Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Ruth 1:20).
Tragedy. For some, it seems to always lurk in their shadow. Naomi's story is one of tragedy. It is also one of God in those shadows. I wrote this essay about her several years ago, but story is worth retelling.
Naomi – her name means “pleasant” – and her husband left Israel during a famine that swept across the nation. They settled in Moab, their two sons married Moabite women, and the family worked hard to provide for their needs. But over the course of the next several years, Naomi’s husband died. Then her two sons died, and Naomi was left alone and devastated by her triple tragedy.
When she and Ruth – the wife of one of her deceased sons – arrived back in Israel, the people of her hometown greeted her with unmuted excitement. But Naomi, her grief still raw, quieted them and said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [which means, ‘bitterness’] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:19-21).
It’s not hard to empathize with Naomi’s despair. Life picked her up, threw her to the ground, and then kicked her in the gut as she lay in the dirt. And she did what so many of us are so often quick to do.
She blamed God for her tragedies.
Who doesn’t understand Naomi? Deep and gut-wrenching loss. Death. Debilitating injury. Chronic and life-altering illness. Financial disaster. It is a rare, rare person who gets through life unscathed by heartbreak. And it is little wonder that so many people – even those of us in the Church, children of God as we are, who’ve heard about faith and trust for years in homilies, who’ve read the books and sang the hymns extolling God’s love – it is little wonder that even those of us in the Church can find ourselves embittered about life.
And even about God.
Naomi didn't know it – in fact, she never discovered it – but through her tragedy, her daughter-in-law married a man named Boaz. Their son, Obed, had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom was named David.
David’s distant offspring was named, Jesus.
Naomi didn’t know – as many of us today don’t know, especially when we are in the throes of our bitterness – that God really does know what we go through. And He really is able to orchestrate events and people and circumstances in and through our lives to ultimately give birth to a wondrous beginning.
And – and this is important – God really is able to cause all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28).
Life can be full of pleasantness, or full of bitterness. But circumstances themselves do not have the power to decide which of the two will rule us. Only our trust in the trustworthy God – or our lack of it – will determine what we call ourselves. Naomi . . .