Ruth opens with Elimelech, Naomi (his wife), and Mahlon and Kilion (their children) moving to Moab from Bethlehem (which was in Judah) to escape the famine. To make a long story short, Elimelech died. Then, about ten years later, after getting married, Mahlon and Kilion died too. The famine was over in Judah, so Naomi plans to head home (I mean she’s all alone, kind of, now and I’m sure being in a familiar setting with people you know well is what she feels like she needs.) Initially, Naomi heads to Judah with both of her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. However, she gives them an “out” along the way and pushes them to go back to their moms’ houses. Of course, they both protest and insist they can’t leave Naomi. But Orpah stops protesting and goes home. Ruth, however, basically tells Naomi that they have a “ride or die” type relationship and that she is in this for the long haul. (This is all a summary from Ruth 1:1-19, but I encourage you to read it for yourself.) So they both journey to Bethlehem and when they get back people are excited to see Naomi and some women ask, “Naomi, girl, is that you?” (Not literally: “Is it really Naomi? the women asked.” Ruth 1:19(b) NLT). Guess how Naomi responds:
So no, cheerful, “Yes, girl! Long time no see.” or “You already know it’s me. It’s Naomi.”. Naomi not only responds pretty glibly but also basically says don’t even call me Naomi. Naomi means pleasant, while Mara apparently means bitter. Since “the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon” her, she can’t be pleasant as a person or in name.
How often do you or I allow our tragedies and hurts to change our identities?
I don’t want to dismiss or diminish Naomi’s grief or her experience. However, no matter the storm, feelings, or situation of the now, our identities in Christ never change. (And how God sees us never changes either.) But just like Naomi, I have a tendency to occasionally allow what is happening or what has happened to me overshadow God’s truth about me. That grade on the assignment or paper doesn’t mean that I am not smart or that I am a failure. That person leaving and saying those things about me doesn’t mean that I am unlikable or any of the things they called me. Yet a lot of times, we end up feeding into a lie and believing a false truth about ourselves and our identities after a tragedy.
And the funny thing about it (our defining ourselves by these tragedies) is that we are the only ones doing it. If you read the book of Ruth, the Bible (the author of this book) never starts referring to her as Mara. She is still called Naomi, and no one in the town even responds to her asking to be called Mara. Naomi alone is defining herself as bitter.
What if you notice someone defining themselves by their tragedies?
These “women of the town” are the same women from verse one who were asking if that was Naomi they saw coming home; we can, therefore, assume that these are also women who know Naomi moderately well. To me, these women are models for how I would hope to respond to and help people in Naomi’s predicament.
To me, this verse also reads like a prayer of thanks. The women seem to be thanking God for providing for Naomi and also praying for Obed (Boaz and Ruth’s son that the women are talking about) and Naomi’s future blessings. So, one step for responding to someone defining themselves by a tragedy, is to pray for them and thank God for working in their situation.
Another thing the women did is remind Naomi of all she has to be thankful for (and pleasant about). “God’s got you”, and He knows the end game. Obed is better than seven sons alone! Despite how much losing your other two sons hurts, the storm and the situation can’t define you or mess up your peace and identity. Because God at the end of the storm provided Obed who is worth seven sons. In other words, in the midst and immediate aftermath of a storm, you may be bitter and may not be able to see how this storm blessed you. And, at the right time, you can remind someone defining themselves with a tragedy that the storm did bear fruit. (At the right time! Notice, the women didn’t immediately come to Naomi in chapter one when she first said call me Mara; they didn’t immediately say, “Girl, you can’t let this get you down. Be thankful you still have Ruth.” or anything like that. They are talking to her right now in chapter four.)
Also, notice the women reminding her of the good that she had in her life—Ruth. Speak life over the person struggling (or who was struggling). So often we forget the power of our words. We don’t only define ourselves by tragedies or missteps in life, but we define others by what we perceive as tragedies as well. We use our words to define them and speak over their lives (and not always in a positive way). Teen mom. Divorcee. Widow. Recluse. Bitter. Poor. Hopeless. The women of the town could have easily been at a well or doing laundry together whispering, “Yeah, Mara, she should be bitter”, and they could have gotten so used to gossiping and defining Naomi by her tragedy that they missed her blessing. They also could have missed a chance to support and speak life over their neighbor (get it? Love thy neighbor as you love yourself).
Anyway, that’s just my two cents about the book of Ruth. I definitely encourage you to read the book for yourself and hear what God reveals to you. I pray that you can feel and see God in your current tragedy and that you have the support of a great community.
Thank you for reading!