"Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God," (Ruth 1:16, KJV).
These are Ruth's familiar words of commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons moved to Moab to escape the famine in Bethlehem, Judah. Naomi had already lost her husband Elimelech soon after moving to Moab, and now both of her sons were dead. As she made plans to return to Bethlehem, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to live with their families. But Ruth refused to do so. Instead, she committed to remain with Naomi and return with her to Bethlehem.
When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she said to her people, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?" (Ruth 1:20-21, ESV).
The name Naomi means "my joy, my bliss, or pleasantness of Jehovah." When Naomi left Bethlehem, she left with her family in tact and was known as joy, bliss, and pleasantness. However, because she had lost everything in Moab, Naomi changed her name to Mara. Mara means "bitterness." Naomi left Bethlehem seeking sustenance but was met with great loss instead. She returned to Bethlehem a different woman. She returned empty and bitter.
Naomi viewed Moab as a source of great loss. She was too bitter to recognize it, but Moab actually provided her with a great gift. Moab gave her Ruth. Ruth ended up being the source of Naomi's future provision because Ruth married Boaz, Naomi's redeeming kinsman. The continuing story beyond the book of Ruth follows Ruth's and Boaz's lineage to the birth of Jesus.
Bitterness can change us into people God never intended us to be. It can prevent us from recognizing the unexpected gifts of God's provision. And just like Naomi, bitterness can cause us to define ourselves by our losses.
Though I've had Moab moments, God has helped me rise above bitterness, and, in spite of my losses, I've moved into a future I never saw coming. I am keenly aware of the unexpected gifts God has given me through my trouble. So, yes, I've had some trouble. Even so, you can call me grateful. Please, don't ever call me Mara.