I’m so intrigued by the story of Naomi in the book of Ruth. Sometimes we overlook Naomi because, well, the entire book is named after Ruth. Naomi is not the central character. Yet her story was vital to bring Ruth into the picture. Naomi was a real person whose family was struggling because of famine. She and her husband were at a crossroads of what to do so they wouldn’t starve. They loved their home in Bethlehem. That’s the place they had married, had their children, and where all their family and friends lived. I’m sure her prayer was for God to end the famine. But that prayer didn’t get answered and Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, had no choice but find a new home where they could survive.
Naomi and her family made the move, away from everything she loved, to a place called Moab. They tried to make the most of their new home and her sons even took Moabite wives. But Naomi’s husband and son’s died in Moab. Naomi questioned why God would cause her to suffer such grief. She told her family, upon her return to Bethlehem,
“Don’t call me Naomi . . . call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty.” Ruth 1:20 (NLT)
I don’t know about you, but I have certainly felt this way. I’ve asked God for reprieve from pain and for specific answers to my prayers. I’ve experienced a very similar story to that of Naomi in my own life. Like Naomi, I didn’t understand why God allowed me to lose so much. Why would my loving Father allow such suffering, grief and loss? Yet, because I know the end to Naomi’s story, it gives me hope that my own struggles are not in vain and my Father has been faithful to me through all of them.
When Naomi decided to go back to Bethlehem, she told her daughter’s in law that their best option would be to go home to their families, as well. But her daughter in law, Ruth, didn’t want to leave her. She begged Naomi:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God.” Ruth 1:16 (AMP)
Ruth had experienced something that meant far more to her than the comfort and security of her earthly father’s home since she’d become a part of Naomi’s family. Ruth wanted Jehovah, the God of the Israelites, no matter what the cost. Little did she know, Jehovah also wanted her. She would play a role in His plan to bring salvation to humanity through His son Jesus. Bitter Naomi was focused on what she’d lost, blind to the blessing of Ruth who had risked all to care for her,
. . . the Lord has brought me home empty.” (Ruth 1:20b)
Our perspective makes us see circumstances so different than they really are. The name Naomi means “pleasant”. The name Mara means “bitter”. Naomi’s focus was on earthly provision or the lack of it. When the weight of my own life seems overwhelming, I remind myself of the difference between Naomi’s perspective and Ruth’s. None of us know the big picture of how God is using our seemingly small and insignificant lives for Kingdom purpose. Like Naomi, we may not ever see the full impact of our struggles but isn’t it worth the risk to trust God through all of it? Isn’t it worth it to remain “pleasant” and available to God rather than let our circumstances make us “bitter” and possibly hinder God’s greater plan for His Kingdom? I think so. A scripture I cling to is 1 Peter 5:10,
“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (ESV)
If you are going through a season of suffering, I encourage you to cling to this verse for yourself. God loves you and would not allow you to walk through this season and not fulfill His promise to RESTORE, CONFIRM, STRENGTHEN AND ESTABLISH YOU. His plans are beyond what we may ever see in our lifetime, but He loves us and there is promise waiting to happen, if we just trust Him.