and my grandmother were talented, educated, capable women. I am sure this was not what my grandmother had envisioned for her life, nor was it what my mother had in mind for her life.
Life’s journey sometimes takes us on unexpected paths. There are twists and turns in the road that none of us can anticipate. But with each of these twists and turns there is also opportunity—opportunity to choose our response and our plan of action. Difficulties in life can be opportunities to help us draw closer to the Savior and to trust in Him more fully. In the process of living close to Him each day, we develop Christlike attributes and qualities.
For me, my mother and grandmother are modern-day examples of the virtues and qualities that women in the scriptures developed as they exercised their dedication to the Lord.
As I study the scriptures, I am reminded again and again that the lives of many scriptural figures—in fact, the lives of most—did not go as they might have planned. How they saw their lives and how the Lord saw their lives were sometimes entirely different. In some cases He even sent angels to provide course corrections (see Mosiah 27:11–17).
I see this theme repeated in the lives of many righteous women in the scriptures. Ruth and Hannah are two scriptural women whose lives took an unexpected direction. Ruth did not expect that her husband would die, and Hannah did not expect to be unable to bear children after she was married. Each of us can be tutored as we study their lives and their reactions to the situations that presented themselves. Like my mother and grandmother, they possessed faith, hope, and charity, which enabled them to face their trials and to be instruments in the Lord’s hands for achieving His purposes.
Both Ruth and Hannah had great faith. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is “the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness.”1 And we are told in Hebrews 11 that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). These righteous and faithful women could not see what the future held; yet they were faithful to the Lord and to the covenants they had made.
After the death of her husband, Ruth chose to remain with her mother-in-law, Naomi. In making this decision, she gave up her family’s Moabite traditions in favor of the truths of the God of Israel.
The choice to forsake family, friends, or other familiar circumstances is a difficult choice that new converts and others sometimes make because they have gained a testimony of the truths of the restored gospel and have put their trust in the Lord. Like Ruth, they exercise great faith as they make changes to align their lives to the new truths they have been taught.
Several years ago, I became acquainted with a young woman from India. She was visiting the United States and was staying in the home of a wonderful Latter-day Saint family. They taught her the gospel by the way they lived. She observed their great faith and love of the Lord and how it affected everything they did. She joined in family home evening lessons and activities every Monday night. She began to read the Book of Mormon and to attend church. She was taught the gospel and gained a testimony of its truthfulness, and she was baptized. When she joined the Church, she was in a sense doing what Ruth had done. It took courage to tell her parents and family, but she knew the Church was true and she had such great faith that she was willing to give up everything to have the blessings of the gospel in her life. She is a latter-day Ruth.
Hannah is a powerful example of faithfulness. Her petition to be blessed with a child was granted after the trial of her faith. She covenanted with the Lord that she would give her son to His service when her son was old enough, and she remained committed to her covenant. Her words reveal the depth of her faithful commitment: “For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:27–28).
It is interesting to note that Hannah’s story begins with a cry of distress and sorrow to the Lord and ends with a song of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. We do not always have the option of choosing our situations in life, but we can respond with faith and trust in the Savior. We can know that He knows and loves us and will be with us. He has promised in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours” (D&C 78:18). We can also know that when we exercise our faith, the Lord’s purposes will be accomplished in His own way and in His own timing, and in the end, everything will work for our good. We can play a part in blessing future generations by exercising our faith in the Lord as we move forward through trials.
Hannah and Ruth possessed not only great faith but also hope. We learn from Mormon as recorded in Moroni that “if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope” (Moro. 7:42). When the life circumstances of these women were changed, they had hope that the Lord would provide guidance and strength.
Hannah, unable to have children, turned to the Lord in the temple and “poured out [her] soul before” Him (1 Sam. 1:15). Hannah was disappointed that her righteous desires had not been granted. However, she loved the Lord and had hope and trust in His might.
Ruth looked to the Lord with hope for her future. When she lost her husband, she experienced the feelings of loneliness that her mother-in-law, Naomi, had borne when her own husband had died. Ruth’s compassion and faithfulness to Naomi are demonstrated in some of the most beautiful words ever uttered: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth loved the Lord, and her faith and hope in Him were strong. Neither she nor Hannah gave up their hope. Rather, it sustained them in their trials.
These two women possessed not only the qualities of faith and hope but also devotion and sacrifice. These Christlike qualities are among the fruits of charity. Hannah and Ruth loved the Lord, and they loved His children. They were willing to put their own desires and futures aside to do what was right. Each of these women made a commitment to the Lord based on her faith and her hope in His goodness and mercy.
Although Hannah consecrated her son, Samuel, to the Lord, she continued to demonstrate great love and dedication to him, as shown by her yearly visits to the temple: “His mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice” (1 Sam. 2:19).
In a small way, mothers all over the world feel what Hannah must have felt as they prepare their sons and daughters to serve missions. Hannah’s love of the Lord and love of her son are also poignant reminders of God’s love for His children.
Similarly, because of Ruth’s unselfish love and obedience to Naomi, she eventually married Boaz and had a child named Obed. Through her lineage, the Savior was born.
Like Ruth and Hannah, all of us will experience adversity. We may not always understand the Lord’s design for our lives, but it is my testimony that we are never alone. He is ever with us, and He promises us, “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation” (D&C 58:3).
I am grateful for the pattern of faith, hope, and charity that is shown to me in the lives of righteous women in the scriptures. I am also grateful for my mother, who trusted in the Lord and leaned not unto her own understanding (see Prov. 3:5). I believe that what was said to Ruth could be said of my mother and grandmother and the many others who navigate life’s challenges with faith and trust in the Lord: “The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord … under whose wings thou art come to trust” (Ruth 2:12).