“Just Call Me Bitter”: When Adveristy Won’t Relent

“When it rains, it pours.”

Ever heard that? Ever lived that?

I’m talking about those times when one trial is followed by another trial, which is followed by another trial, and so on. Or better yet, those times when multiple trials fall on you at the same time like a ton of bricks, shattering those idealistic, cutesy, just-believe-and-it-will-happen, “the best is yet to come” theories about life into a thousand different pieces. Fact is, life is not a Thomas Kinkaid painting.  And in most cases it looks nothing like the pretty picture we paint of ourselves via status updates, mobile uploads, and Tweets. Those who say that Jesus came to help us “live our best life now” are sadly mistaken. Last time I checked, the promise was that we will live our best life later, when all of our sin-junk is dealt with for good and we get to see our Savior face-to-face (Rom. 8:18-30; 1 Peter 1:6,7; Rev. 21:3, 4). In the meantime, pain is inevitable. Adversity is guaranteed. And sometimes it sticks around for a lot longer than we bargained for.

Enter Naomi.

You may or may not be familiar with her story, which is contained in the Old Testament book of Ruth. (If you have time, stop and read it! The entire book is only 4 short chapters and it’s anything but boring. You will LOVE it!) Naomi was from the small town of Bethlehem in Judah. Her name means “pleasant” or “lovely” and the response of the people of Bethlehem when she returned indicates that it was a fitting description of her (Ruth 1:19). She seems to have been much-loved by those who knew her. I picture her as the fun-loving, outgoing type who was known for her warm smile and glass-half-full perspective on things. She had a strong faith in God who had richly blessed her with a husband and two sons (1:1, 2). No doubt she was a grateful woman, committed to heartfelt worship and adoration of YHWH.

But those were the good ole days. As pleasant as Naomi and her life may have been at one time, she was no stranger to hardship. In fact, I don’t know of any character in the Bible aside from Job who experienced more loss and adversity in a relatively short amount of time than Naomi.

In the five short verses that introduce the book of Ruth, Naomi experiences famine (literal and spiritual) in her home town, moves to a strange pagan land, loses her husband, marries her boys off to Moabite women (which would NOT have been the heart’s desire of any devout Israelite mama), and then – right when we think it can’t get any worse – loses both of her sons as well.

Feeling a little bit better about your life right about now, aren’t ya?

The part of Naomi’s story that gets me every time is when she returns to Bethlehem. Ruth 1:19 says that “all the city was stirred” when she arrived and the women of the city said, “Is this Naomi?” Her response to them is heart wrenching:

“Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, when the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty afflicted me?”

Ugh! [Hand to my heart.] Can’t you just feel the deep anguish behind those words?

We aren’t given a lot of information about the pre-Moab Naomi. But one thing we know for sure – she returned to Bethlehem a different woman.

A grieving woman.

A broken woman.

A needy woman.

A woman who knew all-too-well the soul-searing pain of loss. Some are made to drink from a bitter cup. Naomi was handed a gallon-sized jug and was pretty sure that it came with free refills.

I haven’t experienced Naomi-sized adversity first hand, but I have witnessed it enough to know that a good percentage of the precious people who read this blog know exactly what it’s like. Us church folks hear a lot about walking through “seasons” of hardship, which implies that there is a definite starting and ending point to the pain. But what do we do when that’s not the case? What happens when we have come face-to-face with the terrifying possibility that the bitter waters of adversity may keep on flowing through our lives for years to come? What if there’s no end in sight?

Our tendency is to bust out our “go-to” verses and act like everything will be okay in the morning. But we can’t just throw Jeremiah 29:11 at the grief-stricken and move on. Scripture offers us so much more than that. I believe Naomi is a beautiful example of how to deal with long-term trials. Here are some lessons she teaches us:

1)      Don’t be afraid to see God’s hand in your pain.

Yes, all pain is in some way, shape, or form rooted in the fact that we live in a fallen world. What took place in Genesis 3 is, at the most basic level, the reason why “bad things happen to good people.” But nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE in Scripture is it even remotely implied that God sits idle by and watches His people walk through hard stuff all the while thinking, “It’s too bad I can’t do anything about that.”

Like Job, Naomi understood that it is the Lord who gives AND who takes away. (Job 1:21; also see Lam. 3:38) She understood that God is sovereign over everything, and every circumstance – even the ones that cause His children a great deal of pain. I love what John MacArthur says about her “Just call me bitter” speech: “In calling herself ‘Mara,’ she was not suggesting that she had become a bitter person; but (as her words reveal) that Providence had handed her a bitter cup to drink. She saw the hand of God in her sufferings, but far from complaining, I think she was simply acknowledging her faith in the sovereignty of God, even in the midst of a life of bitter grief” (Twelve Extraordinary Women).

Why is this important? Well, Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “[God’s] work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” Psalm 25:8, 10 says, “Good and upright is the LORD . . . all the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” Lamentations 3:22 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. For His compassions never fail . . .great is [His] faithfulness.” Ephesians 1:11 says that God works “all things after the counsel of His will.”

In light of the love, wisdom, faithfulness, righteousness and mercy of our God, what would happen if we dared to see all of our circumstances – even the downright horrific ones – as part of His plan? I know, I know. Insert clarification about the difference between God’s perfect and permissive will here.  Sorry, not going to go there right now. I’m a simple girl who likes to cut to the chase. Here’s the bottom line: God’s is sovereign . . .over everything . . .including our pain.

There’s just something about seeing every circumstance as the will of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing, infinitely loving, perfectly just, totally sovereign God that makes it bearable. There’s an indescribable peace that comes from knowing deep down that that a good, big-picture-seeing God is in complete control of my life, including my anguish. Naomi knew that peace.

2)      Move on in faith.

Widowed, destitute, and still grieving the loss of both of her sons, Naomi had to move on with her life. While some would be paralyzed by such devastating circumstances, Naomi  “moved on” with a steadfast, unwavering faith in the God who had “afflicted her” (Ruth 1:21). In fact, she is the one behind the bold plan for Ruth to basically propose marriage to Boaz –a plan that I believe was rooted in a firm conviction that her God would provide a redeemer to rescue them from their hopeless, impoverished state. (Oh what a GORGEOUS picture of Jesus the book of Ruth paints!!!)

I remember when I was learning to drive and I experienced my first Florida-style torrential downpour behind the wheel. It went something like this: “Should I pull over, mom?” “No honey, it’s more dangerous to stop. Slow down, but keep going. You’ll eventually drive through it.” I believe the same advice applies when we find ourselves holding the bits and pieces of a life shattered by one heartache after another. Slow down, but keep going. You will eventually drive through it. And as you do, God will provide for you every square mile of the journey just like He did for Ruth and Naomi. Promise.

3)      Anticipate restoration.

As you may already know, the book of Ruth has a very happy ending. Boaz redeems Elimelech’s land (and Ruth along with it) and God blesses Ruth with a son (who ends up being David’s great grandfather!). Interestingly enough, Scripture records what the women said to Naomi upon the birth of the child. “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then, we are told, “The neighbor women gave him a name saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi!”

Um, wait a second. Isn’t Ruth the one who had the son?

I’m sure they said a lot of wonderful things to Ruth as well. But what the Spirit preserved for us to see is that the woman who went out full, but came back empty was full once more! In fact, she had gained far more than she lost, and the neighbor women were beyond ecstatic as they traced the hand of God it in all.

There’s no shortage of Scriptures that point to God’s faithfulness to bring beauty out of the ash-heap of a life ravaged by trials (Is. 61:3). Here’s just a small sampling:

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.” (Ps. 30:11)

 “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Ps. 126:5, 6)

 “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” (Ps. 94:18-19)

 “You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” (Ps. 71:20)

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

The woman who once declared, “Call me bitter,” was finally given sweet water to drink – buckets of it! The God who had afflicted her for reasons far beyond our understanding, chose to do “exceedingly and abundantly more” than anything Naomi could have asked or imagined (Eph. 3:20). HE IS ABLE TO DO THE SAME FOR YOU. And I dare say, He is willing. I don’t know how and I don’t know when and it’s very likely it will happen in a way you don’t expect (and may not have chosen), but based on the authority of His Word, God will prove Himself faithful in your life. I have more confidence in that truth than I do my next breath.

Wait for it. Count on it. Expect it. Embrace it. And when it comes, make sure you use it to reflect to beauty and worth of the glorious Giver. Because ultimately, that’s the whole point.

According to Webster’s, relentless is defined as “showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.” That may very well describe your pain. But it also describes the faithfulness and goodness of your God. When adversity won’t relent, neither will His love.

That, sweet sister, will get you through some trials.

Comments

  1. thanks Aprile! Abby has been really hard to deal with lately! I know that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle but the last few days have become overwhelming even for me a “perfectionist.” It is getting harder each day to take care of an autistic child much less a child with health issues and other issues and constantly hooking her up on her g-tube and never having any freedom in that. I was reading this, and it hit me that I am this woman who is overwhelmed. I am going through a hard season in my life. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Kara, I so wish a could give you a really big hug right now. Hang in there sweetie. Praying that the Lord gives you ample opportunities here and there to catch your breath and recharge your mommy batteries.

  2. Carolyn Jones says:

    Beautiful insight, Aprile.

  3. Liz Hunt says:

    Thank you honey for such wonderful insight into Naomi’s life. Being an older woman, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite scriptures that I believe decribes how Naomi must have lived her godly life in a foreign land… Duet 4:9 “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” It is so obvious that she considered her children to include her daughters-in law. Why else would Ruth say the “your God will be My God”? The story of Naomi is such a reminder to be faithful where you are…. lift HIS name up… share YOUR story with those you love…. and let God use it for HIS glory….. that’s my desire for my family, including Greg and Dawn and sweet Shep. Can’t wait to walk along with Shep as he grows and pass along to him how faithful God has been in Grammy’s life! Wow .. so exciting! Love you! Mom

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