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From Pleasant to Bitter and Back Again

Many of us have experiences that can relate to the story of Naomi found in the book of Ruth. We might be married, have lost a spouse, have daughters or daughters-in-law, lost children, or had to move to a new place. The book of Ruth is named after Naomi’s daughter-in-law, but so much of this story is about Naomi herself and how she responded to all of the hardships of a Jewish widow at that time. 

Naomi’s name means “pleasant” and I get from the story of her life that she was aptly named. She is married and has two sons and they end up having to move from their homeland in Bethlehem to the country of Moab because of a famine. During the ten years she and her family live there her sons marry local women, but have no children. Then her husband and sons all die (we aren’t told how). This leaves her to make some hard choices. Being a foreign woman with no man to take care or protect her, Naomi makes the hard choice to go back home and wants her daughters-in-law to return to their own homes so they can remarry and move on with life. With much convincing, Orpha agrees, but Ruth insists upon remaining with Naomi and going back to Judah. 

This is the first and biggest clue to me that Naomi was a special woman. She is so loved by her daughters-in-law that they don’t want to leave her side and return to their own families - especially Ruth! Mothers-in-law get a bad rap. They are depicted by the world as almost evil. This is usually where we stop thinking about Naomi in this book. Our attention goes to Ruth and we use her words to Naomi in wedding ceremonies to display our togetherness and commitment to one another. But let’s allow our gaze to move past that today. 

When Naomi and Ruth return home, it doesn’t give us a lot of details as to what happened, but it seems like they were accepted back into society and had a place to live. This is where we see the bitterness of the situation come into play. As she is welcomed back, Naomi tells her friends to call her by a new name - Mara - which means bitter. She states that the Lord has dealt bitterly with her. She is angry about all that has happened and is blaming God. This really struck me and took me back to a place of loss.

When I was in college I got a phone call in the middle of the night. It scared me, of course. My mother was on the other end of the line telling me that my uncle had an accident and was in the hospital. We didn’t know if he would make it. I hit my knees. I prayed harder than I ever had in my life for God to keep him alive. A little later I got the second phone call telling me he didn’t make it. He was so young and had a family - three kids - that he was leaving. It wasn’t fair! Why? Why him and not the other guy in the car with him? I was so mad at God. I thought - He didn’t listen to my prayer because if he had my uncle would be alive. Bitter. Angry. Furious at my loss and the loss of my family. 

Just like in the story of Naomi, it didn’t take me long to see that God was going to make good from a bad situation. In my story, the family was brought together like they never had been before. My aunt fell in love with a wonderful man who took in those three babies and raised them like his own. In Naomi’s story we see that the redeemer was Boaz. 

Boaz allows Ruth to gather in his field and Naomi guides Ruth through the process of gaining Boaz as a husband. Fast forward a little and Ruth and Boaz have a son. Naomi’s bitterness melts away and her friends help her to name the child and she becomes his nurse. She again has the family that she lost. I can just see her smile as she holds that sweet baby boy and sees in him her own two sons. 

For me, Naomi is a wonderful example of how to move through a situation that seems hopeless. She was angry at God, but was able to move through it and remain faithful. She had a spirit that allowed her to be a pleasant and lovable person, but had flaws. She had Ruth and the friends that are mentioned in the story to help her through a hard time. As with many women of the Bible, I see Naomi as one that I would enjoy getting to know as a friend! 

Naomi went from pleasant to bitter, but was able to step back from that bitterness. Let’s allow that lesson to sink into our hearts. It’s ok to become upset, but don’t let your name be changed permanently to Mara. Naomi’s friends didn’t listen to her when she asked them to call her that because they knew that her character was one of pleasantness. I hope the same can be said about us when we face struggles!

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