How to survive stressful times
By Jorge Iuorno
The story of Naomi is replete with stressful situations that are also faced by many modern families. Like so many of us, Naomi had to catch a clearer vision of a compassionate God who loves us immensely and cares for us in difficult times.
A Stressful Life
Here are a number of the stressful situations experienced by Naomi of Bethlehem. You may identify with some—but I hope not all—of them.
1. Hunger (Ruth 1:1): Many families live with unmet basic needs. Currently more than 800 million people suffer from hunger,1 and the richest 1 percent of the world’s population lives with the same amount of resources as the bottom 57 percent.2 Clearly, a few have much, and many have too little. The paradox for Naomi’s family is that they had to leave Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” to look for food elsewhere.
2. Relocation (Ruth 1:1): It is estimated that about 214 million people migrated to other countries in 2010, which means that one of every 33 inhabitants on the planet in 2010 had to relocate.3Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are not exempt from this trend. Many leave their homes in search of better opportunities. Naomi´s family represents all those who have had to establish themselves in a different cultural and religious context without a support network. If they have had to face difficulties, they faced them alone.
3. Widowhood (Ruth 1:3): Studies show that the loss of a spouse is one of the greatest stress factors in life. Naomi felt the loneliness of widowhood in a male-dominated society, in which husbands took care of home security. Following her husband’s death, she had to educate their children, playing the role of both mother and father. Sadly, this is a common reality in our time that requires our attention. Like many families today, Naomi’s family had to function as they had to, not as they would have liked.
4. Experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome (Ruth 1:4): It is a law of life that our children come and go seemingly overnight. This is what we expect; it’s part of growing up. However, that doesn’t mean that we no longer suffer in their absence. A tidily cleaned bedroom may bring back memories of noise and disorder caused by the presence of our children. This situation is often a source of depression, especially for parents who have invested all of themselves into children who are no longer present.
"In the midts of your losses and tragedies picture for one moment Naomi rocking Obed in her lap.
5. Loss of children (Ruth 1:5): The loss of her two sons surely caused much distress to Naomi. If someone loses their parents, they become orphaned; if a woman loses her husband, she becomes widowed—yet the loss of a child has no name. Naomi suffered this nameless pain. We expect children to bury their parents, not the other way around. However, life is not always logical.
6. Worries, loneliness, and old age (Ruth 1:12): Naomi must have been full of questions. She had to face the difficult experience of living with God’s silence. Furthermore, Naomi was now old, and her life options were limited. It is not the same to face the difficulties of life when one has the strength of youth than when one is weighed down by the stresses of many years. It is at this point in the narrative that Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem—a risky journey for a single woman. Imagine her arrival in her home town as she repeats her sad story to family and friends.
What a contrast between what she had hoped for and what had taken place! Naomi left with a family and returned alone. She left Bethlehem hoping for a better life for her family and returned with a story of tragedy. She left as Naomi (which in Hebrew means “sweet”) and returned as Mara (which means “bitter” [Ruth 1:20, 21]).
A Ray of Hope
Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi, had suffered similar losses: she mourned the death of her husband and felt insecure regarding her future. Yet she decided not to leave her mother-in-law, declaring in this stunning profession of faith that “your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (verse 16).
Somehow Ruth and Naomi represent those who, with God’s help, weather in the best possible ways the trials and difficulties of life. Instead of becoming cynical or bitter, they continue living, loving, and finding satisfaction and joy in their service for others. They demonstrate that faith is key to establishing emotional and spiritual resilience.
As Ruth cares for Naomi, gleaning in a field, she meets Boaz, who is impressed by the attitude of the young widow. Boaz provides water and protection for Ruth; he shares with her his food, encourages her, saves her from discomfort, and gives her the opportunity to help herself (Ruth 2:9-17).
In the evening, when Ruth shares her blessings with her mother-in-law, Naomi characterizes Boaz as a goel (verse 20). The Hebrew term means “redeemer.”
Naomi’s and Ruth’s stories remind us that God understands the needs of our families. In His providence God provided a goel for Ruth and Naomi. And He will also provide a goel for our hurting families. Boaz, as goel, becomes a type of Christ, as has been noted by Ellen White: “The work of redeeming us and our inheritance, lost through sin, fell upon Him who is ‘near of kin’ unto us. It was to redeem us that He became our kinsman. Closer than father, mother, brother, friend, or lover is the Lord our Savior.”4
Finally, Ruth asks Boaz to comply with his responsibility as a goel and redeem her. Boaz responds gladly and takes Ruth as his wife.
Next we find Naomi in charge of taking care of Obed, the son of Ruth.5 In a great reversal, the one who had lost so much was given a child to watch over. Her face crossed by many wrinkles, her eyes accustomed to shedding tears, now twinkled with hope. In Naomi’s lap was the seed of the future Redeemer, our Lord Jesus. Obed would be the grandfather of David, and from the lineage of David would come the Savior of all humanity.
In the midst of your losses and tragedies picture for one moment Naomi rocking Obed in her lap, trusting that their future was assured, thanks to a goel. Here we see that faith can stand in the face of trials and pain.
Jesus understands our suffering, for He too was “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He is willing and able to be our goel. He wants to restore our hearts, heal our wounds, and bring peace and hope to wounded hearts.
1 Compare the United Nations report at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43235&Cr=food+security&Cr1.
2 See “From Left Business Observer,” at http://www.marxmail.org/facts/inequality.htm.
3 World Migration Report 2010 (International Organization for Migration); cited athttp://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/about-migration/facts--figures-1.html.
4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 327.
5 Note that while the neighbors in Ruth 4:17 declare Obed to be a son of Naomi, strictly speaking he was not even her grandson.
Jorge Iuorno, D.Min., is professor of theology at River Plate Adventist University in Argentina.