I am who you say I am

This devotional is written by Jeannine Boulter. Jeannine is married to Tom and mother to Bruno and Oona.

Ruth 1:19-22

19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, 'Can this be Naomi?'

20 'Don't call me Naomi,' she told them. 'Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 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.'

22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.


I am yet to encounter grief, in that I am yet to have someone close to me die. I've read poems and friends have described their experiences. I can't really comprehend though, the pain that Naomi must be in when she returns to Bethlehem - presumably the place she met Elimelech and had her sons. Even her name 'Naomi' (meaning 'pleasure') must have served as a painful reminder of everything she'd lost. I wonder if telling people to call her 'Mara' (meaning 'bitter') is her way of trying to mitigate against further loss/pain, by eliminating the possibility of future 'sweetness'.

There's a brilliant book by Oliver Jeffers - 'The Heart and the Bottle' - that explores this kind of response to grief. A little girl ('much like any other') experiences the loss of her father and decides to put her heart in a bottle and hang it around her neck. The story follows her into adulthood, when she begins to realise that locking away the pain has also locked away her capacity to be truly alive and present to the joy that is still in the world. The only way that she can retrieve her heart is through relationship.

In the book of Ruth, it is through relationship that Naomi ('Mara' never seems to catch on) is able to embrace something other than the pain that is so consuming when she arrives at Bethlehem. As the story of Ruth and Boaz unfolds, so do the themes of redemption and connection to God's greater purposes. Like Naomi, we do all sorts of things in an attempt to protect ourselves from future pain and suffering, but God sees the bigger picture. I can call myself whatever names I want. The truth remains: 'I am who you say I am'.

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