As a twenty-something millennial, I suffer from self-diagnosed ‘Elizabeth Bennett Syndrome’. In other words, the propensity to insert myself as the heroine of every story I read. From animated princesses to plucky schoolgirls, the adventures of admirable women have been fixtures in imagination. And, naturally, I am inclined to interchange my name synonymously with theirs.
To my surprise, when my pastor preached through the book of Ruth, I found myself identifying more with jaded Naomi than the title character.
Many have at least a working knowledge of this Old Testament account: two widows faced with poverty return to Israel to seek provision. Most Christians can easily reference Ruth’s lyrical pledge of loyalty to Naomi. Vows often recited at weddings, albeit slightly out of context. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1: 16) Naomi’s response to her difficult circumstances is less than quote-worthy, “it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13)
Don’t get me wrong, I would rather be like Ruth. Ruth is kind and courageous. Ruth is hardworking and loyal. But in a recent desert season (though nothing as drastic as a famine or triple funeral), I notice that my response is more like the woman who said “call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:20)
But God is merciful, even to those of us struggling with bitterness. Three realities in particular struck me as I examine Naomi’s situation, and assess my own.