Do you ever feel like, “Really God? Why is this happening?” I have felt this many times, whether I was facing unforeseen financial obligations, turbulent moments in marriage or parenting, or during my mother’s unexpected health decline that resulted in her passing away. One of the things that has helped me most is finding purpose when life happens.
I’ve found hope studying Naomi and Ruth. Instead of being overcome by their challenges they allowed God to forge their friendship and learned how to make their challenges count.
Accept Life Happens
In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there. 3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.
For awhile, life was going well for Naomi. She had a husband and two sons, and they were wealthy enough to move during an economic downturn.
Ten years later, life happened. Naomi experienced loss just as we all do at some point in our lives. Her husband and her sons died and she faced unimaginable grief.
Although her daughters-in-law were there, the Bible says Naomi was all alone. We can safely assume she had not built close relationships with her daughters-in-law. Maybe she thought, “We are too different – I’m from Israel, you’re from Moab. I am a mom with adult children and you’re newly married with no children.” Whatever the case, when life happened Naomi was alone.
There are many other types of losses we can experience in life, in addition to the loss a family member:
- Loss of our trust – Someone we loved has hurt us. We can feel like “I am damaged.”
- Loss of our marriage - Our happily ever after marriage failed or we are emotionally divorced. We can feel like “I am unwanted.”
- Loss of our innocence - We have crossed likes we thought we never would and we may feel like “I am ashamed.”
- Loss of our dreams - We didn’t anticipate so many setbacks. We can feel like “I have no hope.”
The reality is that life is full of unpredictable challenges. What difficulty or loss in your life has left you feeling alone?
The first step to finding purpose when life happens is to accept that we will all face challenges in life. When we expect life to be easy we will be angry and upset when things don’t go our way.
How do you handle when life happens? Do you accept challenges as a normal part of life or get angry and upset?
Change Isolation to Initiation
12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? 13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has raised his fist against me.”
Ruth 1:12-13 (NLT)
At this time instead of making her challenges count, Naomi was down for the count. The pain from her loss had made her cynical and sarcastic. Naomi used pride as a wall to communicate I don’t need you, I don’t want to be close to you, and I have nothing to give you.
Naomi isolated herself behind her wall of pride because she was fragile. How fragile do you feel?
When we feel the most fragile we discover if we have friends or if we are just social. Maybe you like hanging out with people but who do you let in during the hard times? Who do you trust? Who are you willing to cry with? Who do you initiate with?
Up until this point Naomi didn’t have these type of relationships. She sees that her daughters-in-laws wanted to be close to her even though she had nothing offer. Maybe she thought that relationships would deplete her more or she didn’t want to be seen as weak, so she pushed them away.
How does your pride push people away? Do you see relationships as a way God will help you find purpose in the midst of difficulty?
In order to survive and eventually find purpose in her life, Naomi had to let go of her isolation. She had to let Ruth come with her:
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
19 So the two of them continued on their journey…
Although Naomi and Ruth were very different, God had a plan to forge their relationship through their challenges. In the rest of the story in the book of Ruth they become even closer and eventually help each other have a new start.
What is God doing in your life to help you see your need for close relationships?
Change Toxic to Trusting
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
Ruth 1:20-21 (NLT)
When we don’t allow God to teach us how to handle loss, loss changes us. The pain of life can be very bitter and leave us bankrupt and empty. Bitterness makes us feel unloved and unable to love others. Bitterness makes us distrustful and slanderous of God and others. Bitterness can make us toxic!
That’s how Naomi felt. She was full of pain and she blamed God for it. The Bible says that God actually doesn’t bring evil or negative things into our lives (James 1:12-13). When life happens it’s crucial to trust God’s Word and trust his plans and his promises so that we don’t become full of poisonous bitterness.
Where do you turn when you feel pain? Do you become toxic or do you fight to trust God?
Get God’s Perspective
68 You are good, and you do good things. Teach me your laws. 71 Suffering was good for me; I learned your laws. 72 Your teachings are worth more to me than a thousand pieces of silver and gold.
Psalms 119:68, 71-72 ERV
Indeed, your written instructions make me happy. They are my best friends.
Psalm 119:24 GW
Like Naomi, our view of God can change for the worse during the hard times. We can doubt God and our emotions can determine how we feel about him. We need the Bible and friends in our lives to give us a different perspective than our emotions are dictating.
How willing are you to examine God’s word to change your life and the lives of others?
Get Real to Heal
22 So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth 1:22 NLT
Then Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, I must find a suitable home for you, one that will be good for you.”
Ruth 3:1 NCV
Naomi had no idea that being with Ruth rather than being alone would restore her heart. The realness and honesty they shared along the way helped Naomi find hope again. Naomi was free to give again!
Naomi had new vision that ended up changing not only her life and Ruth’s life, but also future generations! Naomi helped Ruth get married again and little did they know that Ruth would be in the family lineage of King David and eventually Jesus himself (Matthew 1:1-16).
Who has God put in your life at this time for a purpose? What are you supposed to learn from them? How do you think God could work through this relationship for a bigger purpose?
When life happens we can find hope again. We need to accept life happens to us all, change isolation to initiation, change toxic to trusting, get God’s perspective and get real to heal. In doing this we learn to overcome our challenges, allow God to forge our friendships and learn to find purpose.