Naomi or Mara?

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.


  1. Excellent post! This is something I really try to guard against. Sometimes with less success the other times. Will have to keep a copy of this to remind me to look for my blessings on all things. Thanks!

  2. Our ladies class studied the book of Ruth years ago and I was privileged to teach it. Naomi’s name means “pleasant”. I believe she was telling those who were happy to see her not to think she had returned home because “pleasant” things had happened to her. She had suffered tremendous loss. And yet, I see her, not unlike Job, as he stated in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.” Naomi was human and her human tragedy struck her to her core. However, she did not deny God, but kept her trust in Him, so much so, that she led her Moabite daughter-in-law to her kinsman, Boaz. And because of her trust in God, Naomi played a key part in the genealogy of our Savior, Jesus Christ. You are correct in stating how damaging and corrupt bitterness is. It has and does destroy lives and should not infect the soul of a Christian. However, though Naomi’s statement may sound embittered, I don’t believe it is. She was simply sharing her grief with her friends and family who had not seen her for a while. In Old Testament times, people believed that they were punished by God if they were disobedient to Him. Perhaps, she believed “that the hand of the Lord has gone out against her” because she failed in some way to keep her family with God’s people, and instead going and living in a heathen nation. That can only be speculation, since the Bible does not speak on any specific transgression of Naomi. She told her kinspeople she left full and came back empty, perhaps a confession or admonition to them. If anyone needed a shoulder to cry on, it was Naomi. Having a husband and two sons myself, I can’t even imagine the pain, suffering and heartache she experienced from their consecutive deaths. When we experience the death of a close loved one, grief takes many emotional forms from great sadness, to anger, to regret, and the list goes on. Remember, Naomi lived in a different culture and under a different law than we do. As Christians, we are admonished to bear one another’s burdens and to not grieve as those who have no hope. And yet, we cry and grieve at the loss of a loved one, just as Jesus did. I guess my point is this. I see Naomi as a positive example of action and not a negative example of bitterness. Naomi had a great attitude. She could have stayed in Moab, bad-mouthed God to her daughters-in-law and neighbors, and died embittered and alone. Instead, she went home (brings to mind the prodigal son), took her daughter-in-law with her, and was an integral part of being a vessel for God’s will. And my favorite part of Naomi’s story is the very happy ending! I love how her friends joyfully exclaim, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel!” I also think it is interesting to note that they gave him a name saying, “There is a son born to Naomi” and did not mention Ruth. Of course, they were her friends sharing in her joy of becoming a grandmother! I appreciate you taking on the subject of bitterness vs. pleasantness. You have made several excellent points for Christian woman to think about and to model. May God continue to bless you and Robert as you labor for Him!

    • I completely agree Naomi becomes an outstanding example to us in so many ways. She perseveres, which is an amazing quality, especially in the face of all that she endured. And what a beautiful tribute to our God, making Naomi a legacy! However, I still believe that even in light of great tragedy, we must do our best to be lights to those around us – and that was really my only point. And, in our present day, most people use things that aren’t great tragedies and spread their negativity around, even though the Lord has called us to be lights and joyous, using His strength when persecutions or other sufferings arise.

      I love Naomi’s story, and thank you so much for pointing to the “rest of the story” – because that’s what it’s all about. I love that the Bible gives us the good and the bad with all of the people, because it helps me to realize they were human, too. I need to see that humanness, because it encourages me when I stumble (which is a lot!).

      Thanks again for your comment!!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *