Then she told them, “Don’t call me Naomi any longer! Call me Mara, because God has made my life bitter. I had everything when I left, but the Lord has brought me back with nothing. How can you still call me Naomi, when God has turned against me and made my life so hard?” Ruth 1:20-21 (CEV)
Have you ever been through something so difficult that you’ve questioned whether everything you’ve ever believed to be true about God is actually true?
Throughout the years since I was run over by a drunk driver and first diagnosed with Lupus, I’ve questioned and re-examined my faith countless times. Sometimes seasons of apathy and depression would take hold of my heart as I’d look to the future and wonder if the seemingly endless treatments of chemo, the overabundance of doctor appointments, and the unforeseen complications would define my life.
I’d wonder if the loving God I believed existed was actually as loving as I thought, or if the good plans I wanted to believe he had in mind for me weren’t just a lie. There have been so many seasons of bad news that have left me to wonder:
Are you there, God?
Do you care, God?
Are you listening, God?
It’s easier to look back and see how far I’ve come, how God has moved and worked in great and wonderful ways to bring light into the darkest places of my heart and the most lonely and fearful pieces of my life. Looking back at a difficult and doubtful season is always easier than living through that time of fear and loneliness while wondering about an unknown future full of dreams that look shattered and abandoned on the floor of the heart.
Perhaps you’ve felt this way before.
Maybe you’ve walked through seasons of deeply questioning your faith. Maybe you’re walking through one of those seasons now. Wherever you are in the journey, I want you to know that I wasn’t alone, and neither are you.
Long before you or I took a breath in this world, there was a woman named Naomi who was an Israelite. While most of what you hear about Naomi tends to focus on her much more famous daughter-in-law Ruth, the book of Ruth could just as easily have been named after Naomi.
In the first 5 verses of the book of Ruth, we see Naomi go from living in Israel with a husband and two sons – one of the most desirable situations a woman could hope for at the time – to living in a foreign land with no husband and no sons. Naomi lost everything. She lost her home, her security, her husband, and her sons.
Naomi had every right, by human standards, to question her faith and give up on God. When she returned to Israel with Ruth beside her, no one could blame her for the view of God she chose in Ruth 1:20-21:
“Then she told them, ‘Don’t call me Naomi any longer! Call me Mara, because God has made my life bitter. I had everything when I left, but the Lord has brought me back with nothing. How can you still call me Naomi, when God has turned against me and made my life so hard?’”
The footnote in every version of these verses will tell you that Naomi means “pleasant” and Mara means “bitter”. And yet, the book of Ruth continues to refer to her as Naomi. Why? Maybe because the author, in looking back, saw beyond the season of doubt and fear in Naomi’s life, beyond the identity Naomi chose for herself in that season, and into what God had in store for Naomi.
Naomi’s story is one of struggle and sorrow and amazing grace. Over the next three chapters we see God use Ruth and Boaz as great tools of her loving kindness in Naomi’s life. She ends her story arguably “richer” than the way she began. She ends it having been restored to the home her husband owned with a caring protector in Boaz, a beautiful grandson that she named Obed, and a daughter-in-law that the neighborhood women aptly stated as loving her “more than seven sons of your own would love you” (Ruth 4:15b).
None of what happened to Naomi was “fair” or “deserved”. Naomi didn’t commit some horrendous sin and God wasn’t out to punish her. The loss Naomi experienced was horrible and tragic and it stemmed from living in a broken world full of death and sickness. And yet, while the happy ending doesn’t negate the sorrow or the pain, but without the tragic losses she experienced Naomi never would’ve gained Ruth as a daughter and friend, Obed for a grandson, and grown in her relationship with God the way she did.
Perhaps you’re in a season of loss or are coming out of one right now. You may have lost a spouse, a child, a parent, a job, a home – the possibilities of loss are endless. My hope is that you can relate to Naomi and that these three things from her story would stick with you as you wrestle with your faith and your doubts:
- Stay Calm
Even in the midst of losing her two sons, Naomi remained calm. She heard it was safe to return to Israel, and that’s just what she did. As difficult as her journey had been, as alone as she must’ve felt, Naomi chose to do the most level-headed thing she could think of by returning home. Even as she doubted God’s love for her and grew convinced of his indifference, or even perhaps, hatred, Naomi still trusted that he was there.
No matter how difficult or dark things may seem, I encourage you to follow Naomi’s example and stay calm (yes, I know, it is easier said than done). Even as you walk through anger, sorrow, and doubt.
- Stay Connected
When she started out on her journey, she had both daughters-in-law traveling with her. In what I believe was a fit of sadness, she told them to return to their home. While Orpah finally gave way and returned, I believe Ruth saw past Naomi’s sorrow and chose to stay with her husband’s mother because through Naomi she’d come to relationship with God. Ultimately, Naomi was the one who gave way to Ruth and chose to stay connected.
Even if you feel as though you are the least deserving person of relationship and comfort, don’t isolate yourself. Hang onto those loved ones who will fight for you and point you back to God.
- Stay Hopeful
Naomi was angry and bitter and sad. There’s no doubt. She believed that God had caused all of her suffering. Her faith was severely shaken. But as you read her story, you find that she never stops hoping. Returning to Israel was an act of hope. Telling Ruth to glean from Boaz’s fields was an act of hope. Asking Ruth to propose to Boaz was an act of hope. Telling Ruth to wait and see what would happen because, “(Boaz) won’t rest until everything is settled today!” was an extreme act of hope.
Even as you wrestle with your fear of what the future holds: don’t stop hoping! Things may not turn out the way you want or imagine, but God will never leave you to suffer or go it alone.
Getting run over by a drunk driver was not in my plans, and it certainly wasn’t deserved. Having Lupus and all that has come with it was never a dream of mine. None of the hardships and challenges I’ve faced have been things I’ve desired or deserved. They’ve caused me to hurt and to struggle and to doubt the God who loves me. But without these times of doubt and struggle I would never have the relationship with God I have today.
God does amazing things through and with us even when the world is at its darkest. If I’d never been run over and gotten sick, then LupusChick would never have been created, I’d never have had a career in journalism, and I’d never have been crowned Mrs. New York. None of what can be perceived as the “happy ending” of my story negates the struggle, but it’s vastly “richer” than what I would’ve chosen for myself. Because of my struggle I get to help and support so many who are hurting. My story is far from over and I have no idea what tomorrow may bring, but I can look back now and lean on the hope that God will go above and beyond anything I can hope or imagine.
Maybe you’re still in the middle of your story and have no idea what that “happy ending” may look like. While I’m sure many other difficult things happened throughout the rest of Naomi’s life, her grandson became the grandfather of King David, ancestor of Jesus, Savior of the world.
When things look darkest, remember the bitter, homeless, childless widow who became a direct ancestor of the Savior of the world.
Dear Jesus, thank you for the reminder that it’s okay to doubt and struggle when things are hard. Please remind me of your faithfulness through Naomi’s story and help me to see beyond the identity I choose for myself. Thank you for staying with me even as I doubt and struggle. In Jesus’ name, Amen.