Sweet Woman on the Road from Bitter to Better

Friday Gleanings by Carmen

“So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.  When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them.  “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1: 19-21 NIV)

I have always enjoyed reading the Book of Ruth.  In my younger days, this love story captivated my imagination.  Recently, I realized that my focus while reading this book has always been on Ruth.  Yesterday when I began to read it, I noticed Naomi as if for the first time.

Naomi was tested in her lifetime, as many of us have been.  She lived through a famine, a sojourn in Moab, an adjustment to a new culture, homesickness, and finally the death of her husband and sons.  As a beautiful, young, married woman, she had to leave Bethlehem for Moab because of the economy.  Can you relate?  It is evident that Naomi was well-known, a person of prominence and beloved by her community.  Her return caused quite a stir in Bethlehem.  Her arrival brought the housewives out to welcome their friend home.  On seeing Naomi the women say: “Can this be Naomi?”

The implication is that Naomi has changed.  At first, I thought they might be referring to the effects of time on Naomi. The change, however, has little to do with her age, and more to do with her attitude.  Naomi left Bethlehem as a loving wife, protected, and cherished by her husband, eager to escape the famine that threatened their livelihood.  She was the proud mother of not one, but two sons. Her name meant “pleasant”, which might very well have described her disposition.  Life was sweet, in spite of the famine.

In this passage, we see Naomi returning to Bethlehem.  Age has taken its toll on her.  The beautiful young woman, who left Bethlehem with her head held high and her eyes set on the future returns stoop-shouldered, discouraged, and nursing a broken heart.  “Can this be Naomi?”  Not only do the women ask this question, but Naomi must have asked herself this question many times.  Faced with the loss of her husband and sons, Naomi has lost her identity.  So she responds:  “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara.”  Mara means “bitter”, and admittedly, Naomi is bitter about her losses.

There are many things that can make a person bitter:  the death of a loved one, financial ruin, injustice, a wayward child, an unfaithful husband, or an illness. During those times it may seem that God has abandoned us.  We may fail to find meaning in the midst of adversity.  It is important, however, to deal with that bitterness, to dig it out before it takes root.

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In verses 20-21, Naomi takes the first step in going from bitter to better.  She admits to God and to the world that she has a problem.  Throughout the Bible we meet people who have serious issues with God’s plans.  Jonah was upset when God did not destroy Nineveh, David was distraught when Uzzah and Ahio were killed for mishandling the transport of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and Job cried out to God in his affliction.

The good news is that we have a God who is big enough to deal with our confusion, disappointment and even anger.  As long as we remain in a relationship with Him, he can and will heal our bitterness.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

We know that You are in control.  We know you have a plan.  But sometimes, Lord, bitterness worms its way into our lives, and blinds us to the many blessings we have already received.  Forgive us when we question your good purposes.  Today, we turn every difficult situation over to you, the losses, the offenses and the hurt, knowing that your healing hands can restore our joy.

In the name of Jesus,

Amen

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