Naomi and the Names We Call Ourselves

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Despite our best intentions to resist, our circumstances inevitably affect our outlook on life. I’m stuck in this job. I’ll never get married. I must be a lousy father.

This isn’t new.

The Story of Naomi

Naomi is a central figure in the book of Ruth. After a famine-prompted move from Bethlehem to Moab, her husband and two sons died. Naomi was left with only her daughters-in-law.

Hearing that the famine had ended, Naomi headed back to Bethlehem. She freed her daughters-in-law from any obligation to go with her, but in a heart-warming statement of love and loyalty, Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side (Ruth 1:16–17).

Though she had a steadfast companion, Naomi’s life had fallen apart. Without a husband and with no other men in her family, she re-entered Bethlehem in low spirits.

The Story of Mara

Naomi already admitted her anguish (Ruth 1:13), but her bitterness boiled over when she met the women of Bethlehem.

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 felt so crushed by God she rejected her given name (“Naomi” means pleasant) for another (“Mara” means bitter). How could she remain “Naomi” when life seemed anything but pleasant?

She was empty and God was to blame. From that moment on, her new name would announce her deep bitterness to everyone.

What Happened to Mara?

With this background, it’s surprising to reach the end of Ruth without another mention of the name “Mara.” Everyone uses “Naomi” without a second thought.

In Ruth 2:6, one of Boaz’s servants refers to Naomi. Boaz himself refers to Naomi in Ruth 4:3, 4:5, and 4:9. The women of Bethlehem, whom Naomi had urged to call her Mara, use her original name in Ruth 4:17. Finally, the author of Ruth doesn’t use the name Mara again.

What do we make of this?

Our Names

Like Naomi, sometimes we name ourselves based on God’s difficult providences or our feelings.

Sometimes we adopt new names out of self pity, sometimes out of outright defiance. We think these new names define us, that they tell a complete, set-in-stone story from now on and forever.

Victim. Fearful. Outcast. Impatient. Guilty. Angry.

These descriptions might be accurate. They might describe you. But if you are a Christian, they do not define you. You don’t have the authority to name yourself.

Christians are given new names by God Almighty. These names define us. His authority is greater than ours, so his names for us stick. What are some of those names?

Child.
Redeemed.
Free.
Heir.
Saint.
New Creation.
Righteous.
Chosen.
Holy.
Forgiven.
Alive.
Citizen of heaven.
Loved.

Whose Voice?

There’s a great quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones about self-talk for the Christian. It contains this gem.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that we must speak essential truths to our souls: “…remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Search the Bible. Embrace all that God has done for you in Jesus. Instead of the names spit out by your flesh, wear the names God gives you with thanksgiving.

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