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Naomi: Giving Through Grief

By Catherine Durant | 18 December 2020 | Comments (2)

If the pandemic has turned your circumstances upside down, if you’ve lost loved ones or your livelihood, or even if you’re just finding life lonely at the moment, then you may be able to relate to some of the pain that Naomi was suffering in the book of Ruth.

Having settled in a strange land to escape a famine in Israel, Naomi is widowed and soon after, her sons, who have married women from Moab, both die too. Naomi begins the journey home accompanied by her two daughters in law, but she urges them to return to their families so that they have a chance of marrying again. Orpah leaves, but Ruth is devoted to Naomi.

By the time they arrive in Israel, Naomi is broken and weary and famously tells the Israelite women: ‘‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ (which means ‘pleasant’) ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.’ (Ruth 1:21)

Can we really learn something about giving from ‘bitter’ Naomi?

Her former community are shocked by her appearance, the grief and hard journey probably aging her far beyond the ten years she’s been away. But, later on, the women praise God for Naomi’s blessings.

Two things help to transform her from bitter to blessed: the love of God shown to her through generous people and her own faithfulness to his Word in thinking of others above herself.

Naomi allows herself to receive from others:

It is difficult for us to comprehend the complete lack of security for women without a male relative at that time. But if we imagine losing the three people we love most in the world, all within a short span of years, we can understand her despair.

Her words show she’s at a point of blame and confusion with God: ‘I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty… The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’ The word ‘full’ is surprising, considering they left because of a famine. But she was full of love for her family and has returned without them.

She does, however, have Ruth.

She accepts companionship

From the passage, we know that Naomi’s husband died before their sons were married and Naomi may have had to go into self-reliant mode looking after her family alone. When we’re hurting that much, it’s easy to feel that no one understands our pain and that we have to bear it alone, but in verse 18 of chapter 1, Naomi ‘stopped urging’ Ruth to leave her and accepts the love and presence of a friend.

She accepts physical help and gifts

Naomi’s family are Ephrathites and could have come from a wealthy and well-established line. This may explain why the community were surprised to see her in such desperate circumstances. But now, any pride has to be put aside.

Ruth offers to work hard to provide food for them both, and Naomi ‘lets her’ (2:2-3). She also accepts gifts from Boaz with gratitude (2:20). We might think we’re inconveniencing people with our problems, but letting go of our pride, and accepting others’ gifts can bless both them and us.

Naomi thinks of others through her grief:

Rather than her bitterness spreading, Ruth’s kindness brings Naomi healing. But even in her extreme grief, Naomi sees past herself to put others first.

She prays for others to be blessed

Naomi is concerned for the wellbeing of her daughters in law – she knows that if they go with her to Israel they will likely stay widowed, as well as being apart from everyone they know. Within her plea there’s a prayer: ‘May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’ (1:8-9)

She may have been questioning the circumstances God’s put her in, but Naomi continues to acknowledge his hand on her life. She asks him to bless others, even in her lack.

She is more concerned with Ruth’s needs than her own

Naomi wants more for Ruth. She acknowledges that she is old and Ruth is young and knows nobody else in Israel. She wants Ruth to have happiness and security even though a marriage might change their close companionship and she works out a plan to help her.

She is open to pour out love again

The grief of losing both her children and her husband would stay with Naomi, but she comes to a place where she is able to enjoy God’s other blessings: ‘Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.’ (4:16) Naomi didn’t understand why God had ‘emptied’ her life of its blessings and comforts, but her faith in him continued. The book of Ruth ends with a picture of Naomi, arms full with a new-born baby and a heart full of delight for her son and for God.

Her story shows how true kindness and generosity can turn even the bitterest of hearts to joy.


Boaz: The Generous Steward

Ruth: A Strong Faith and a Generous Heart in Hard Times


Catherine works in Content (which means mainly writing and editing) for Stewardship. She is happiest when making new friends or catching up with old ones, loves art in all its forms and anything French, especially cheese.


Suzie Tardif

December 19, 2020 6:16 AM
Thank you so much for the reminder of these wonderful women. Their endurance and faithfulness to God through great difficulties, is very encouraging and uplifting. Fantastic and timeless role models.

Denise Matthews

December 21, 2020 10:48 AM
Thank you so much, this is a great reminder. I am struggling with my husband in hospital to accept help form others. This reminder that it is a blessing to them as well as to me is very timely. Thank you.

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