Since Naomi isn’t the title character of the book of Ruth, we often overlook her contribution to the story. It is her family, after all, that Ruth is made a part of, and Naomi is the one whom Ruth chooses to go with instead of returning to her own Moabite family. Naomi is dealt a difficult hand, too. While Ruth has been widowed at a young age, Naomi has been widowed and has lost her two sons. Truly our hearts can collectively ache for the lot Naomi has been given, and how much pain she must have felt on her journey back toward Judah.
But being able to understand Naomi’s heartache doesn’t necessarily mean her attitude is one we should imitate.
In Ruth 1:19 we read that the women of Judah were excited for Naomi and her daughter-in-law’s return. However, Naomi quickly shuts them down by saying, “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 (V. 20-21)?”
Yes, Naomi had experienced great loss and painful circumstances. Yes, her life had been and would continue to be hard. But blaming God? Never the answer. Complaining to everyone in sight? Again, not the answer (Philippians 2:14-15).
Bitterness is a very deadly disease. Not only is it highly communicable, but it is also easily mutated. It transforms so easily into complaining, pessimism, and jealousy. Still, we let it into our lives, and I think one of the main reasons is because we like to have people pity us. We like the attention we can receive when things don’t go our way. No, we don’t necessarily want the bad things to happen to us, but if they happen, we sure don’t mind reveling in the attention. Or, if someone starts talking about how great some aspect of our life is, we don’t mind quickly educating them on all of the bad things so that they don’t get the wrong idea.
But why did Naomi have to respond this way? Why did she have to cut the joy of those ladies short? Why did she have to turn everything into a negative, instead of praising God for His enduring love and beseeching these sisters to pray for her? Yes, it was a different time period than we are in today, but in every time and every land, people have always had a choice of whether or not they will point others to God. In this instance, Naomi blamed God, painting a negative picture for those whom she encountered.
Sadly, many Christians do the same thing today. Social media can be the bane of our existence, can’t it? You get online to keep up with those you aren’t able to see often, and you’re bombarded with complaint after complaint, sob story after sob story, negative remark after negative remark. And most of the people I follow are Christians! Where is the joy?! Where is the praise to God? Where is the thanksgiving? I’m sad (and ashamed) to say that it’s in the minority, because so many feel the need to cut everyone else’s joy short while maximizing their own negative experience.
So my question for you (and me) is this: are you a Naomi or a Mara? Are you pleasant? Are you constantly seeking ways to bring joy to the lives of those around you? Are you pointing people toward God, even when things are hard? Or, are you constantly airing your dirty laundry? Are you constantly putting out negativity, woe-is-me’s, and passive complaints against others? You’re the only one who knows your full online presence. Which side of the spectrum do you find yourself on more often?
May we all, as God’s people, be characterized by the joy we exude. May we shine a bright light on all of those around us (Matthew 5:16). No, not by masking our problems and making it seem like we’re perfect. But not by sharing every single bad thing that happens in our life, either. Instead, in all things, with thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7), point others to Jesus. Without complaint. Without grudge. Without bitterness of heart.