Lessons Learned From… Naomi (Part 1)

Scripture reference: Ruth 1

Ruth is one of my favorite books of the Bible, so I’m sure I’ll come back and write more articles about this book. For this article and the next one to appear on Stones on Fire, we’ll be focusing on only the first chapter of Ruth.

When Naomi went with her husband and two sons to live in a foreign land (Ruth 1:1), I’m certain she never thought all three of the people she loved most in the world would perish there in Moab, leaving her alone in a land that wasn’t her home (Ruth 1:2-5). Yet, that’s exactly the situation in which she eventually found herself. How devastating would it be to first lose her husband and then, ten years later, have to bury both of her sons as well? Her tender heart must have felt wrenched from her chest and filleted into a trillion pieces.

Sorrow is a tough beast, one not easy to conquer. I wonder if shock accompanied Naomi’s grief as “she arose with her daughters-in-law” (Ruth 1:6) in order to return to her homeland of Judah. One thing I know for sure is that she somehow, in the midst of her deep heartache, was able to clasp a tiny ray of hope:

How difficult do you imagine it would be to stare at three headstones belonging to the loved ones you most cherished yet still hold on to the hope that God would bring you back safely to the land He was blessing, to live once again amongst the people He called His own? In the face of devastation, it isn’t easy to cling to hope, but that’s exactly what we must do in order to find the next thing God’s calling us to do in obedience to Him.

The good news for Naomi was that she didn’t have to begin her journey alone. In addition to God, Who I believe was calling and leading her to return to her home country of Judah, Naomi was accompanied for a time by her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah (Ruth 1:4, 7). What an encouragement the women must have been to her! Even though they were both grieving as well—it was their husbands (Naomi’s sons) who had perished, after all—they still chose to walk a ways with and, in so doing, encourage their mother-in-law. How that must have brought a measure of comfort to Naomi’s soul!

In the next few verses, Ruth 1:8-13, Naomi showed a variety of emotions and character traits. First, she encouraged her daughters-in-law to each return to their mother’s home, which revealed Naomi was not only attempting to be strong enough to travel on her own but that she was also considerate of Ruth’s and Orpah’s futures, which would be least trial-filled should they remain in their own homeland rather than moving into a foreign-to-them country.

Next, Naomi blessed the ladies, saying, “The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me” (Ruth 1:8). It isn’t always easy to dig deep inside ourselves to encourage or bless others when we are in grief mode. It takes monumental will power to do so in those moments, and it might have cost Naomi some strength and energy she needed for the journey before her in order to wish her daughters-in-law well in the remaining years of their lives.

When Ruth and Orpah offered to abandon their own people and return to Judah with her, Naomi then turned a bit despondent (Ruth 1:11-13). Recounting ones losses will do that to a person. For at least a few minutes, Naomi dwelled on the fact that she’d not only lost to death her husband and two sons but also any chance of having more children or any way to provide second husbands for Ruth and Orpah. When she cried, “No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” we see just how low her sorrow and recounting her losses brought her. I believe dwelling on her grief, her loss, her sorrow swiftly dragged her into a deep depression—one so dark she felt even God had turned His back on her. That’s a scary place to be, where all hope is ripped from our grasp, whether by someone else’s hand or our own, as might have been the case for Naomi (since she allowed her mind to get carried away in the grief that apparently tried to consume her).

Over the next several verses, Ruth 1:14-17, Orpah decides to return to her mother’s house and Ruth shows determination for remaining with Naomi. Facing a sorrowful farewell couldn’t have been easy, knowing she’d probably never see the one daughter-in-law again. Nor could it have been simple to accept the other’s company when all Naomi wanted was to be alone with her sorrow, perhaps to wallow in it for however many more miles the journey was back to her native land. Maybe that’s why “she stopped speaking to [Ruth]” in verse 18.

The remainder of the journey apparently gave Naomi too much time to think of her lost husband and sons, because when Ruth and she arrived in Judah, in the city of Bethlehem, she had become embittered about her situation:

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Unfortunately, at this point in time, Naomi had not taken the encouragement of Ruth’s accompanying her on the journey to be a ray of hope from God that He still had good plans for her future. Rather, she let the negative thoughts churning in her mind sour her mood, disposition, and outlook so much that she wanted her longtime friends to call her by a different name, one that means “bitter” in Hebrew (instead of the name Naomi, which means “pleasantness”).

It’s sad to see that she felt that God was dealing with her harshly, yet it’s so easy to view things that way in our day and time too, when trials that test our mettle come at us full force. It is incredibly hard to see that even in our pain and suffering, God loves us immensely and is using the trials to refine our hearts and character so we may better serve, reflect, and glorify Him. When our hearts ache so much we wish we could die to escape the pain, that’s when God is stripping out all the nastiness we have inside of us, if we let Him. But that means we have to let go of our sorrow, pain, bitterness, and grief. We have to release it into the fire so it may be consumed… and we won’t be.

Why won’t we be burned up in the fire? Because God has a hold on us that is stronger than any flame or earthly trial, and He has good plans for our future (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

Lessons Learned

* When trials of pain and sorrow come our way, we should go through the grieving process BUT not let it consume our thoughts, or else we will become embittered and angry at God. Instead, we should make concerted efforts to grasp the hope God shines in our lives in those moments… even if we have to squint really hard to find it.
* Even if we’re hurting, it’s important that we reach out to encourage other people. In doing that, we not only cheer their spirits but also our own.
* We experience pain and grief for the reason of having our character and souls refined. It might be excruciating at times, but we must remember that God sees the biggest picture and has good plans for us. If we can hold on to that promise in Jeremiah 29:11-13, then we may also hold on to the hope that brighter days are coming, which might encourage us to let go of our pain a little bit sooner, which will in turn lighten the weight we carry on our shoulders.

How may you apply these lessons to your daily life this week?

The next Lessons Learned article will be on Stones on Fire on Sunday, April 7.
March’s reading challenge celebrates Artists and Musicians!

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