What follows is something the Lord started dealing with me about just the other night. It’s rather unrefined but I wanted to share it anyway.
The book of Ruth opens with a story about a woman named Naomi. Naomi moves to Moab with her husband because there is a famine in Israel. Naomi and her husband have two sons, who marry Moabite women–Ruth and Orpah (Ruth 1:1-4). Naomi’s husband dies. Ten years later, both her sons die (Ruth 1:4-5). Having nothing left in Moab, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She urges her daughters-in-law to remarry and remain in Moab. At first, they both refuse. But Naomi insists: “No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me” (Ruth 1:13). Orpah tearfully agrees with Naomi and returns home. But Ruth still refuses to leave Naomi and returns with her to Bethlehem.
Naomi’s homecoming causes a stir. Naomi’s old friends can hardly believe it’s her and say, “Can this be Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19). But Naomi says, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made me very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). This turn of names is interesting. Naomi means “pleasant,” and Mara (as Naomi’s comments imply) means “bitter.” Perhaps this was another reason Naomi’s friends didn’t recognize her. Naomi’s sufferings apparently changed her appearance as well as her heart. The once light and pleasant friend was now a broken woman, down in the mouth.
Sometimes the Lord takes us through a season of suffering and loss. Sometimes this season is long. The circumstances may be personal loss and grief like Naomi. Or the Lord’s ministry through us may involve long-suffering and repeated sacrifice. Whatever the situation, we may look back one day and survey everything we’ve lost or given up. Grief is a natural and acceptable part of such reflection. But where does it lead?
Bethlehem means, “House of Bread.” Naomi’s sufferings led to the House of Bread. But she could only see her losses. In fact, she thought God turned against her. This is often the case with us. God isn’t cruel or sadistic. He’s not a little boy with a magnifying glass watching us smoke and squirm as he cooks us with light. His desire in every hardship is to bring us to His House of Bread. The House of Bread is the communion table. Heartache is an opportunity to participate in Christ’s broken body. This spiritually feeds us and imparts resurrection–life out of death (1 Cor. 10:16-17). God wants us to experience His glory. This is only possible if we also experience His sufferings (Rom. 8:17).
God is challenging me through Naomi’s story. Will the things I’ve lost or gone through change me from pleasant to bitter? Or will suffering lead me to the House of Bread? Will hardships eat me alive? Or will I feed on them?
Jesus, I ask that painful experiences not make me bitter. I pray the Holy Spirit will lead me through hard times to your House of Bread. I want to be able to say with you, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).