Posted on Sunday, May 08, 2022 by Scott Savage
It’s amazing how one moment - one phrase even - can instantly lead to the loss of joy.
Certain words are devastating, and certain events can shatter our sense of reality.
No one wants to hear the words "We have to let you go" from their employer.
Or “Brace for impact!” from a pilot.
Or “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do,” from a doctor.
Several years ago, my wife and I experienced one of those moments. During what we thought would be a routine ultrasound during our pregnancy with twins, my wife and I noticed some concerning nonverbal responses from the ultrasound technician. Within a few minutes, we were ushered into a doctor’s office. The doctor informed us that our pregnancy was in dire straits. Without a trip to the hospital and an emergency surgery (which had no guaranteed outcome), we would lose our son and daughter.
The joy of a potential pregnancy was replaced by the worry and fear of devastating loss and grief. It was those tension-filled days that have led me to empathize with Naomi’s experience, recorded in the book of Ruth within the Bible.
In a ten-year period, Naomi and her family fled a famine as refugees. In a foreign land, Naomi’s husband and both her sons died. Can you imagine going from a family of 4 to a family of one in a decade? Naomi endured unimaginable loss and her joy level was down to zero.
When Naomi learned that her hometown of Bethlehem had food again, she returned home.
Ruth 1 tells us:
“When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
In ancient Hebrew, Naomi meant “sweetness or contentment.” But in light of her painful experiences, she claimed a new name in "Mara," which meant "bitter." Naomi did not lose her faith in God. She still believed God was real and sovereign over the circumstances of her life. However, her response to painful events was to choose bitterness towards God. She rejected the idea that God was the source of her joy, believing she would never experience joy again.
In the midst of a significant loss, it is easy to declare that joy is a part of our past, but it will never be a part of our future. This is the fruit of bitterness in our lives.
Author and pastor Tim Keller once reflected, "Worry is fear that God will get it wrong and bitterness is believing that He did." Naomi believed she had lost all joy and sweetness in life because God got it wrong.
However, where Naomi’s story starts is not where it ends. The book of Ruth tells an incredible story of the transformation and redemption God brings in the lives of Ruth and Naomi. A noble, kind, and just man named Boaz redeemed the line of Ruth’s deceased husband and he chose to take Ruth and Naomi under his wing to care and provide for them. The son of Boaz and Ruth became the grandfather of King David, which located Ruth in the earthly line of Jesus.
In Ruth 4, as Naomi is given her first grandchild to hold, her friends remark on the work of God to redeem what was lost.
“Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”
The one who returned empty and bitter now saw the fullness of God’s grace. Though she experienced deep grief, she ultimately experienced overwhelming joy.
If joy has been ripped from your life, consider how Naomi’s journey might offer you a way forward.
1. Allow yourself to grieve.
The Bible acknowledges that grieving is healthy. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 speaks of grieving with hope. In Matthew 5, we’re told that God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted (by Him).
If you’ve taken losses recently, treat this as your permission slip to fully grieve those losses.
2. Wait on God’s work, even when you cannot see it.
The book of Ruth covers at least ten years. Though Naomi ends up in a different place in chapter 4 than she was in during chapter 1, that process took time and patience. It’s not easy to wait on God’s work because we often cannot see it. John Piper once wrote, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” Since God is working in ways we cannot see, we have to wait for the time when the outcome of His work is revealed.
3. Lean on God’s provision, even when it comes from unlikely places.
The Scriptures give us stories of God providing for His people with bread on the ground each morning, including birds who delivered food like modern-day drones. God has a track record of providing through the most unlikely of places and means. So, if you’re not sensing God providing in traditional or expected ways, welcome to the club!
@Elevation Worship sings about this reality in their song, "Same God."
The same God who provided for the people in the Scriptures will provide for you today.
4. Remember - courage is not the absence of fear.
You know your joy is returning and your hope rising when you feel the ability to make plans. In Naomi 2 and 3, we see Naomi share a plan with Ruth to invite Boaz to redeem them, essentially asking him to marry her.
The plan was bold and risky. It reflected faith in what they knew of Boaz’s character and faith in God’s ability to redeem. Once the plan was made, Ruth had to step out despite fear. We know she was afraid because Boaz’s first words of response were “Fear not.” This is a reminder that fear and faith can coexist; they did in Ruth, and they may in you today.
If you’ve lost your joy…
If you’ve been left reeling by a moment you didn’t see coming…
If you've heard devastating words…
I am praying for you - that you may know the same God who worked redemption and transformation for Naomi and Ruth is working for a similar end for you.
Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer with the coolest last name ever. He leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. Scott is married to Dani and they are the parents of three “little savages.” He helps hurting people forgive others through his Free to Forgive course and you can read more of his writing at scottsavagelive.com.
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