How to deal with bitterness in our families

26 Apr

This is a story that starts with tragedy.  Lots of tragedy. 

A lady named Naomi lost her husband.  Then her two sons also died, leaving three women as widows.  A lady and her two daughters-in-law.  You can read the story in the biblical book titled Ruth.

In our world we have seen many different reactions to tragedy.  We have felt them within ourselves.  Naomi’s one daughter-in-law, Orpah, returns to her family, but the other, Ruth, stays with Naomi.  Even when Naomi decides to return to her hometown, Ruth leaves her own people to join Naomi.  It seems the daughters-in-law are coping.  Naomi, not so much.

Returning to her home town of Bethlehem, Naomi, which means “pleasant”, says, “Don’t call me that.  Instead call me ‘Mara’”which means “bitterness.”  She is upset at God.  Where she left Israel with a husband and two sons, a full family, she has returned to Israel, she says, empty.  She blames God, something many of us have done.

Different ways to handle tragedy.  Some cling, some leave, some get bitter.

As I read this story, however, I could help but wonder how Ruth felt about Naomi’s statement?  Some people would hear their mother-in-law say “Call me ‘bitter’ because I have returned empty” and think to themselves “Why is Naomi saying that?  What about me?  Am I worth nothing to her?  She shouldn’t say ’empty’…she has me!”  It would be very easy to join right in the bitterness and allow the bitterness to be directed right back to Naomi.  How many times have you experienced something like that in your family relationships?  Thinking “I can’t believe they said that!”  Or  “They are taking me for granted.”  “I’m not being treated right.”  “Look at all I have done for them, and this is the thanks I get?”  Ruth could easily have thought to herself “Wow, lady, I just lost my husband too, and yet I decided to leave my homeland, my people, and travel all this way to start a whole new life, just to be with you…and you give me nothing.  You call yourself ’empty’?  I’ll show you ’empty’…I’m out of here.”  And Ruth could head back home.

Ever experienced bitterness in your family?  We don’t know what went through Ruth’s mind.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was something like I described here, but thankfully, she certainly didn’t act on those thoughts if she had them.

What can we do about bitterness?  Have any thoughts?

I encourage you to read Ruth and discuss here!

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