Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Turn Out

She said to them, “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

Naomi is usually said to mean pleasant or one who is pleasing, one in whom we delight.  Mara means bitter.  Is there anything more unpleasant than a bitter person?  When bitterness takes root it flowers into poisonous fruit which has the potential to “defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). 

We can understand Naomi’s position.  Her husband had taken her and her two sons into the land of Moab, abandoning their rightful inheritance near the town of Bethlehem because of famine.  Bethlehem means, ironically enough, “the house of bread”, but there was no bread so they left.  Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, after the death of her husband, Elimelech, married women of Moab.  Chilion’s wife was named Orpah, and we do not hear much about her.  She’s seems to have been a good enough person, sensible, pragmatic, and realistic.  She offered to follow her mother-in-law back to Judah but was dissuaded by Naomi’s quite reasonable arguments.

Ruth, on the other hand, has a book of the Bible named for her.  One of her descendants was King David, and when we read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, there, too, is the name of Ruth.  She is there because she refused to abandon her mother-in-law.  There was no Social Security, no homes for the aged, no pensions in those days.  An old woman without husband or children might have wished herself to soon depart this hard world.  Naomi could have expected difficulty in surviving apart from the kindness of a few relatives.  She would be a beggar, and a hopeless one.  Her hope for the future had been tied to children.  Hers were gone.  She would have no grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  Her line had failed.

But Ruth, whose name means friendly or loyal friend, goes out into the fields to glean, and her selflessness awakens the gracious nature of Naomi’s prosperous kinsman Boaz who sees to it that Ruth is able to provide for her mother-in-law abundantly.  Ruth’s attitude and love also inspire Naomi.  In seeking to find a way to repay and provide for her daughter-in-law, Naomi stops thinking about herself.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I get bitter it is because I have become self-absorbed.  I have been treated unfairly, suffered injustice, loss, and defeat.  I always think of Tom Chaney’s line in True Grit after Mattie shoots him, “Everything happens to me. Now I'm shot by a child.”  I feel like that sometimes.  I have all the bad luck. 

It’s not true.  In fact, if there were such a thing as luck, I would have to say I have had extraordinarily good luck.  Naomi, too, had the good fortunate to have one of her sons marry a woman of superlative character and virtue.   Yet while Naomi focused on her own woes, wallowing in self-pity, the full force of this fact was lost on her.  As we were saying yesterday, Naomi comes to herself when she forgets herself and focuses on Ruth’s future.

This is the kingdom way.  If we put our energy and thought and effort into making other people happy, we will be happy.  Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor (Proverbs 22:9).   When we forgive, we find that we have been forgiven.  When we love, we may be surprised to find that we are loved.  When we liberate, we are set free.  When we make peace, we have peace.  And so it goes. 

If I find myself in bondage, in bitterness, joyless, miserable and hopeless, there’s a good chance that I have been too intent on getting my own way and pleasing myself.  The only way that can be fixed is if I am willing to turn away from my fleshly desires and work on making good things happen for those around me. 

There is, of course, one caveat.  You really can’t make anybody else happy.  There are people such that no matter how much you do or how hard you try to please them, they are never going to be pleased.  It’s never going to be good enough; it’s never going to be right or meet their standards or be what they want.  I’ve done it to the letter and had them tell me, “You know that’s not what I meant.”  There’s a tendency to give a two word response, but how they handle it is not my problem.  I just need to keep doing the right thing regardless of the response of others.    


julie said...

Bethlehem means, ironically enough, “the house of bread”

Ha - I didn't know that. Ironic for this story, but how perfectly fitting for the place Christ was born!

julie said...

If we put our energy and thought and effort into making other people happy, we will be happy.

Funny - I was just saying something very like this to my boy. It's tough being the oldest.

mushroom said...

I don't know. I'm the baby -- by a stretch. I love my oldest sister best of any of them, but she doesn't take much from anyone except me.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"This is the kingdom way. If we put our energy and thought and effort into making other people happy, we will be happy. Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor (Proverbs 22:9). When we forgive, we find that we have been forgiven. When we love, we may be surprised to find that we are loved. When we liberate, we are set free. When we make peace, we have peace. And so it goes."

Words of wisdom. You can't out-give God. And I don't mean that to mean materially, as some Christians believe because you can't buy Godly happiness.

I mean, and I know you know this, brother, that the blessing of helping someone else is Godly happiness, Godly joy.
Especially when you know, without necessarily knowing the particulars that the person you helped really needs it, and perhaps they had been praying for God's help.
The look of surprise, relief, smiles, and maybe tears really hits home, you know?

I think nothin' else makes me feel better than that except when I was with Patti, or when I'm with our daughters or granddaughter.

However, I also know what it's like trying to help someone who is never satisfied, never thankful and maybe bitter to boot.
Can't say I felt happy when that happened, except to know I did the right thing by God, if it's Him that leads me to do so.

Sure is a lot easier to help someone who has a thankful heart. Not do much towards me but towards God, although I must confess, even when I try to be humble about it and say different, I do like when someone is thankful towards me.
Hopefully bein' mindful not to expect that someone I help owes me anything for it.
That can be a painful balancing act I must be ever vigilant about.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I was the oldest, and it was more difficult than my younger brother had, but I think my youngest brother had it pretty hard too, especially since he was 11 years younger than me.

However, our middle brother is the one who ran afoul of the law a lot and can never hold doen a job for long.
Kinda like cousin Eddie in Vacation, he's always holding out for management or thinks he's gonna be a big star because he can sing and play guitar.
He's not a bad musician but he ain't great or even really good so I doubt he'll be a star.

Sad to say. He's one of those folks who can't he helped until he reaches bottom.
I pray he has the time to call out to God someday.

mushroom said...

That's true, Ben. That's the way you have to look at it with those who can't be satisfied. We do what we can and pray that, some day, it has some small part in waking them up.