She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;call me Mara,for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” – Ruth 1:20-21
I have found that God’s sanctifying work in me is most often produced out of seasons of pain. I’ve thought a lot about this story in the book of Ruth. At first glance, it’s a wonderful story of redemption. When you read it, it is no doubt a beautiful pointing to Christ as our redeemer. After a season of lingering pain, I have thought much about Naomi, and how she might have felt upon returning to Bethlehem as a widow with 2 dead sons. I wrote in my journal:
“Upon returning to Bethlehem, I wonder if Naomi was remembering how many times she prayed not only for deliverance, but for her heart to not grow bitter. I imagine she asked God just for a sense of hope. Over and over again, in tears, face down on the floor. I wonder if she pleaded with God just to help her, knowing that she was asking for things in His will. While others hardly ever ask and yet they have. I wonder if she prayed for protection from the other shoe dropping, and still it dropped. I wonder if she questioned what God is doing with all His power, and why would He be so silent in the midst of her crying. I wonder if she knew that the worst thing is a heart that grows bitter, and so she knew to pray for God to protect her from that, and still her heart grew bitter. I wonder if she was fully aware that God requires us to come to the end of ourselves so He can work powerfully, and she felt sure she had done that and made space for Him to move. To comfort. To redeem. To restore. To heal. To make new. I wonder if she looked around at other wives and mothers and observed that they gave little thought to God, and still He seemed to bless them and bless them more. Or maybe they did faithfully call upon His name, and so He seemed to properly reward them because that’s what a good Father does. I wonder if she asked ‘what more can I do?’, knowing that there was nothing more and God must do. Did she have those moments of agreement to let Him do as He pleases because He is God and He is only good? Only to return to feeling let down, not because He didn’t give her what she wanted but because He hadn’t healed her heart. I wonder if she eventually only prayed for God to heal her heart, and still He seemed distant and uncaring. I wonder if she saw herself slowly turning into someone she wouldn’t want to be around, and she felt helpless to prevent it. I wonder if this why she tried to send her daughters away. I wonder if she pictured in her mind the kind of woman she wanted to be, even without a husband and sons, and felt that the flame of hope was just put out. I wonder if she knew that the only hopeless existence is to have no hope in the Lord. I wonder if upon returning to Bethlehem, she was simply putting one foot in front of the other, headed in some direction, without any sense that God was on the move.”
And God preserved her story in a book called Ruth.
“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” – Ruth 1:22
at the beginning of barley harvest… I never caught this, these words don’t stand out, but this is huge. Something big was on the horizon. God was on the move. And what follows is an amazing story of God’s timing, provision, and redemption. And for Naomi, while her husband and sons were still dead, a hope restored.