I'm studying Ruth in preparation for teaching a session at church in a few weeks. This morning, Naomi's words on returning to Bethlehem caught my attention.
"I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty..." Ruth 1:21.
Generally, I have a lot of compassion for Naomi. She and her husband and two boys moved to Moab because there was a God-sent famine in Israel. While in Moab, her husband died and her two sons married Moabite women. This wasn't considered a blessing. To top it all off, her two sons died.
One loss after another after another. I'd have been reeling. Devastated.
Naomi got word that the famine had ended in Israel, so she decided to go home. I wouldn't have wanted to go back, because I wouldn't want everyone to see how badly my big adventure had worked out.
Pride would've kept me in Moab.
Naomi, however, humbled herself enough to return home. Her two daughters-in-law announced they were going, too. They hadn't gotten out of town good before one of the young women turned back, and that must have been yet another blow that added to the hurt and bitterness.
She arrived back in Bethlehem, one of her Moabite daughters-in-law in tow, a broken and bitter woman. On arriving, she announced that she should no longer be called Naomi (or "pleasant") but Mara (or "bitter").
In general, there was a lot of prejudice toward Moabite women because of the women who led the men astray, (Numbers 25), so Ruth might've had a hard reception in Bethlehem. Regardless, she chose to go with a bitter, broken hateful mother-in-law and embrace that mil's religion, which could not have looked good about that time.
That's a plus for Ruth in my book, right from the start.
If I had been Ruth, listening to Naomi say, "I've come back with nothing," I'd have wondered what about me? To be perfectly honest, I'd have probably left Naomi on the spot and made my way back to Moab, but Ruth stuck it out.
What Naomi couldn't see, because of her depression, grief, anger and bitterness, was that the woman she counted as a burden was her greatest blessing in disguise.
That's an easy mistake to make, especially when you're in a hard situation like caregiving. I cherish Sam, but I can see how someone could be so overwhelmed that the one for whom they're giving care might not seem like the greatest blessing they have.
When you're confronted with loss and disappointment and grief, it's easy to be confused about what's a blessing and what's a burden.
Yesterday, Sam was worried about that very thing. We'd had a tough night and a hard morning. I'd had a lot of unexpected work to do. I was frazzled and frustrated. We had a difference of opinion with our hospice provider and I was very frank with my opinion of the situation. Too frank.
I agonized about what had happened, and finally decided that we needed to change hospice providers. There wasn't anything wrong with our first hospice company. They gave Sam perfectly competent care. We just wanted something different.
A few hours later, I realized Sam had been unusually quiet and the reason came to me. My hasty words. I was stabbed to the core by regret, so I did what had to be done.
I pulled a chair up close to Sam's and took his hand in mind. "I love taking care of you, Sam."
He looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. "You do?"
"Yes. I love being home every day. I love taking care of you. I love trying to talk you into eating when you don't want to do it. I even love doing your medicines to help you feel better."
"I'm not too much trouble?" he asked with a tremulous voice.
I hugged him. "No, Sam. I was upset with the nurses. Not with you. I've given up a lot to do this, but that's not a bad thing. It's a good thing. I'm here because I said I'd do it, but I'm also here because I want to take care of you."
Sam smiled and I finally found the words he needed to hear. "Even when it's hard, taking care of you is a blessing to me."
As the words came out of my mouth, I knew they were true. I've never considered Sam a burden, but I haven't always seen the great blessing this season is to me.
It's forced me to slow down. To choose speaking engagements wisely. To cherish each day. To put first things first. To let some things go. They're all things I've needed to do.
This season is as good for me, in its way, as it is for Sam, and I love it. I'm grateful for it.
Hard seasons can be so overwhelming that they begin to seem like a burden. A closer look, however, will likely show that burden to be a blessing in disguise.
Here's our challenge for today: Let's take a closer look at the most difficult places in our lives. Where is the blessing in the midst of the burden?
Here's our action for today: Let's surrender our hurt and bitterness to the One who's allowed our situation, and embrace the blessing. Thank God. Speak words of healing. Show our love in both word and deed.
A season is always temporary. It's not a lifetime. No matter how hard that season may be, there's a blessing waiting for us to embrace it. Look for it. Cherish it.
Don't be a Mara. Be a Naomi.
I learned this song as a child, and I still sing it when times are hard:
"Count your many blessings. Name them one by one. And it may surprise you what the Lord has done." (Lyrics by Johnson Oatman)
"...to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing..." 1 Peter 4:13
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Caregiver Chronicles: When the Word of God Comes Alive Just When You Need it Most
Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line