We stopped to chat after small group. She started with a few words of encouragement for me, but tears began to fall. She said, “I’m sorry; it’s just so hard: working and being a wife and a mom. It’s a lot.” In that moment, this beautiful young mom dropped the forced smile and the pretense of having it all together. It was a risk and even as she heard herself speaking the words she was immediately apologizing. I knew it was a sacred moment; she was allowing me a glimpse into her heart.
I don’t take such trust lightly. Honesty and vulnerability can be relational suicide in Christian circles. There is an expectation that because of our faith and confidence in God we will forever see and proclaim the silver lining in every cloud; that we will have a solid expectation for the blessings that are sure to come to us, his followers.
In some circles, you can clear a room with an honest confession.
Have you met Naomi? Her story is one of God’s grace and provision, but she faced some very hard years. In the midst of famine, she and her husband moved away from all that was familiar and dear to a land occupied by pagans. In fact, both sons married pagan women. As if that wasn’t enough, her husband died, leaving her a widow in a foreign land. Ten years later, both sons died.
Broken, old and without a provider, she decided to return to the land of her people, her tribe – back to Bethlehem. When she arrived with her daughter in law in tow she was barely recognized. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
Imagine this bitter and broken woman returning to your tribe. She was grumpy. The whole town was buzzing because of her arrival, but the welcoming committee must have taken a step back when she spewed:
“Don’t call me Naomi! Instead call me Mara (Bitter) for the Almighty has made my life bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty…the Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Note the holy canon of Scripture does not record one person disputing her decree. They barely recognized the broken woman in front of them. They could not and would not refute her sad but honest proclamation. She was a different woman than the one who left all those years ago.
Have you ever opened your mouth with an honest report about your life and immediately regretted it?
I have. I’ve learned that there are people who prefer to avoid my raw and unfinished places. Perhaps they are finally in a good place themselves, or maybe they just “don’t need that kind of negativity” in their life. They cut and run, as if in danger of being infected when exposed to honest emotion.
The truth is hard to hear; when He has dealt a hard blow there is no way to make it pretty. Your spouse lost his job, or worse, you lost your spouse. Naomi didn’t hold back but no one dared challenge, or worse, correct her.
Naomi didn’t sugar coat her broken heart, but she also never stopped expecting God. When she realized that Ruth was gleaning from the field of a relative, she remembered her Provider.
Those women, the ones who stood slack-jawed at her name change announcement? They were there as Naomi took her grandson in her lap and cared for him. Jehovah-Jireh truly had turned her mourning to joy. These friends, the ones who were silent but present when she declared her bitterness, now spoke.
“Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth!”
When she could not see past her bitter circumstances, her tribe allowed her the grace and space to speak honestly. Naomi never knew that the larger purpose of her suffering was preparation for the birth of David and ultimately Jesus.
Even so, God’s word paints a beautiful picture of God’s grace extended to woman bitter in spirit. Perhaps it’s time for us to do the same.
Words in italics are from the book of Ruth, Holy Bible, New International Version
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