Do you tend to avoid cranky people? Go out of your way to avoid the teen who just got grounded or an exhausted coworker who started her day by stepping on a Lego?
But what if I am the cranky one? I can’t escape me. Sure, I have tricks up my sleeve to stuff my frustrations so I can function at work. I can fix a smile during lunches with friends so I do not hint at the dark musings of my heart. However, my guard drops back at home and my crankiness is more obvious as I bang dinner dishes, yell “shut up” to the dogs, or give the silent treatment to my family. I see them avoid me, and I wish I could escape from my cranky self, too.
I wonder if Naomi felt the same way.
In the Book of Ruth we see Naomi’s story unfold. Her family left Bethlehem and went to Moab in search of bread, and though they found actual bread, they did not find what they really went for: health and life. Ten years later, Naomi’s husband and boys are dead, and she is left alone except for her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. A widow without male protection doesn’t have many options. She hears the famine back home is over and returns, her daughter-in-law Ruth in tow. They arrive back in Bethlehem, and Naomi tells her hometown friends, “I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Don’t call me by my old name, Naomi (“pleasant”) but call me Mara (“bitter”).”
Empty. Bitter. Maybe even a little cranky?
In chapter 2, Naomi comes across almost numb and depressed when Ruth goes to find work in the fields. Only when Ruth mentions the name Boaz do we see a spark as Naomi responds, “blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead” (Ruth 2:20). By the end of the story, we see Boaz taking both widows into his family and Naomi holding a grandbaby. But even though the writer does not explicitly say it, the real hero is God, not Boaz. We as the audience see what was happening all along. God was sticking close to Naomi because she was part of His family. Another way to describe His loving-kindness is with the term covenant, a solemn promise that God would never leave His children, His sheep.
Covenant even with the cranky.
In the flock of God, Naomi was a cranky sheep and God kept His covenant with her anyway. Sometimes you and I are cranky sheep, too. Perhaps our losses of dreams, expectations, or loved ones leave us dry and brittle. Or maybe we look up one day, and we are far from the community of God’s people and don’t like how our cynicism compares with their contentment. We wonder if God wants to avoid us because we are really not that fun to be around.
Thankfully, God doesn’t keep His covenant promises only to the happy faces, the productive hands, and the hearts that sing with VBS vigor, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” He sticks with cranky women too—the women out of energy to pray; women bitter from hard work and empty bank accounts; and women haunted by mistakes that can’t be undone.
Where do I go if I’m cranky?
Even though Naomi said God had “dealt very bitterly” with her and “testified against her,” she actually went towards God, His land, and His people. Why? In the words of Peter (John 6:67-68), where else could she go? Desperation allowed her to see her only viable option: God.
In the action that followed back in Bethlehem, God used several ordinary means to keep extraordinary covenant promises. First, He gave her Ruth as daughter-in-law. Even though having a Moabitess was not exactly kosher, Ruth proved to be better than seven sons (Ruth 4:15)! Secondly, Boaz went beyond the letter of the law when he sent a gigantic “engagement ring” of grain back with Ruth, saying “do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.” The town women said Boaz was her “restorer and nourisher in her old age,” and Boaz’s obedience as a Kinsman-Redeemer gave Naomi the rest and security she sought back in Moab. But the greatest picture of how God kept Naomi close was in the closing scene of the Book of Ruth, when Naomi held the baby, Obed. This boy was the grandfather of King David and the royal line leading to Jesus Christ. Naomi went from empty arms to a lapful.
Where is My Baby?
Well, great for Naomi. She got her happy ending, but what about me? Where is my baby? The lesson of Naomi’s story is not that you will “get your baby.” God keeping His promises is not the same thing as getting what we wish for. But God offers you a miraculous kind of joy (Ps. 16:11). You can possess a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). He offers something better than our biggest dreams (and the Moabs we go to) can offer us. We get the countenance of the LORD that will put “gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their rain and wine increased.” (Psalm 4:6-8). Cranky woman can become women of joy, even as we walk in the empty and bitter places. When we see others get the job recognitions, the picket fences, the healthy doctors’ reports, we don’t have to be stuck with cranky because He promises us something better: His countenance to shine upon us.
We may not get a baby, but we do get a Boaz.
Boaz served as a Kinsman-Redeemer, a close relative who took responsibility for a needy relative. As a type of Christ, Boaz put on display how the Messiah would rescue us. How he would sacrifice to make us family. Even though she did not know it, Naomi held the baby who will one day hold us all: Jesus, our ultimate restorer and nourisher, even in all our cranky places.
About the Author:
Susan Tyner grew up in Mississippi, but recently hung her hat in Fort Worth, Texas. She is on staff at Trinity Presbyterian Church and serves as an Advisor to the RUF Permanent Committee. A regular contributor for enCourage, the PCA’s blog, as well as part of the Hinged Bible Study writing team and Hinged@Home speaking team, Susan enjoys collaborating with other women in ministry. Susan and her husband, Lee, have five children, and an almost empty nest.