“Call me Mara …”
When we allow bitterness to take root in our soul.
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In the book of Ruth, we see how a young widow (Ruth) does everything she can to help her mother-in-law Naomi until a close relative (Boaz) redeems her and takes care of them both. However, we often overlook Naomi’s role and attitude in the story, but Naomi grappled with a problem that many of us overlook: bitterness.
Naomi and her husband Elimelech left Bethlehem for Moab because there was a famine. Once there, her husband died. Her sons married Moabite women, but they died before they had children.
In those days a woman could not work, so her husband, and her children when he died, had to support her. A widowed and childless woman was exposed to misery as she had no way to support herself and had to beg to survive. So, at the death of her sons, Naomi was left alone. Their daughters-in-law were still young and could remarry if they wanted to, but their new husbands were not required to support Naomi. Especially when the laws of Moab were probably different from those of Israel.
Now in poverty, Naomi decides to return to her country because she finds out that her land is abundant, and she decides to ask her daughters-in-law to stay in their country. After much talking, Orpha agrees, but not Ruth. Ruth refuses to abandon her mother-in-law even though she has nothing to offer her, and accompanies Naomi to her land. There she becomes their only livelihood, gleaning in the fields so that both can eat. In the end, she is redeemed by Boaz, a relative of her former father-in-law and owner of the field where she gleaned.
However, if we pay attention to Naomi’s attitude, we notice that she is bitter. On several occasions, she declares that God has been hard on her (by taking her husband and children from her), and upon arriving in her country she asks people not to call her by her name Naomi (which means sweetness), but rather to call her Mara (which means bitter) because, she says, God has treated her bitterly. But we know that it was she who allowed her pain to make her bitter.
Naomi had lost everything except God’s favor, but her bitterness prevented her from realizing this. Now she returned to her homeland, wounded, in search of food; but her bitterness prevented her from seeking the Lord. She blamed Him for her misfortune and, although her body had returned to her land, her heart had not yet turned to God. Her pain prevented her from seeing that God, whom she blamed for her misfortune, was still taking care of her. Her injuries prevented her from seeing God’s love reflected in her daughters-in-law, and in her bitterness, she alienated Orpha as we alienate God when we are hurt.
But none of her insistence managed to turn Ruth away, who refused to abandon her in her pain in the same way that God refuses to abandon us in our wounds. Ruth was the channel that God used to take care of Naomi, and at all times his blessing was upon her to be able to redeem and heal her, giving her a future that she never expected due to her attitude.
In the end, we see that Ruth marries Boaz and they have a son who becomes Naomi’s grandson, she becomes his nurse. However, even in the end, we don’t see Naomi thanking God for having mercy on her. Rather, it is the women of the town who declare to Naomi how blessed she has been by the Lord and how He has cared for her, provided everything she needed, and how he will restore her soul. (Ruth 4:14–15)
Many times we have the same attitude as Naomi. We go through difficult situations and, if we allow our soul to become bitter, that will prevent us from seeing things clearly. We often blame God for our pain and bitterness and turn away from the only one who can truly heal our wounded soul and restore the joy we have lost.
In our pain, we also drive away those who love us and want to care for us and we cannot see God’s hand acting on our behalf despite our attitude. If we are not careful, we will not even be able to enjoy the blessings and glorious future that God has in store for us. For our eyes will be so focused on our past that we will not be able to focus on the blessings of the present, nor will we have hope for the future.
Like Ruth with Naomi, God will at all times refuse to abandon us or stop showing us His favor. He has the power to heal every wound and restore our life. If we just stop for a moment and run towards Him instead of away, we can allow Him to heal our souls and give us the blessings He already has in store for us. Let’s not allow bitterness to take over our hearts, and instead turn them over to Christ to heal them.
There is no expectation of a prosperous life if we have a heart full of bitterness. But if we are willing to let God work with our hearts instead of cling to our pain, He can do what our spirit cries out for: “take away my pain.” But He will only do it if we ask Him. He is quite a gentleman, and just as Boaz did not redeem Ruth until she asked him to, in the same way, God will not force us to surrender our pain to him. Only if we ask him will he be able to redeem our soul and sustain our life.
“Be careful. Don’t miss the grace of God; do not let any root of bitterness sprout, for it could hinder you and cause many to be contaminated with it. ”- Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)