Pleasant to Bitter

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. —Ruth 1:19-20

…call me Mara…

In ancient Israel, names were not labels. They were descriptions of inner character traits that parents would speak into the life of their child. As an infant, Naomi’s parents gave her the name pleasant. Upon her arrival in Bethlehem, her old neighbors and relatives called her by that name. She quickly informed them, “Don’t call me that. Call me Mara.” She declared that she is no longer pleasant. She is now bitter.

The pain life can bring has a way of robbing the very best away from us. It happened to Naomi. It happens to us. Loved ones die, careers crash, dreams morph into nightmares, friends turn into enemies, good days fade into social distancing and masks. No one is exempt from the strange turn of events that turn a pleasant life into a bitter one. 

When it happens, it is not uncommon for us to look for a reason or a culprit. Naomi views her past decisions as the reason, and she sees God as the culprit. She tells everyone that will listen: “God has made my life bitter. He has emptied all that was good out of my days. He is holding my sins against me and punishing me. He has broken my world and I see no recovery.”

Not everyone blames God when things go sour. Some people don’t point to God because they don’t even think of him enough to blame him, but for those of us who believe he is sovereign, pain can cause us to ask, “Is God really good?” Just as COVID exposed all that is wrong with government and society, bitterness exposes all of our flawed ideas about God. 

Bitterness also blinds us. When we grow bitter there are three things we cannot see:

  1. We can’t see our self-centeredness. Naomi speaks as though no no else has endured any type of pain in life. Ruth is standing right there. She lost her husband too. 
  2. We can’t see God’s daily doses of mercy and grace. Everyday God does not give us the punishment we deserve, and every day He gives us blessings we do not deserve. Again, Ruth is standing beside Naomi when she declares, “God has left nothing good in my life.” I wonder how that made Ruth feel?
  3. We can’t see hope. Naomi has no idea that God is working in her life…maybe now more than ever. She is oblivious to his plan that will make her a grandmother. If you think your life has less hope because of your circumstances, read here to see what I discovered about some circumstances in my life.

When we are suffering, we tend to magnify what we don’t have and minimize what we do. We tend to forget what God has done when we’re convinced there’s something he should be doing. Bitterness blinds us. Fortunately, it does not disqualify us. God has a good plan for bitter people. Naomi will discover this.

If we will give God some space, we will discover it too. 

Here is a song that helps me when I get frustrated with God: Hurry Up and Wait by Mercy Me. 

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