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Lessons from Ruth: Day 3

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them [the townspeople of Bethlehem]. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”
Ruth 1:21

After ten years in Moab, Naomi, once a woman of status and means, finds herself alone, having lost her husband, then her two sons. She is a widow in a pagan country, without a man’s protection. Her only hope is to return to Bethlehem and relatives, but more importantly, to Bethlehem and the God who defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow (Deut. 10:18).

Naomi’s words are profound: “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” She meant it as condemnation; but the Lord meant her emptiness for good.

Naomi and Elimelech left Bethlehem filled with God’s law and God’s blessings, both material and spiritual. After a decade of 24-7 exposure to an immoral, godless culture, they weren’t only in Moab, Moab was in them. (“You know there are some good shows on Moabite television”, “Of course, I don’t approve of child sacrifice, but what are you going to do?”, “We would love to go back to Bethlehem, but the housing market is really down right now.”), Naomi’s greatest emptiness emanated from her God-starved soul.

“If you are not as close to God as you used to be, who moved?

Haven’t we all been there? We leave our Christian home for university life and return exhausted. We move away from our Bible-teaching church and are slow to look for another, until we realize one day, that our life has a soul-deep hole in it. Our new friends are great people, but there is no spiritual dimension to our friendship and we find ourselves editing our conversation—and experiencing an inexplicable loneliness.

If we are fortunate, we will, like Naomi, experience a crisis that sends us back to God. Even if we arrive at His feet kicking and screaming, God can use our wandering and emptiness for His glory and our good. (How amazing.)

It is at this point that we are prepared to acknowledge--along with Naomi (formerly Mara) and countless others—the truth of the psalmist’s words:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And the earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73: 25, 26).

Nancy Shirah

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