The job you’ve been praying about for months sent an email that starts with the words “We’re sorry.”
The man you used to dream about marrying just announced his engagement on Facebook.
The pregnancy test in your hand has only one line on that little screen.
The medical results come back and leave you with zero answers and the same amount of pain.
We’ve all been in situations where unmet desires steal our breath and break our hearts. Each of us has experienced our own unique forms of disappointment, yet it can still be hard to know how best to console a friend in the throes of this complex emotion. Do we send a comforting Bible verse via text? Remind them that God’s plan is best even when it deviates from ours? Avoid acknowledging their situation altogether because we can’t personally relate to it and we might say the wrong thing?
I have personally been both the giver and receiver of all three of these responses, and while I don’t think any of them are necessarily wrong (except probably the third one), I believe that the God whose image we bear to one another is calling us to more.
The Bible gives us at least one example of someone who experienced intense disappointment after her life was turned upside down by several unexpected losses. I believe part of the reason Scripture includes an honest look at this woman’s reaction to her shattered hopes is to teach us that our God does not shy away from the disappointment of his people. He draws near to them, and he calls his children to do the same.
Unthinkable Loss That Brings Disappointment
“But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” (Ruth 1:3–5)
I can’t begin to fathom the depths of the disappointment Naomi must have felt after losing her spouse and children in a short period of time. Now, I realize that disappointment probably sounds like much too light of a word to use for her situation. Suffering feels much more accurate to describe such heavy losses. However, it’s been my experience that disappointment often goes hand-in-hand with suffering, causing its own unique form of grief. After all, at the root of disappointment is often unfulfilled dreams or expectations.
I imagine Naomi expected a long and happy life with her husband and sons, perhaps envisioned the day she would hold a grandchild in her arms with Elimelech at her side. When her husband passed away, she may have clung to the comfort of having her sons there to help bear the burden of grief and to care for her in her later years. When her sons died, leaving her with a broken heart and two equally sorrowful daughters-in-law, any dreams of a happy future that remained died with them.
Naomi was a shell of the woman who left Bethlehem years before with her family. Disappointment stole the sweetness of the life she’d hoped for, and she found it only fitting to give herself a new name to reflect this change.
Where You Go, I’ll Go
When someone walks through a time of emotional pain as deep as Naomi’s was in this moment, it can be uncomfortable for those around them to witness. So how did those closest to her react to her dramatic display of grief and anger?
We know at least one person’s response, and it contains some of the most beautiful words found in Scripture:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
Ruth was not afraid of Naomi’s pain. Surely this young widow was wrestling with her own grief. Yet still, she made the brave commitment to stay by her mother-in-law’s side—even when it meant uprooting herself from everything familiar and traveling to a foreign land with a woman who staked her identity in her sadness.
In the midst of her loved one’s disappointment, Ruth chose to be present.
Why Call Me Naomi?
As we read Ruth and Naomi’s story years later, we have the benefit of seeing their happy ending unfold on the pages before us. We know the Christlike figure of Boaz is going to swoop in and save the day. We see Naomi cradling the grandchild she thought she’d never have. And we even know just how important this child will turn out to be, how God will use him in a long line of ordinary people that eventually leads to our extraordinary Savior.
We know this, but Naomi didn’t. All she knew was the present moment, the daily battle of doing her best to carry on with a life she never saw coming. And she didn’t try to suppress her true feelings about it. “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 1:21). Her words feel very David-like in their rawness, in the overwhelming weight of confusion and hurt they bear.
The Women Around Her
The Bible doesn’t give us any indication of this, but I can’t help but wonder if the women around Naomi started to get a little tired of her complaints. We get it. You’re bitter. Do you think you’re the only one who has lost people you love? Do you think you’re the only one whose life hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would? Perhaps, like Job’s friends, they even started to question if she had done something to deserve her unfortunate circumstances.
One of the most harmful things we can do to a sister struggling with disappointment is condemn her for her pain. I’ve certainly been guilty of being both the grumbler and the one to judge others for their grumbling. When you’re not personally in a season of disappointment, it’s easy to forget just how painful those feelings are. That only intensifies when you feel alone in your suffering.
Bearing Their Burdens and Disappointments
When you’re the only one in your friend group without a ring on your finger, a mom to call on Mother’s Day, or an acceptance letter from your dream school, it can feel impossible to focus on the other blessings in your life. And while God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances, he doesn’t demand that we give thanks for all circumstances. He invites us instead to lay our disappointments at his feet, to trust him with the emotions that threaten to swallow us whole. He promises to be near to the brokenhearted and to save those crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).
One of the ways we experience God’s nearness is through the community of believers he hand-picked to accompany us on our journeys. As sisters in Christ, we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) and to both weep and rejoice with those around us (Rom. 12:15).
We can’t wave a magic wand or pray the perfect prayer to fix a friend wrestling with disappointment. What we can do is choose to be present with her in her suffering and to gently remind her of her unchanging identity in Christ.
Her True Name
While we may not know how women other than Ruth handled Naomi’s weeping, we do see a sweet picture of them joining in her joy.
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘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 to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14–15).
Not only did these women celebrate with Naomi over the birth of her grandson, but they also reminded her of an important truth: she is dearly loved, both by her daughter-in-law and by her God. Even on her darkest day, she was never alone.
As someone who grew up in the church, this isn’t my first (or second, or third) time reading through the book of Ruth. However, it is the first time I noticed one beautiful, important detail.
Throughout this story, the only time Naomi is referred to as “Mara” is when she calls herself by this name. She may have seen herself through the lens of her broken dreams, but the God who lovingly wrote every word of her story made sure that we would know her true name.
Much more fitting for the daughter of a King.
Meet the Author
Kati Lynn is a writer, doodler, and storyteller who is slowly but surely learning how to live loved by Jesus. She loves to explore the intersection of faith, mental health, and media in her writing. She also loves a good animated movie.