The Pink Elephant

At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. Ruth 1:14)

Our minister was preaching on Philippians chapter 4, stressing the need to remain “in the Lord” at all times.

Suddenly, he leaned forward and said to us, “I don’t want you to think about a pink elephant. Do you hear me? Please don’t think about a pink elephant. I don’t want you thinking about his large pink ears, his long thick pink trunk, his enormous pink body, or his tiny pink tail. Don’t think about a pink elephant!”

He paused, then smiled and said, “So what are you thinking about?”

The congregation answered with one voice, “A pink elephant!”

He went on to point out the importance of keeping our minds focused on the Lord and on the good things of life. That as we filled out minds with thoughts of “pink elephants” they would govern our thinking. It’s not possible to “stop thinking” about something negative. The only solution is to fill our minds with other, positive thoughts.

In Ruth chapter 1 we read how Orpah and her sister-in-law Ruth commit themselves to following their mother-in-law Naomi back to her old country, Judah. Then suddenly in verse 16, Orpah changes her mind. Why?

Orpah sincerely loved her mother-in-law. She wanted to follow her back to her old country. She was prepared to make the sacrifice and leave her family, her gods, and her old way of life. She said her farewells, and she took the first steps down the road with Naomi and Ruth. But it would appear she couldn’t stop thinking of all she was leaving behind. Her family. Her friends. Her known way of life. She had spent ten years married to an Israelite and with Naomi as her mother-in-law, so she would have been aware of some of the horrors and evil in the Canaanite culture. But it was the life she knew. The future loomed large and frightening before her.

Suddenly she realized she couldn’t go through with it. It was too big a sacrifice. She loved Naomi and she loved Ruth, but the more she thought of all she was leaving behind, the more turmoil she experienced. There were limits to how much she could go through. The farther she traveled, the more difficult it would be to change her mind. She had to make a decision—and so she stopped in the road. “I can’t do this. I need to go home.”

Ruth faced the same issues. In fact some writings suggest that Orpah and Ruth were sisters who had married brothers, making them both sisters and sisters-in-law. Whether this is accurate or not, Ruth clearly loved Orpah, and her decision made things worse. At least when Orpah was part of the adventure it was more bearable. Now Ruth would be the only foreigner headed for the land of Judah. Could she do this without the support of Orpah?

Ruth made a decision not to think about what she was leaving behind. She turned her mind from looking at the pink elephant of Canaan and focused on the future. “Your people will be my people and your God will be mine,”[1] she said to Naomi. She refused to look back, but riveted her thoughts on what lay ahead.

Do you have a decision to make that has far reaching consequences? Is your mind full of regrets or indecision? Do you have cancer or some other dread disease, and you can’t stop thinking about it? Are you struggling with an issue right now? I often do, especially in the middle of the night. I can usually control my thinking during the day, but in those dark hours when I lie awake, I find it more difficult. The more I try to stop thinking about the problem, the more I struggle with it.

Thanks to my minister’s sermon, I now know what to do when this happens. I have to stop struggling to put it out of my mind and rather focus on good things. I need to think about the Lord and all the plans He has for me, then I will automatically stop concentrating on the problem. My mind can only cope with so much at a time. If I fill it with the Lord and His goodness, there is no room for a pink elephant.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

[1] Ruth 1:16