Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Bitter Woman

There's a lesser-known story in the Biblical testimony about a woman you've probably heard of, but not by such a name. The woman's name is Mara; she says so herself.

You probably know her better as Naomi.

Naomi is the mother-in-law of Ruth, who has an entire book named after her story and who is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament. Naomi is a woman who married a man, had two sons, moved to a foreign country where her two sons got married, then lost it all except her two daughters-in-law. With no husband and no sons, Naomi decides to go home (because in Old Testament times, this would have been where a close relative - we find out it is Boaz - would be required to care for her as a widow). Ruth goes with her, which is how the book got its name, but let's talk about Naomi for a minute.

When Naomi gets back to the place from which she came, she is greeted by those who remember her. A hearty greeting, actually. They have heard what has happened. But when the women of the city flock to care for her wounded heart, she says something strange.

Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara.

Names back then meant something, something special. And Naomi means "sweet," which likely meant that Naomi was a sweet baby and was encouraged to grow into a sweet woman. In fact, we have no reason to think otherwise. Mara, on the other hand, means "bitter." 

It'd be easy for us to say that of course Naomi....er, Mara....was bitter; she'd lost everything that had ever meant anything to her! She's the female version of Job, for crying out loud. We'd be bitter, too. But we're not talking about an attitude of bitterness. The way that Mara contrasts her new name with her old name, we can plainly see that she's talking about a state of being. 

She's not feeling bitter; she actually is bitter, not sweet, as if you would be able to tell the difference just by licking her. (Please don't lick persons. It's not cool.) But you get the point - to Mara, the very substance of her entire being has changed. 

Don't call me Naomi.

But here's the thing - this happens very early in the story as told in Ruth, but not one single time does the biblical narrative actually refer to Naomi by her chosen name; she's never actually called Mara. Not by God. God continues to call her Naomi. So does everyone else.

Because it doesn't matter what she feels like. It doesn't matter how deeply she believes this bitterness has penetrated her being, right down to her very core. God created her Naomi, and Naomi she is. Sweet, she is, even on the days when she's feeling downright salty. 

I love that God has given voice to this even in His Word, that He thought it important enough to include. It's just one sentence, just one tiny little sentence that honestly doesn't seem to change the story at all. God could easily have left it out and still said everything through Ruth that He intended to say, everything about community and family and redemption and the line of brokenness through which His Son comes into the world. But He doesn't. He puts that one little line in there. Why?

Because He wants us to know it's okay to feel that way sometimes. It's okay to feel like the entire substance of your being has changed. Life is hard. He gets it. But just because life is hard, just because you feel something today that's new for you or different for you or difficult for you, just because it feels like everything about you has changed, there's something very fundamental about you that hasn't changed - and that is the very core of who God made you to be. 

Sorry, Mara, but God has made you sweet.

God says that He has a name for each and every one of us. And names...they mean something. At least, to God, they do. The name that God has for you is a reflection of something very fundamental about the being that He's created in you. It's something that doesn't change, even when life gets hard. 

And He'll give you this moment, this time, to say different, to vent, to express yourself. But the truth is? Nothing's really changed. You are who you are, in the very image of Him. 

Mara, my dear...you have never been more Naomi. And if you've forgotten that, just look at how much He loves you. 

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