When Life Doesn’t Turn Out Like I Think It Should

“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 where they’d imagined.

I hear it in stories of sacrifice and in relationships tangled with hurt and anger. I see it in tears of a friend whose husband left, and in another’s health crisis. Like Naomi, layers of pain and regret bury dreams and promises because life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it should. 

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.

Naomi’s husband and two sons lay under the dry unfamiliar soil of Moab. She walked into the city emptier than when she’d left it. 

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 all been there. At some time in our lives, we have felt bitterness’ worthless perspective, known the agony of sweet change 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. 

It’s tempting to sit in our bitter rather than journey toward pleasant, and sometimes it just feels easier. Mara.

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,” David 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 author of Hebrews warns that bitter roots cause trouble. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15 NIV

Bitterness grows when its roots are deep and nurtured. It can’t produce pleasantness of heart and soul. It’s infection spreads to others as well.   

Pleasantness relies on a Sovereign God within bitter circumstances. Its spread nourishes others and reproduces fruit which spills over generations.  

 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.

Which are you today? Are you Mara or Naomi, sitting in bitterness or journeying toward pleasantness? Are you rooted in God’s Sovereignty even when heartache fights for control? 

  • Leave it at His feet. Jesus can handle your bitter situation. 
  • Replace your focus. Look away from the bitter and lift your eyes to Christ. 
  • Open the Word. Saturate yourself in what He says and Who He is. 

 “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” stakes its affirmation on God who draws His boundaries about me. He has not left me, nor allowed circumstances to slip from His control. He never says, “didn’t see that coming.”  In such freedom, pleasantness and contentment find me. 


26 Replies

  1. Lois S. Reply

    I am thankful that when heartache is vying for control, you and we can fight to find our way back to Joy.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      I am also thankful for that, Lois. I forget sometimes that true joy is in a person not a situation. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

  2. Marilyn Nutter Reply

    A beautifully written message. Circumstances may be irreversible but we are not. God is always at work in us.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      This is such a wonderful hope. Thanks Marilyn for the reminder that God is always at work in us. He is. I appreciate your comment!

  3. Jeannie Waters Reply

    Sylvia, what comfort your words bring with a moving rendition of Naomi’s story. I find a tiny bit of dismay can snowball into more negative emotions when I don’t give a situation to God’s capable hands. Thank you for reminding me how important it is to allow Him to lift my chin.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you Jeannie. I know what you mean about the snowball effect! I too need to be quicker to let God take care of each situation. I always appreciate your insights.

  4. Don Pahl Reply

    No one in Naomi’s life appears to pick up on her request to call her “Mara.” She’s known as Naomi throughout the rest of the book. Those “lines in pleasant places” not only fell to David but ultimately to Naomi (as you have so beautifully shown) and to Job. Undeservedly so. And to all those graced through Jesus. Thank you for a great reminder, Sylvia.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      That is such an interesting observation, and I’m glad you pointed it out. The story would read differently if her name had been Mara after her statement. It’s another tribute to God’s hand working in more than circumstances, but also in hearts. Thanks Don!

  5. Barbara Latta Reply

    Turning away from the pain of bitterness to the house of bread brings us nourishment to strenthen us with life. Thanks for sharing these uplifting words.

    • sylvia schroeder Reply

      Thank you Barbara. Ever since I was young I’ve really loved the book of Ruth. Its message still relates! Thanks for reading and responding!

  6. J.D. Wininger Reply

    Praying my friend. God knows.

  7. Nancy Elizabeth Head Reply

    Mara or Naomi? Who am I today? Wow, Sylvia, what an idea to ponder. Thanks and God bless!

  8. Katherine Pasour Reply

    Like many of us, I have had several experiences of being a “Mara.” That bitterness can take over and ruin our lives and those of our family unless we take that burden to the Lord. Naomi’s story is one of despair, but she finds hope in the Lord. I’ve learned that I can as well, but no one promises us this step is easy. Thank you for this thought provoking message, Sylvia.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Katherine, it is so good to hear your testimony from experience. Life does have its times for everyone where bitterness could grow. Certainly it is the Lord who gives us hope and keeps us walking one step at a time forward. Thank you for sharing. It encouraged me today.

  9. Yvonne Morgan Reply

    We can learn so much from the story of Naomi. When the world wants me to despair, I put my trust and hope in Him, like Naomi. Great post with lots to think about for me.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you Yvonne! I do love the stories in the Bible and the way each points us to the One who is trustworthy in every situation. Appreciate you taking the time to read and respond.

  10. Rachael Reply

    I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. I got into medical school. I made it to my last year. I passed everything. No serious problems or red flags. I wasn’t the best student, but I was not the worst either. Just an average med student. I passed everything except the very last exam which was supposed to be an easy exam as it was a summation of previous exams, previous exams which I had already passed. But I failed it. I got a second chance because if a close family member having serious health issues that affected me but I failed again. And that was it. I was asked to leave my med school. I’m in huge debt with no way to pay it back, unless someone is going to pay off $250,000+ with interest for me. I’m already older and unmarried. Life has become bitter. I used to have an ardent love for the Lord, His word, His people and His ways. Now I’m too depressed and bitter to pray. Darkness is my closest friend. All I can do is groan but I groan to Him and won’t leave Him even if He has left me (temporarily–I know He promises never to leave us or forsake us but sometimes He hides His face from us) because I have no other place to go. He has the words of eternal life. I am Mara but I wish I was Naomi.

  11. Bobbie Carnes Reply

    Thank you for your sharing your insights. I needed this.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you Bobbie for taking the time to read and respond. I appreciate it so much!

  12. Sylvia Schroeder Reply

    Rachael, I am so very sorry life has not turned out the way you had wanted. I can certainly understand how it would bring much sadness. I appreciate your honesty and transparency. You are right that regardless of how you feel, you can be assured God will never leave you nor forsake you. He does have words of eternal life. I absolutely believe He can redeem the Mara and transform it into Naomi. Perhaps not in the way you expected, but in His way. In my own life I’ve found the times that seem far too difficult to read God’s Word or pray are exactly the times when I need to, and that His Word is the truth I need to pour into me. He can reach my heart the best when I need Him so much. Something that has helped me in my darkest moments is simply naming the truths of God’s character. Often I do it in alphabetical order to get me started. Like this: Almighty, Blessed, Counselor, Defender, Everlasting, Faithful…Putting these truths into my mind have really helped. I hope you have the opportunity to try it, and may the God of comfort, comfort your heart and bring you out of the darkness. May you like Naomi find pleasantness again. I’d love to keep the conversation going.

  13. Annie Yorty Reply

    “Neither can we fathom the depths of grace in the bitter circumstances of our lives.” I have certainly tasted deep bitterness, but I can also say God has met and exceeded my bitterness with His amazing grace.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Annie, thank you. I love to hear your testimony that God’s amazing grace is far weightier than bitternesses. He is faithful.

  14. Jen Reply

    I love this statement, “Neither can we fathom the depths of grace in the bitter circumstances of our lives.” So true. Thank you for the reminder on bitterness. I have felt myself falling into that dangerous trap more often that I would like to admit.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Jen, thank you for reading and responding. I find bitterness can sneak up on me, but God is faithful to bring it to my attention with grace and mercy.