“Call me Mara,” Naomi said.
Tragedy chiseled her face and spilled from her lips. Pleasant, the meaning of her name no longer fit. Mara, suited her, for it meant “bitter.”
“I went out full and came back empty,” Naomi told them.
I know many Mara’s, women and men whose lives turned out so very differently than their plans had envisioned, opposite of what they’d wanted, miles from what they’d imagined.
I hear it in stories of sacrifice, in relationships tangled with hurt and anger, in the tears of a friend whose husband left, and in a doctor’s diagnosis. I hurt with those who like Naomi bury dreams and promises in layers of pain and regret.
In the short Old Testament book of Ruth, laden with grief, God’s vibrant glory shines through the gloom and splashes across its pages.
God’s brilliant work is sometimes hidden within our soul’s anguish.
“Is it really her?” the city folk wondered. Could this woman lined with sorrow be the same daughter of Bethlehem who left ten years earlier?
Call me Mara.
Bereft and alone, Naomi’s husband and two sons lay under the dry unfamiliar soil of Moab.
“Call me Mara,” she told them as they greeted her back. “For the Lord has dealt bitterly with me.”
Perhaps she blamed God or maybe she simply recognized God’s Sovereignty in her situation, but she attributed her bitter plight to His hand.
Mara dwells inside us waiting for the next tragedy, delusion, or lament. It highlights our disenchantment of how life was supposed to look while focusing on hopeless despair.
We’ve been there. We all have. At some time in our lives, we have felt her worthless perspective, known the agony of sweet change to sour. Life’s detours unmoor us. With frayed edges we wonder how we ever got where we are. We recognize Naomi’s misery and portion it with our own.
Sometimes it’s tempting to sit in our bitter rather than journey toward pleasant, and sometimes it just feels easier.
Naomi turned away from Moab and moved in the direction of Bethlehem, the house of bread. Leaving the place of her sorrow, she put one step ahead of the other finding loyal devotion and a fresh start.
Perseverance in the midst of suffering is a painful plod.
In the thick of her story, Naomi had no conception of how the events of her life would meld into a vein of gold. She couldn’t imagine God’s hand in the love of a daughter-in-law or the way God would provide for her needs. She didn’t foresee a baby nestling into her arms, nor could she comprehend that child would grow to be a forerunner to a King in line to the Messiah.
Neither can we fathom the depths of grace in the bitter circumstances of our lives.
Plucked from shepherd to throne, King David surely heard the story of the consistent love of his great grandmother Ruth, a Moabitess, toward her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi.
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot,” he wrote. “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6; ESV)
No one can measure the effect of one life on another or the touch of our history in the reality of someone’s future.
The same God who sifted Mara’s tears, sifts ours. Two very different women dwelt in one. Pleasant and bitter. We are acquainted with both. They vie for dominance and beg for choice.
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…”