There was a time not so long ago when I might have said the same heartbreaking words that Naomi utters in the Book of Ruth after losing her husband and sons in battle, which forced her to return to her homeland with her tail between her legs and her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth along for the sad trip home.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” whispers a heartbroken and defeated Naomi upon her arrival back home in Bethlehem. “Call me ‘Mara’ because the Lord has made my life very bitter.”
Yes, I can relate to her words.
The Book of Ruth has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible. On the surface, it’s a beautiful love story of a family that goes through much and yet triumphs thanks to God’s grace and faithfulness, and on a deeper level, it is a beautiful allegory for God’s own love for each of us.
Interestingly enough, I always related to Ruth so much more than Naomi. Many years ago, I attended a three-day retreat called Trés Dias, and sat at the “table of Ruth.” My best friend, Helen Rader, attended the same retreat at a different time and sat at the “table of Naomi.” So, naturally, we started calling each other Ruth and Naomi.
My friends and supporters told me for years that my life echoed Ruth’s and assured me that I would one day be blessed enough to find my very own Boaz, who would “redeem” the earlier struggles of my life.
If you recall from the story, Ruth waits patiently and “gleans” in Boaz’ field as he works through obstacles to “redeem” her and make her his wife, thereby redeeming Naomi as well. In the end, his loyalty, ingenuity and commitment redeems both Ruth and Naomi and brings a grandson into Naomi’s life — Obed, who would be the future grandfather of King David and a patriarch in the genealogical line that would bring the world its redeemer, Jesus.
It seems like everyone I knew, including myself, was waiting for the day when I would find my Boaz. They constantly sent me scripture to encourage me and reminded me that – Oh yes, Pam, your Boaz is coming. I just needed to wait on God’s timing and be patient.
And so I waited, believing fervently that I would be blessed like Ruth and find the man who would save, respect, honor and love me.
And then it happened — he arrived. Or so I thought.
For a brief time, I truly believed my Boaz had arrived and God was finally blessing me for my patience and trust in him.
Well, in the end, it didn’t exactly turn out for me the way it did for Ruth. The obstacles proved too much for my Boaz, and instead, I found myself in dire straights when he decided I wasn’t his Ruth after all, and he made the choice to leave — surely the right choice if he didn’t believe it was right. I see that now with absolute forgiveness and understanding. But, at the time, it was devastating.
Like Naomi, I found myself “going home” to my family heartbroken and defeated, with my tail between my legs. It took a long time to get back on my feet after the experience of losing my fiancé, the job I resigned from to work with him in missions, my home and my financial security.
I was at great risk of becoming “Mara” for good. I had a few months when, although I still loved and trusted God, I just couldn’t understand why this had happened.
But, God is a big God. God is a powerful God. And God is a loving God. More importantly, God knows what he is doing.
Through those months of grieving, God’s grace poured down on me and he turned the taste of bitter in my mouth and the pain in my heart into the sweet taste of honey in a way that I never, ever expected.
His sweet voice became louder in my soul than the voice of the world that said I needed a man to feel complete, and loved, and worthy. Today, I no longer wait for Boaz. I don’t need a Boaz. God is my Boaz!
And like Naomi, I have found the greatest joy of my life — a gift from God that turned “sorrow into dancing” — by becoming “Mimi” to my grandchildren. Apart from my salvation and my own children, my 18-month-old grandson, Riley, my 9-month-old granddaughter, Selah, and the two little ones on the way in February and June are the greatest gifts I’ve ever, and will likely ever receive.
God knows better than I what is good for me and what will bless me beyond measure. And it’s nothing like I ever expected. Like many women, I thought becoming a grandmother would make me feel old, and I kept telling my girls I wasn’t ready to be a grandmother. Oh, how wrong I was on both counts.
In this week of Thanksgiving, and despite the turmoil that surrounds and threatens our every good intention and thought, we should all allow God to seep into our hearts as he has done in mine over the past 18 months, enabling us to receive and accept his grace, and offer it to others.
He offers blessings we could never even imagine for ourselves. I always thought I was Ruth, until he showed me I was actually Naomi. And there is so much depth and understanding that comes with this revelation in my life. Naomi learned through her struggles just how faithful God is. As have I.
As my family and I go around the Thanksgiving table this year and share the things for which we are grateful, I will tell them it’s the joy of putting Mara behind me and discovering the Naomi within …
… and my grand babies!