I would never criticize Naomi. What she went through, her losses, it was just awful! Her husband died, followed by her two adult sons — her only children. Reading about Naomi’s story, we can imagine how great her pain and grief must have been. We are able to observe her grief turning to bitterness in the words she used to express her suffering.
“…Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.” (Ruth 1:13 NLT)
What a strange thing to say to her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth! They were grieving the loss of the same men. Naomi’s dead sons were these women’s dead husbands. When I read these words, it seems like Naomi was so steeped in her grief-turning-to-bitterness, that she couldn’t hear herself anymore. It could have been very hurtful for Orpah and Ruth to hear their own grief discounted and minimized.
Hopelessness fixates the human mind on trauma and problems. We can’t hear how off-key or insensitive or self-centered our thoughts and words have become when we’re experiencing hopelessness. It leads to tunnel vision with an ever-narrowing scope, until all we see is our suffering. It’s hard to hide hopelessness. It often shows up in off-hand comments made in response to someone else’s good fortune.
...So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah. But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes…” (Ruth 1:6-8 NLT)
Hopelessness leads us to act outside our character, and to do things we would never do under any other circumstance. The sad part of this story isn’t so much that Naomi turned these women away. (Although, that is sad.) It’s that Naomi chose to let them pack up and think they were going with her. It wasn’t until they were “on their way” that Naomi rescinded the invitation. These poor women suddenly found themselves rejected and sent away. Orpah went home to her mother, but Ruth wouldn’t hear of it.
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:19-21 NLT)
Hopelessness leads to isolation. Naomi is being warmly welcomed and she can’t receive it. We can believe our feelings make up who we are as a human being, but they do not. Feelings come and go, change, and are sometimes based on misinformation. Feeling hopeless doesn’t mean we are a lost cause. It means we feel like that right now.
So how is Naomi a guidepost for hope? (This really is starting to sound like a guidepost for hopelessness.) Naomi’s story is important, because we can see what Naomi could not see. We can see God closely attending to every detail of her life. We almost leap through our skin wanting Naomi to have hopefulness!
Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Mark well the path by which you came….For the Lord will cause something new to happen…For I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing. (Jeremiah 31:21-22, 25 NLT)
These words are poignant because the Lord spoke them to Jeremiah while Israel was still living in captivity and suffering. It was important to God that his people have hope for their future. God gave them these instructions to keep their mind on what he was going to do, instead of leaving them to exist in tunnel vision, only seeing their miserable situation.
Hope is the guidepost Naomi’s story gives us. Naomi reminds us to put up a sign of hope to guide us when our situation looks hopeless. It tells us to mark out our own path of faith that we dot with markers signifying all the ways God has come through for us in the past. Naomi knew to travel back to where her story began, she just didn’t have the wherewithal to take faith and hope along for the ride. She needed a guidepost to remind her.
When Ruth’s baby was born, here’s the blessing her hometown ladies exclaimed for Naomi…
…May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” …(Ruth 4:14-17 NLT)
When we feel our situation is hopeless, we can think about Naomi’s story and fight to hold onto hope. We can fight for our faith in God to win the day, rescuing it from hopelessness’s hands. God is working on our behalf, even when things feel differently.
Here’s three guideposts we can put up to challenge our feelings and thoughts of hopelessness:
- Even when it seemed hopeless to Naomi, God was working on her behalf. He is working on my behalf, too.
- God gave Naomi the gift of Ruth, who walked with Naomi through their hard season. If I widen my view, I can find people who are willing to walk with me.
- God wasn’t against Naomi. I will choose to believe God isn’t against me either.
Here are three steps to setting up our own guideposts of hope and faith:
- Build a guidepost: we can put in writing for our future selves some instructions for handling tough situations with faith and hope. Supplement the instructions with hopeful, inspiring, faith-filled scriptures.
- Mark out the path by which we came: write down our own big picture life story. Share it with someone! Testifying to own journey to the cross, to forgiveness, to the new life and new hope we found in Jesus can anchor us through tough storms in the future.
- Post markers of our milestones: write down our miraculous milestones when God has met us along the way. Create markers to remind us when it seemed hopeless, we learned God was closely attending to our details. These stories will challenge us to hold onto hope, and to wait more patiently for the Lord’s intervention to make itself plain.
If you don’t know Jesus, all of this might sound a little like mumbo-jumbo. You can meet Jesus today just by talking to him. You’ve seen people praying on your television. It looks the same for you to pray. Just talk to God where you’re at. He hears you. He’s waiting to burst onto the scene and make your life an amazing story of love and renewal.
To start learning who Jesus is, about his character and his love, I like to point people to the book of John in the Bible.
Are you feeling hopeless right now? Can I pray for you? Keep the conversation going! Comments are welcome.