So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, 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. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” —Ruth 1:19-21 NLT
Naomi was bitter. It’s easy to understand why when we read her story in the book of Ruth. During a famine, when all seemed hopeless at home, she left Israel with her husband and two sons, and they tried to eke out a living in a new country. Within ten years, her husband and her sons had died. Although both sons had married, neither left any grandchildren. Naomi had fled her own country with a family and high hopes and now found herself alone with no one and very little hope—if any. She was bitter. The name Naomi means “pleasant,” but the irony of that in these circumstances caused her to change her name to Mara, which means “bitter.”
It was a hard time for Naomi-turned-Mara, and she felt it to the marrow of her bones. When one is depressed, she doesn’t really want people around her much. She can’t be bothered. It’s hard enough to drag one weary foot in front of the other. Naomi knew she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law, and so she did her best to send them back to their own parents. One of them did return, but her daughter-in-law, Ruth, refused to leave and made the long trek with Naomi back to Israel.
What if someone in the village did not know her story? Would they be put off by her brusqueness and her new name? Would her downcast face and her lack of means to support herself make some of the people in the village back away from her? Perhaps. It’s uncomfortable to be with someone in misery. You don’t know what to say. You aren’t sure how to help. It’s clear she’d like to be left alone. And so alone you leave her.
We all know why Naomi was so sad. Probably most of the people in her village did too. However, we meet people every day who are bitter and broken. Oftentimes, we don’t know their story. We just know they are abrupt and not very gracious; they don’t seem to care much about us. We might just back away and leave them to their miserable selves. And that just might be the wrong thing to do.
Everyone has a story. What has happened to us in the past shapes the way we perceive life in the present. If we’ve been betrayed or traumatized, trust comes very slowly. What if, instead of rushing to judgment about a person who seems annoying or odd or downright rude, we learn their story? What if we extend the same kind of love toward them that God has extended to us? Offer that undeserving kind of love just because they are made and loved by Him? Perhaps their opinions that jar us and their responses that annoy us would make more sense. Perhaps if we stopped long enough to listen and learn where they’re coming from, we’d be better equipped to help them go to new places of grace and hope in the days ahead.
Naomi was deeply blessed by Ruth, the daughter-in-law who refused to leave her alone in her grief and despair. Ruth walked the weary miles of sadness with her, and Ruth worked hard to provide food for their table. Ruth stayed. Ruth loved. Ruth chose to be a part of Naomi’s story. And one sweet day, after Ruth married and life became easier, she offered her firstborn baby to Naomi to love and care for, a grandson named after Naomi’s son to carry on the family name. Ruth’s sacrificial love turned a bitter woman back to a pleasant one by God’s great grace.
Oh, how I want to love the despondent, the unlovely, the difficult ones better than I do! Ruth is such a great example for me when God places a bitter person in my path. What changes might happen if—with God’s help—I truly listened to their story, introduced them to the gospel story that is the best news ever, and watched God grow their future to one of joy as they began to live out the glorious purpose He has for them!
But it all begins with listening and learning their story. Let’s judge less and listen more.
Father, help us to be full of grace for those whose lives have been harder than we can imagine. Give us Your kind of love in our dealings with difficult people in our lives. Help us to listen and learn about them and then listen and learn from You as we seek to tell them the glorious story of Your rescue for all who come to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
You are loved,
Sweet Selah Ministries
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