February 5, 2017

Naomi Loses Hope

When we left Naomi last time, it seemed that all was going well in the new home in Moab. Elimelech took his family and left their newly settled homeland of Israel because of a famine. Remember, the Children of Israel returning from Egypt had not been in their new homeland very long. We can sometimes forget, because it’s an entirely different book in the Bible, that the time frame between Exodus and Judges and Ruth is not really that long. In fact, in my novel, Naomi was a child during the time of the Exodus.
We know that Elimelech took his wife and sons to Moab, where the sons grew up and were married to Moabite girls. But he died there, and “when they had lived there for about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.” (Ruth 1:4-5)
Naomi is now a widow in a foreign land. There is no man to provide protection or financial security. She is in a precarious position. Her daughters-in-law could return to their families, but Naomi really had very few options.
Tragedy and grief can cause you to doubt God’s love and goodness. When you are confronted with the pain of loss, it can be easy to blame God. If you feel that there is no hope, you can easily despair. In the times when it looks like all doors are closed and there is nothing good, you can become angry.
Have you ever had a time when you were angry at God because life seemed to have taken a turn for the worse and you couldn’t see how it could be made right again? Maybe it was grief, or perhaps it was losing a job, maybe you felt like you had lost your identity along with your job.
That is what happened to me when I was asked to step down from the Director of Religious Education position. My identity had been wrapped up in being a ‘super’ Sunday School leader, and I found myself both at loose ends and rather angry with God. I felt like God had pulled the rug out from under my feet; or at least had allowed it to be jerked away.
There is a current Christian song Thy Will by Hillary Scott which states my thoughts during that time in my life. She sings “I'm so confused I know I heard you loud and clear. So, I followed through Somehow I ended up here. I don't wanna think I may never understand That my broken heart is a part of your plan. When I try to pray All I've got is hurt and these four words: Thy will be done…Just trying to make sense Of all your promises Sometimes I gotta stop Remember that you're God And I am not..” 
Eventually I was able, like Scott to say, “I know you see me I know you hear me, Lord Your plans are for me Goodness you have in store…Good news you have in store So, thy will be done…”
Sometimes it can take a long time to come to terms with the death of dreams, or the death of a beloved husband and sons like Naomi. In my book, Naomi’s Joy we see her turn even against God as she loses hope.
My heart was empty of anything except hatred for the God who stole all I cared for. Even grief did not touch me…Bit by bit the dowry I was so proud of as a girl vanished. The necklace Elimelech brought me from Ai was first to go. It turned into flour and cheap barley beer and cheese. Even though we practiced great economy the coins disappeared gradually.
[One] night I walked out of our house. My footsteps took me in the direction of the graves of Elimelech and my sons.
“What am I to do?” I asked the barren ground. With my teeth gritted I looked up at the starry sky. “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have I not been chastised enough? I obey all your commands, even in this foreign land. You take from me all that I love and now you make me abandon those I love as daughters. In order to spare them death from poverty, I must leave so they will look for new husbands to care for them. Do you offer no hope?”
There was only silence in the night. Far away a dog barked. My heart was empty. I did not have the courage to walk away from my home into the barren desert even to spare Ruth and Orpah. With plodding steps I turned from the graves. At the edge of town I paused. A trader’s camp was set up ready for the morning business.
A tiny hope flickered in me. “I will do it.”
For the rest of the night I sat outside our small house. My jaw was set. There were no tears, only a cold resolve fueled by anger at the God who abandoned me. My course was set.
We may think that situations like Naomi’s have no place in the ‘modern’ world where women have rights and are not dependent on husbands for security. We may think this is true in America. However, there are families and children who go to school hungry, who sleep in cars, who struggle from day to day.
Around the world, the situation is even graver in some places due to war, drought, famine, and insensitivity. There are women and children at risk and dependent on the hospitality of others for life itself. Our God calls us to look around and respond in ‘loving our neighbor as ourselves’. 
What can just one person do? There are organizations like Heifer Project and Episcopal Relief and Development, Unicef and Bread for the World, to name just a few who work to make these situations less dire. Communities have food banks and organizations, too.
Each of these is an opportunity to give hope to someone who has lost it. Each is a chance to be the hand and feet of God, and perhaps restore someone’s faith. Is there something you can do right now to offer hope?

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