Call Me Bitter: From Recovery to Restoration

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR

Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Elizabeth’s devotional, From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis:

Crisis and Recovery

Rain pounds the windows and roof as I type. Tropical Storm Marco is making its way through the Gulf coast, so far wreaking only a minimum of havoc. Tropical Storm Laura follows fast, also threatening to flood homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, in California, the Lightning Siege wildfire rages, having torched some 1.5 million acres already. So much destruction, even as hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

While these current crises rage, many of us are facing personal crises, radically life-altering events: a bad diagnosis, a daughter’s divorce, a lifetime of injustice, a major surgery. The crises and recoveries we face can plunge us into a state of chaos and confusion, disorder and depression. Shalom has been shattered, equilibrium lost. Despair threatens hope. Strife assaults peace. What we yearn for is a return to normal, a way to regain what was lost in the crisis. A recovery.

From Recovery to Restoration

Although we may find our way to a new normal after a crisis, we may never fully regain what we lost in the shattering. And yet, there may be hope.

In literature, crisis refers to a turning point in the story. What if our crisis presents a turning point in our story? What if our season in recovery leads us to unearth treasure even richer than what we lost?  Scripture suggests that God has something more for us in crisis and recovery. What if we could discover the genuine hope of final restoration in our recovery? What if we could discover…

  • Restored trust in the God who allowed this suffering?
  • Recognition of our profound need for a Savior who has rescued us from sin?
  • Renewal of our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds, so that we may live and love like Jesus?
  • Our richest restoration hope: the promise that one day Jesus will return and restore all broken things.

The good news of the gospel is that God is writing just such stories of redemption and restoration as we walk through crisis and recovery. God is taking us beyond recovery to restoration. Let’s consider one such story of redemption and restoration, the story of a woman who was so broken she wanted to be called “bitter.”

Call Me Bitter

Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. Ruth 1:20, NLT

First, a famine sent her small family into exile in a foreign land. Then her husband died. Then her two sons married unbelieving women. Then her two sons died. Naomi knew something about profound loss. And she wasn’t so sure recovery was possible.

In her bottomless grief, Naomi turned sour. When she and her daughter-in-law returned to Bethlehem, her appearance was so darkened by disaster that the women of the town asked, “Is this Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19). The Hebrew makes a play on words: Naomi’s name means “pleasant”—we can imagine the women gesturing toward Naomi, asking, “Is this ‘pleasant’?”

Indeed, Naomi was the antithesis of pleasant at this moment, and she wasn’t shy about saying so: “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). “Mara” means bitter. Naomi says flatly, “Call me bitter.”

Naomi’s bitterness was caused by temporary faith amnesia: she had forgotten the Israelites’ story of wilderness redemption; she had forgotten God’s transformation of the bitter waters at Marah (Exodus 15:23-26). Naomi’s bitterness was also caused by temporary hope amnesia; she had forgotten to look for redemption in the midst of loss. Bitterness can lead to blindness, causing us to miss God’s provision in our painful circumstances.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord does not condemn us for our gospel amnesia. The Lord never forgets to be faithful; the Lord never forgets to restore our hope; the Lord always remembers to love us. The Lord redeems and restores even when we are at our worst. Naomi’s hope was gradually awakened, first by Boaz’s kindness to Ruth in the field (Ruth 2:20) and then by the blessing of a grandchild (Ruth 4:13). By the end of the story, the same women who couldn’t reconcile Naomi’s appearance with the name “pleasant” were celebrating the reason for her renewed hope: “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be a restorer of life and a nourisher in your old age…” (Ruth 4:14-15). Indeed, Naomi’s grandchild, Obed, was the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of King Jesus, the ultimate restorer of youth.

Dear friends, when the darkness closes in and your heart turns sour, look back, look up, look around. The Lord has redeemed and will redeem again. Never make the mistake of thinking the story is over until it’s over. You’ll know when it’s over, because final restoration will be so very sweet.

To learn more about Elizabeth’s new book, click here.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Turnage

Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage, writer, gospel coach, and speaker, is the founder of Living Story ministries (www.elizabethturnage.com). She is passionate about helping people learn, live, and love in God’s story of grace. Elizabeth has written From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis and The Waiting Room: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in a Health Crisis. Elizabeth and her husband, Kip Turnage, enjoy feasting and sharing good stories with their large family of four adult children and three children-in-law. They are also the devoted “parents” of the beloved Rosie, a dog who thinks she’s a human.

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