Have you ever felt like a situation changed you, like you would never be the same again? You would never think the same, act the same, feel the same, maybe you even looked different or spoke differently after it.
For me, it was a cancer diagnosis. For my friend, it was a long and painful divorce. For you, it’s a miscarriage or a car accident. For Naomi, it was what we all fear most.
In the book of Ruth we read that she headed to Moab to start her life with her husband. They had two sons. Her cup was full.
Then everything changes.
In three verses, everything changed for Naomi.
Elimelech, her husband, dies. We can all imagine the grief. Some of you have felt this pain, just as she did. In spite of it, she continues. She is now a single mom providing for her family. Her sons marry and life is somewhat normal again.
Then the unthinkable – both of her sons die, her two boys. Death of your husband is hard, but then a child, then both of your children. She had lost everything. She and her two daughters-in-law remained.
From Grief to Suffering
Naomi had managed the grief of her husband. She had support and her children still needed her. But now it was different. Now she felt she had nothing; nothing to live for and nothing to offer anyone. She just wanted to be alone.
She decide to return to her home country of Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to leave her. Orpah chooses to return to her family, but Ruth continues with Naomi.
From Beautiful to Bitter
As they leave Moab, you can sense that Naomi is full of emotions. She had been dealing with all the details of life with her home and her family, with no time to deal with her own grief. Sound familiar? On the road to Bethlehem, the time finds her. While walking, she experiences all the internal thoughts and feelings. She reflects. She grieves. By the time she reaches the city, she has changed. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, but this butterfly isn’t beautiful or pleasing, she is bitter.
The name Naomi means pleasant, beautiful, grace. For so long this woman had encompassed that. But now this was not who she was. She had been changed.
Call Me Mara
She walked into the town and told them “I am Mara. I am bitter and God has treated me bitterly.” The definition of bitter is severe pain or suffering; intense animosity; harshly reproachful; severe grief or regret. She felt like God had brought this pain to her. Naomi had experienced death, death again, and then more death. She was past grief, way past grief. She left grief in Moab. The walk had not only led her to Bethlehem, but it had also led her into suffering. She felt like God had broken her into pieces.
Do You Know Mara?
Have you been there? Like Naomi, have you been past the point of sadness? Have you been past crying tears in your bed at night? Her tears now spilled over into the day. She was done. She was done trying, done being sad, done losing, just done. She was tired and dirty and mad and confused. She looked at herself and her life and only saw broken pieces. When you walk through trials, loss, death, sickness, you can find yourself here. Have you been here?
Naomi covered herself in the ashes of yesterday’s life and walked into the place she had left when she was full. No longer could she put on a pretty face and pretend. The towns people said “Is that Naomi?” My guess is she looked a little different.
“Is that her? Is that Naomi?”
She heard the questions. They were no surprise to her. She had already asked herself that same thing. Suffering changes you. You look in mirror and don’t recognize the face. You hear the voice and it doesn’t sound familiar. “Is this Naomi?” was a question she had already found the answer to.
“Call me Mara” she told them.
I think she shouted it. I can hear her. “Call me Mara! Don’t you dare call me Naomi. There is no beauty in me. I am filled with pain. God has emptied me.” She was showing everyone her scars, daring them to judge or comment.
CALL me Mara! No need to wonder how I am doing. I’m bitter.
Call ME Mara! You think I look different? I am different.
God is showing everyone His anger toward me! Call me MARA!
I have been Mara. Maybe I still am. Or maybe I’m still on the road to Bethlehem. She left Moab as Naomi, but somewhere along the journey she stepped into Mara. I think I am somewhere between Naomi and Mara. I envy Mara a bit; her boldness to suffer openly and her clarity about what she felt. She has a willingness to share not only her grief, but also her struggles in her relationship with God. Her honesty cuts.
A New Naomi
We know from the story that Mara soon transitioned back into Naomi. Eventually she was able to feel happiness again, even blessed. I believe this only happened because she allowed herself to experience Mara. She had to walk it out. She had to let it out. We learn that suffering must be experienced. In order for it to not consume us, not own us, it must be felt and released. Naomi could have battled internally with Mara for the rest of her life. I have seen people do this and die with Mara trapped inside. But Naomi gives us this beautiful example of suffering that is being experienced, bravely and courageously, for all to see. She called her suffering Mara.
The road home led Naomi to Mara. Permission to suffer openly led Mara to a new Naomi, a redeemed Naomi. This Naomi had learned the lessons that only walking through a valley can teach. She had experienced suffering and now healing. She no longer felt God was testifying against her. She labeled herself again as beautiful. She could have remained bitter, but she decided to choose beauty. Life became intentional. Happiness wasn’t just there. She had to pick it up and put it on. Happiness doesn’t just happen. You choose it. She had walked out her bitterness and was now in a place where she could choose her position.
And she chose to be beautifully redeemed.
If your suffering is being held inside, I encourage you to let her out. The story of Naomi has given us seven things we can do:
- Walk. Moving helps your body and brain process your experiences.
- Talk to a friend (one that is a great listener).
- Be honest with God. Don’t sugarcoat. Express how you really feel. This may expose lies that you believe about yourself, your future, and God.
- Share your experience or testimony with others.
- Allow yourself to be changed. You will never be the same as you were before your suffering. Stop comparing your new self to your old.
- Allow yourself to be redeemed, blessed and happy again.
- Be intentional with your life, especially your emotions. Don’t allow emotions or thoughts to be your master. You choose what you think and feel about your situations. Just like choosing the clothes you wear, put on your thoughts and emotions the same way.
Thank you for spending your time here. I pray you too will choose to be beautifully redeemed.
Artwork by Christine Wu.