By Jaime Sherman
Last week Naomi, whose name means pleasant, left us with an impassioned declaration that she should now be called Mara, meaning bitter. She said, “For the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty…the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (1:20-21 ESV).
Naomi allowed her sorrow and hardship to blind her from the truth that God only ever wants the best for His beloved children. Instead of a faith-filled lament that trusted God was good no matter what, Naomi opted for faith-less grumbling — even though there was hope around the corner. The final words of chapter 1 hint at this hope: “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (1:11).
As we dig into the second chapter of Ruth this week, we see this seed of hope sprout in Boaz’s barley field, and it’s tempting to simply move past the bitterness of chapter 1 and get wrapped up in the love story unfolding between Ruth and Boaz. But let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge that for those of us living through seasons of suffering and hardship — as Naomi was — it’s next to impossible to move past hurt at the speed we move from one chapter to another.
Naomi didn’t tie up her long history of bitterness and misconceptions about God the second Ruth stepped foot on Boaz’s land. In fact, if we jump ahead to the closing words of the book of Ruth, it’s not Naomi declaring God’s blessing upon her life. It’s the women of the community, whom she had charged with calling her Mara, or bitter, who reminded her of the goodness of God. Naomi was still learning what it meant to trust God with her story — and what it could look like to pour out her heart to God rather than to point a finger of blame at God.
Are you a Naomi, struggling with bitterness? Maybe you’ve learned to suck it up and to stuff down ugly emotions. Or maybe you’ve allowed bitterness and hurt, pain and suffering, despair and frustration to define who you are.
If this is you, take a minute right now to talk to God with a new tone, one of faith-filled lament. This passionate expression of grief or sorrow holds onto God’s goodness and chooses to speak the truth that there is always hope ahead.
O Lord, with my voice I cry out to You, pleading for mercy from You.
I pour out my complaint and my troubles before You.
When my spirit faints within me, I rest because You know my way!
You are my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.
Attend my cry, for I am your humbled child.
You have redeemed me and delivered me from my enemies.
I give thanks to your name. You will deal bountifully with me in the days ahead.
— Adapted from Psalm 142