We seem to have come full circle by the end of chapter 1 of Ruth. Famine initiated a coping strategy of moving. Moving resulted in death of the father, marriage of the two sons to foreigners, the sons’ incumbent death and now a widow left with two daughter-in-laws. This poor family has lived through tragedy after tragedy, many dark days requiring care for each other and self-care to survive. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and Ruth decides to go with her. Naomi appears to have gone “full circle” by returning but life has changed her.
“Don’t call me Naomi (which means pleasant) she told them (the women of Bethlehem who greeted her), ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me, the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1:20,
So many events in our lives feel beyond our control and we do the best we can to care for others and care for ourselves. We still wait the results of the election. Will it be a new start on the same ole care topics? We still wait for a vaccine but will it really ward off death and protect our loved ones? Cain cried in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” By being involved in what took place in his brother’s life, Cain was changed and murdered Abel. By caring for our loved one with Alzheimer’s a person is changed as the person reflects at the death. Care for a child differently challenged changes us. Living next door to an immigrant and becoming friends changes us. The “new normal” always is somehow familiar but actually different as we live into it.
We have irony in this scene. Naomi is meeting women from Bethlehem who recognize her. “The whole town was stirred because of them.” Naomi chose transparency. She named the enemy and shared that she returned in grief, bitter, empty. In the face of this confession, though, we have just heard Ruth’s plea to never be forced to leave Naomi for Ruth sees in Naomi a woman and a faith to model her life after. Caring for others has a price for ourselves and others but it could be that in the midst of this feeling of exhaustion, we are not the best person to evaluate ourselves.
Our second son at age four to five went through a year of high fevers and severe joint pain, diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. He would cry out to me, “Mommy, am I going to die?” I was exhausted and felt like a failure. I may well have yelled at God, why was he making my life so difficult when I was trying to be a good servant, missionary. It was a dark period. I was pregnant with twins, big as a house, in a foreign country, scared. We moved from the “bush,” leaving our translation project, closer to pediatric care in Nairobi. Our son went into remission with the move. But I was changed. Care giving changes us. Naomi renamed herself Mara.
Today we might look at the blessings as well as the cost of care giving. Naomi returns with Ruth who is devoted to her – a huge blessing as she starts over, but she returns “bitter.” If you keep a journal, choose a care-giving person you are involved with and jot down the blessings you have experienced as well as the drains of the relationship. Can you see the hand of God? He is there and he cares!
Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.