By, Emily Sealy
One of the many things I love about God’s Word is the fact that no matter how many times I may read or study it, there is always something new for me learn, always some new truth for me to grasp. This recently happened while doing a short study on the Book of Ruth with a friend.
The story of Ruth is a well-known one. The faith of Ruth when she followed her mother-in-law, leaving her home and all she had ever known, is a faith we aspire to. The words she spoke to Naomi have been repeated time and time again -
“...for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:
thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
Ruth truly had remarkable faith, and through her line, the long-awaited Messiah would eventually come.
But I want to take a moment and focus on someone else. Let’s talk about Naomi. Naomi was born and raised in Bethlehem, which was in Judah. Here she married her husband, Elimelek, and had her two sons. When a famine came to the land, Elimelek made the decision to move the family away from their home, and go to the country of Moab.
Now, Moab was a pagan country, one that did not worship God. It was here that the family lived for years and it was here that Naomi and Elimelek's two sons met and married Moabite women. But, tragedy struck, and Elimelek died. Ten years later, both sons would also die. We are not told how they died, but the fact is that Noami was now left in a foreign land, with no family left besides her two daughters-in-law. She heard that the famine was over, so she decided to return to her home, to go back and be with her people. As we all know, one daughter-in-law stayed behind (at the urging of Naomi) and Ruth went with her.
When Naomi finally made it back to her hometown of Bethlehem, she was greeted by all her friends and family. But she was much changed. The Naomi that left was not the same one that returned, and she told everyone as much. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?"(Ruth 1:20-21)
The name “Naomi” means “pleasant” and “Mara” means “bitter.” Everything Naomi had gone through in the last 10 plus years had jaded her. It had broken her down and changed her. She attributed it to the punishment from God. But whatever the reason, she was no longer the happy-go-lucky woman everyone knew her as before she left.
Every time that I have read this account or heard it taught on, I have pictured it as Naomi saying in a completely angry and bitter voice, feeling completely sorry for herself. And she very well may have said that way. But what if it wasn’t quite like that?
Think about it. When they left Bethlehem because of the famine, not only did they leave their family and all things familiar, but they also left their “church” as it were. They left their spiritual support system. Moving to Moab meant they would no longer be surrounded by believers. And when the tragedies happened, she did not have those people to come alongside and help carry her through. Instead, she was surrounded by people who worshiped pagan gods and did not have the same beliefs and convictions that she had.
So when she came back into town and saw those she loved and trusted, the ones she knew believed as she did, maybe she just simply broke down. Perhaps she had been keeping it all together until that moment. Then, when she knew she was back with those who could support her, she finally let go and let herself grieve, let herself openly admit that she was struggling and needed help. She was in her safe space where she could be honest and others remind her of God's love and promises.
When I look at it in that way, it makes me take a step back with two thoughts coming to mind.
First - Do I have that kind of support? Do I have a spiritual support system where I can turn to and say, “I’m not fine. I’m struggling. Things are hard. This trial is changing me and I need someone to come alongside me and speak God’s truth to me!”
We all need to have that type of support. Christ knew this when He left this world. He created the Church in part so that we could have each other when the rest of the world was worshiping other things, other gods. When I say the word “Church,” I’m not necessarily talking about the white building with the steeple in the middle of town, although I do hope you have a good, theologically sound church that can give you that support. I’m talking about the circle of believers - the followers of Christ and the Bible.
Are you actively surrounding yourself with godly friends, who are willing to pray for and with you, to point you to God, to remind you of His promises, and to speak the truth in love when you can’t see beyond your trial? When you feel that you are now bitter, just as Naomi was, because of all that you have gone through? Having that support is vital to this life. I know that many times in my life the main thing that got me through my trial was people praying with and for me, as well as encouraging me with God's Word.*
Second - Am I providing that support for someone else? Have I made myself available to be the person a friend can come to and share their struggle, knowing I will pray for and with them, that I will direct their thoughts to God and will speak His truth and promises to them? Am I the kind of person that they know if they share with me, that it will stay with me and not get around and become gossip? Just as we need to have that for ourselves, we need to be there for someone else.
I’m inclined to think that, once Naomi was home and among her trusted people she wasn’t necessarily saying her confession in a complaining or angry manner, but instead she felt safe enough to be real and honest and admit that she needed spiritual encouragement. She was finally back with her support system.
* I just want to make a little note here to say this: your support system doesn’t necessarily have to be geographically close to you. Like Naomi, life takes us to places where we do have to leave those trusted people. But unlike Naomi, we have the blessing of technology where it is easy to keep in touch. Personally, I have my husband, but I am blessed to also have several people who are my support system, yet they don’t live anywhere near me. In fact, they are in an entirely different country! But through the “magic” of texting, video calling or “old-fashioned” phone calls, we are able to keep in touch - on a daily basis - and work to encourage and lift each other up, especially in the times we need it most.