Posted by: Ingrid | July 30, 2012

Calling it what it is

“And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them.  And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”  She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi: (which means pleasant) call me Mara (which means bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.”

Ruth 1: 19b-21a

About a month ago my husband filled in for a pastor at another church who was on vacation.  The first week he was supposed to cover the book of Ruth which, at only 4 chapters long was slightly less daunting than the next week’s coverage of all of First and Second Samuel.  One of the things he noticed was this exchange between Naomi and the women of her village after she returns home.  She went away to escape the famine in Israel and she comes home years later, a widow who has lost both her sons.  When the women identify her as the old Naomi she is quick to call life as she sees it in the moment.  My life is bitter.  Don’t identify me by a name that isn’t true of my life right now.  Life is not pleasant.  I am alone.  I have lost everything in a foreign land.  Call me bitter.

It struck me that in a book of only 4 chapters, this didn’t have to be included.  It would have been an easy thing to strike out, particularly since in the story she may refer to herself as Mara but the narrator calls her Naomi through the difficult times, the bitterness, and the final joy of seeing her grandson born.  Not only is her “Call me bitter” rant there, but there is no chiding afterwards.  Nothing along the lines of “Now Naomi shouldn’t have been bitter because she was eventually going to be several greats removed from King David.” or “She shouldn’t have blamed God for life’s bitterness because good was going to come out of it later.”  There is none of that, just a woman letting people know that status of her life at the moment.

Call me bitter.  This is my life right now. says Naomi.  Never mind that her fortunes will change.  Never mind that her grand child will some day sit on her lap.  Never mind that the book of Ruth ends up fairly “happily ever after”.

It made me think of how uncomfortable we are, we as people, particularly we in the church, when people express an honest negative emotion.  I mean really, if you approached someone during coffee hour and asked how they were and they said:  Call me Bitter because God has made life bitter for me.  Wouldn’t you want to back off, slowly, under the pretense of getting another cup of coffee?  Maybe even run for the nearest exit?  Who wants to deal with that stuff?  Who has time to deal with it?

I know that a lot of times, I don’t.

But I like Naomi’s honesty.  I find her directness refreshing.  She called her life what it was.  There was no hiding behind cliches.  There was no trying to make things look better.  There was no thin veneer of acceptability in her response.  There was no trying to take an optimistic view of things; no rosy glow or silver lining.  Sometimes the glossing over and the trick of making it all sound so positive is exhausting, not to mention a little ridiculous.

Naomi called life as she saw it, lived through the bitterness, and eventually I’ll bet someone slipped up and called her Naomi instead of Mara as she was bouncing Obed on her lap and she thought: You know, my life is pretty pleasant now.  Look what God has done!

I like this woman who called herself Bitter.  I think she would be okay after all these months if I said, Call me Disillusioned.  Call me Angry.  Call me Deeply Wounded.

I think she would understand.



  1. Just wanted to say I appreciated this post. Sometimes, you just want people to be open and honest about things, it makes them seem more real and easier to relate to. Sometimes, it is just tiring to appear like you have it all together. Thanks for writing this post.

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