In the Field of Grace
By Tessa Afshar
River North, 2014
Two women. Alone. With no provision. Can a woman who has lost everything, except her beloved mother, find hope in a foreign land?
Ruth leaves her home with a barren womb and an empty future, after losing her husband. She forsakes her abusive parents and follows the woman she has grown to love as a true parent, her husband's mother, Naomi.
Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi's, love. She is destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation. She is reduced to gathering leftovers once the harvesters have finished collecting grain from the field. A job only for the lowest of the low.
But God has other plans for her life.
While everyone considers Ruth an unworthy outsider, Ruth is shocked to find the owner of the field - one of the wealthiest and most honored men of Judah - is showing her favor. Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz finds himself irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the dark, haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi's chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.
Obstacles. Heartache. Withered dreams. How can God forge love, passion, and new hope between two such different people?
Tessa Afshar is a gifted writer whose stories exemplify what I hope for when I pick up a Christian fiction book, and that is the skillful communication of spiritual truths in a way that entertains while inspiring and encouraging me to grow in my faith. Drawing from what is familiar to many, Tessa fleshes out the Old Testament story of Ruth with rich characterization, emotional romance, historical background, and spiritual depth. The four chapters of Ruth are combined with a moving fictional narrative in a way that doesn't take away or change the biblical account. For an even richer experience, I recommend reading the book of Ruth both before and after reading In the Field of Grace.
There was nothing about the portrayal of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz that felt unrealistic; in fact, the very opposite was true, because they felt real. It was easy to sense the depth of Naomi's despair and anger over her losses, why Ruth was willing to leave her family and religion of idolatry, and the incredible goodness of Boaz - who, as a kinsman redeemer, becomes a picture of Christ.
Failing to be the son her parents hoped for, Ruth grew up unwanted, invisible, and with constant criticism - whereas in Naomi's family, she found extravagant, undeserving approval. Ruth wasn't wildly in love with Mahlon, but "he drew her like a shepherd's fire on a freezing desert night. . . . Being with Naomi's family was like an antidote to the bitterness of her own relations." Watching Ruth respond to the call of God on her heart and cling to her faith is very moving.
I really liked seeing the character of Boaz fleshed out, because I've never had a clear image of what he might have been like. Wealthy, middle aged, highly respected, generous and caring, with a soft spot for those in need - and we see the great insight Boaz has into the human heart in the scene with the crippled boy, Eli, one of my favorite parts.
Our pastor recently took us through a sermon series where we looked at the stories of biblical characters and events (the lower story), then how God's hand could be seen throughout (the upper story). That's exactly what Tessa brings out so clearly with In the Field of Grace. So many spiritual themes spoke to me - important themes I've known all my life, but constantly need to be reminded of. For instance, that God always has a plan for our lives and obedience is key . . . even if we don't receive the desires of our heart, we can find contentment in Him . . . every person has extreme value in God's sight . . . no sorrow is ever wasted in God's hands.
Tessa knows the ways of God and conveys them beautifully through her writing. I'm impressed not only with Tessa's writing skills, but her heart. God looks for those who have a heart for Him, whose hearts beat for Him, and that's what Tessa brings out in Ruth - her love, faithfulness, self sacrifice, and compassion. Ruth questions why the life of one Moabite widow would matter to the Lord of heaven and earth, and I think the book's overarching theme is expressed in these words: "The Lord uses odd instruments to fulfill His will. The weaker the vessel, the better He likes it. It only proves His strength."
I appreciate a book that challenges or makes me examine my faith. When Boaz is asked to surrender that which is most precious to him, Ruth, I had to in turn ask myself, what have I held back from the Lord? Tessa concludes with a wonderful epilogue that shows how the upper story plays out, and I'll conclude with these words spoken by David to his son, Solomon, that challenge us as well . . .
"There is only one measure of true success. How close you remain by God's side. Does the dust of His feet get on your cloak because you follow so close? Does the sound of His whisper reverberate in your ear because you have drawn so near? Are you obedient to that voice, day after day, hour after hour?"
I highly recommend In the Field of Grace to all readers. This book can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, Amazon, and Booksamillion.
Tessa Afshar was born in a nominally Muslim family in Iran and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She survived English boarding school for girls before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her mid-twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDIV from Yale University where she served as co-Chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last twelve years in full and part-time Christian work and currently serves as the leader of Women's and Prayer ministries at a church in New England.
Meet Tessa online at tessaafshar.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
Thank you to Tessa Afshar for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.