My life as a Christian is not what I expected. In fact, at one point I said to God, “Is this worth it? Thirty years I have followed you as closely as possible, and this is how it turns out? Should I just leave you now? What is the point?” Shock and disappointment filled my heart and I wondered what my life meant.

Then ever so gently Peter’s words in John 6:68 settled in my mind, “Where would I go? You have the words of life.” I knew God’s word is steadfast, timeless, and relevant, and the decision was made. In fact, that decision was made when I committed my life to Christ. I would not leave my Savior, for God would never let go of me. However, I would need to work through my resentment toward God about my unmet expectations, for they created a barrier in my relationship with Him. Perhaps not unlike Naomi’s experience in the book of Ruth.

On Expectations and the Life of Naomi

When I reviewed the story of Naomi from Naomi’s perspective rather than Ruth’s in my study Naomi: Reason to Hope, it was a revelation in God’s truth for me. Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant), call me Mara (bitter) she says in Ruth 1. Her expectations were dashed, and she was bitter. She expected, as one of God’s covenant people, to experience personal peace and affluence. She wanted to be a wife and mother, with resources and an abundant life. Within ten years, all those expectations were crushed, she was left responsible for two daughters-in-law, and she felt she had no assets. “I went out full and I came back empty” she says.

Had Naomi really come back empty? Had God abandoned her? Was God insufficient? Naomi’s perspective was not God’s perspective. Naomi looked at her immediate circumstances; God planned eternity and the salvation of all generations. Naomi was concerned with how she felt and what she wanted; God was concerned with the birth of the Savior. Who would facilitate a godly line? Would Naomi cooperate with God in assuring the descendants of Salmon, Elimelech, and Boaz?  These men are ancestors to King David and in the lineage of the Lord Jesus!

A study of Naomi in the book of Ruth demonstrated that life brings financial insecurity, loss, death, transitions, conflict, and drama. These are a part of life we don’t want to expect. We feel surprise or even shock when devastating events come. But there is hope: God is present, and He is good. May I repeat, God is good. In His love and sovereign control, God never fails to do good to and for us. Whatever God does is right. He is working something greater in us, to make us complete. His goal is not our happiness; God’s goal for us is holiness, that we might walk in loving oneness with Him. This oneness results in accomplishing His purposes, not ours. Therefore, we need to be God-compatible, and adversity is the fast track to becoming so.

When Adversity Disguises God’s Work

I have a young friend who has endometriosis. Over the last ten years she’s had surgery about every other year. Each time there were complications with admission to intensive care, long recoveries, and an ileostomy. Last year she had a hysterectomy. She has not even married yet. This year she had a cyst removed, but a hole in the bowel went undetected for several days. Now ten weeks later she has an ileostomy again, a central IV line for antibiotics 24 hours a day, and a drain in the abdomen. She is an award-winning 5th grade teacher and is unable to return to work. I took her to have a scan last week to assess healing. The hole still exists. We wonder “What is God doing?” or “Why her?” Perhaps we may get angry thinking, “She doesn’t deserve this.” We resist adversity. We had our own expectations and plans; surprise and disappointment overwhelm us.

What brings hope in times of adversity? It is intricately tied into trust. Trust in God’s character, His attributes, and His purposes. James 1:4 reminds us “Let steadfastness (endurance) have its perfect work that you might be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” May we not look at our circumstances as defining life; rather, may we look for the great transformation that satisfies our deepest longings. Naomi saw God transform and redeem her circumstances to bring about greater things. As with Naomi, this transformation and redemption is our hope. God is doing more than we could think or imagine in and through our adversities.

My late husband was married to his first wife, Muriel, for over 40 years. She developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 55 while he was at the height of his career as President of Columbia International University. Muriel needed to be with him so desperately in her confusion that she would walk to his office many times a day. One evening, she had bleeding feet from her many trips to find him. He stepped down from being president to care for her for 22 years, fifteen of which she was bedridden. Much later, after we were married, he said “How would you like to be famous for having quit?” Like Naomi, how we perceive life events, impacts much in our own heart as well as in the lives of others. Robertson McQuilkin’s resignation reverberated around the world as a poignant example of sacrificial Christ-like love. It impacted perhaps more lives in becoming Christlike than did all his teaching and administration.

Adversity disguises God at work. Our prayer and our hope in times of pain is to view what God is about from His perspective, to glimpse the bigger story of redemption. Naomi ended life with grandson Obed on her knee, her family surrounding her, and her friends at her side. This is a lovely ending to such a tragic story that impacts others even to today. May we join Naomi in life transformation!

About the Author:

Deborah McQuilkin

Deb McQuilkin is a widow, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and stepmother of adult children. With grandchildren on two continents, she lives in Australia and, when not in Covid lockdowns, travels back to the USA to be with family. Prior to her retirement and move to Australia, she was Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina in Health Systems Administration where she focused on capacity building in global health. Her husband Robertson McQuilkin (former President Emeritus at Columbia International University) died in 2016. Together they ministered world-wide to the missions and Christian community. As an author Deb published James-An inductive Approach, and in 2021, Naomi: A Reason to Hope with CDM Publishing. She is the author of multiple articles. The most recent was published July 2021 in Evangelical Missions Quarterly on cross-cultural leadership. She leads women’s Bible studies, facilitates GriefShare courses and encourages missions wherever possible.