A couple weeks ago I listened to a sermon about Ruth. As part of the backstory the pastor talked about Naomi’s transition to the name Mara and what a miserable name that would be to have. That part of the sermon felt a little personal to me. While my name isn’t exactly Mara, it is close. If you look for the meaning of my name, it is the same– bitter.
So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Ruth 1: 19-21
Name meanings are important to me. They have been a pivotal part of deciding what to call each of my six kids. Since four of my children came to us via adoption and already had names, it was important to me to honor the names they came with and to incorporate names that represented their new life with us. We have chosen names with meanings that reflect God’s involvement in the lives of our children and our hopes for their futures. I have seen God’s intentionality with names in the Bible and believe it matters.
So what about a woman named Bitter? What does this mean in my life?
I don’t resent the meaning of my name. I don’t think my parents should have named me something else, something happier, something more positive (other than that brief moment in Kindergarten where I wanted to be named Jenny just like everybody else). There have been moments of my life where I have felt bitter. And in those moments, I have felt peace that God knew these bitter days were coming and he had been preparing me for them from the start.
Infertility, miscarriages, adoption roadblocks, a stressful job loving children who could never be mine, a marriage with its own share of heartaches. . . There have been moments I felt every bit my name. I remember reading though Job after my second miscarriage and how the words resonated. How I envied the freedom Job felt to acknowledge his bitterness. He didn’t hide it or pretend he was fine. Like Naomi, he acknowledged the pain of his life, the way that pain had changed him, his frustrations with what seemed unfair about his circumstances. His freedom to do that as a man God described as blameless and upright was a comfort to me. Could it be okay for me to be honest with God about the bitterness I felt as a woman who so longed to please him, but kept feeling rejected and forgotten?
I loathe my very life;
therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
I say to God: Do not declare me guilty,
but tell me what charges you have against me.
Does it please you to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the plans of the wicked?
Job 10: 1-3
I don’t believe my parents named me, hoping for a life of pain. I don’t think they wanted bitterness for me, but in the darkest moments I felt God was present in my sorrow. He knew my name. And he didn’t leave me in my bitterness.
Side-by-side with the bitter moments of my life, there have been moments of joy. I have seen God use friends to encourage me through hard times, the smiles of my children to remind me that my life matters, the overwhelming beauty of creation to show me His power, and words of Truth to reorient my perspective. When I stopped trying to hide my bitterness and allowed myself to acknowledge it, to confess it, that’s when the healing process could start. When I stopped pretending that I was already past it, then I could work through it. My bitterness moved from being a costly secret, to an unwelcome guest and with time and prayer, I was able to let it go.
I don’t know what your name is or what God is asking of you. Maybe you have been running from what you have been called. Maybe it’s the beauty of your name, the truth of how you’re loved that’s been hard to accept. Maybe your name reminds you of the pain of a complicated childhood or a failed marriage. Whatever your name, whatever God’s calling, whatever his plan for your life, I hope you are learning to embrace it– to live it, to grieve it, to find joy again. I hope you are making peace with your story in all its pain and peace.
It can be a beautiful thing to be a woman called Bitter. It can be a comfort to embrace your reality and who it has made you. Bitter is part of my story, but it isn’t the end of my story, just like it wasn’t for Naomi or for Job. God delights in making the bitter things sweet.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.