Forty women: 23. Mara

You’d be bitter too, if you’d travelled with your husband to another country, with your two fine sons, to avoid a famine, and even though you arrived safely, and there was plenty of food, and there were wives for the boys, but despite all that they died. All of them. Elimelek, your husband, and Mahlon and Kilion, your sons.

You’d be bitter if you found yourself alone and unprotected, many miles away from home. And then you heard that after all that, the Israelites had survived the famine anyway. They had enough food.

You’d be bitter if you realised that you were too old for anyone to want you as his wife now. Too old to have more children – more sons – of your own. And though your sons both married, neither of them had children to bear their name, to carry on the family. You’d be bitter if you knew the Lord’s hand had turned against you. And when your daughters-in-law protested that they wanted to come with you, that they were still your family, you’d be bitter at having to explain it to them: “Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:12-13)

You’d be bitter, even if one of them insisted on accompanying you all the long, weary way back to Bethlehem where you arrive in husbandless, childless shame. You’d be so bitter, that when the people ask, “Can this be Naomi?” you’d spit out your reply: “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara.” Don’t call me ‘pleasant‘. Call me ‘bitter‘.

And you’d be sure to tell them why: “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 1:20-21).

You’d be bitter because of what the Lord had done.

But, bit by bit, as the Lord rebuilt your family, as he gave you a new protector, as he brought a new child to put into your arms, people would look at you and they would not say ‘Mara has a son!’. They would look at you and say ‘Naomi has a son!’

The trick for Mara was not to let the bitterness take hold, so that Naomi could grasp the happiness when it came.