Mara (“Bitter”)


A friend of mine was preaching a sermon from the book of Ruth, and asked her friends in the social-media-interweb-internet-thingies which character they identify with most from the book…

Now, being a guy of the manly male persuasion, my options are a little limited. After all, there’s only one really manly man character in Ruth – that would be Boaz, the kinsman redeemer.

(Unless you want to be the dude who was more closely related, who had first right to buy the field, and take responsibility for Ruth, but decided that he didn’t want to, so Boaz was able to buy the field and be the kinsman redeemer, and everybody lived happily ever after…)

(I really should have looked up his name, since that would have taken way less time than writing out that whole thingie above, but as all the world knows, that ain’t how I roll…)

(HAH! I did look it up, and we don’t even know his name! He’s just called “the kinsman” or “the family redeemer.” I RULE!!!)

(This time, anyway…)

So for a manly man of the male persuasion, there’s Boaz. Or “Kinsman Redeemer #2” as they would put in the final credits.

But if I’m honest, I identify with Naomi.

Specifically, I identify with her when she says:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”

Ruth 1:20-21 (NLT)

Mara – Bitter. 

Unfortunately, that’s been me for a long time now. Perhaps far too long. And perhaps I’ve finally come along enough to look at it, write through it, and at least attempt to deal with it. At the very least, I’ll have put a face on it. Sometimes, that’s the toughest step.

It seems to me, in my limited but yet extensive career in Maraology, that when bitter invades our lives, we have some choices…

We can live in it, like Naomi “call me Mara” seems to be doing here. And perhaps we come to believe it defines us.

Who could blame you? I mean, look at Naomi – the circumstances, the losses, the pain, the frustration. “And the award for Best Mara in a Tragedy goes to…”

When someone we know is crying Mara, we can totally understand it. Usually. Sometimes. Maybe. But as time goes on, as they seem to live in it, we may find ourselves backing away, shaking our heads, or quietly muttering amongst ourselves.

We can defy it. We can get in people’s faces, we can wear our Mara like a badge of honor, we can make the world rue the day it dumped in our Froot Loops, and we can take the posture of “Kickin’ Mara and takin’ names.”

And, in our defiance, perhaps we’re putting Mara on steroids. Marazilla. *Rowr*

When someone we know is defying Mara, we can totally understand it. Usually. Sometimes. Maybe. But as time goes on, as they wield Mara like a club, reducing all the world around them to rubble in their defiance, we may find ourselves backing away or quietly muttering amongst ourselves.

We can let it pass over us. And this would seem to be the “ding ding ding” moment – the right answer that makes you today’s Mara champion. Let the bitter pass over, don’t let it settle and grow roots, just let it go.

(The first one of you who begins humming “Let It Go” will be immediately escorted out by security. And by “Security,” I of course mean Beka wielding the Tongue of Slobberyness and the Flashing Ninja Paws of Destiny. *shudder*)

But bitter seems to have a way of launching sneak attacks. Even when we think we’ve allowed it to pass over, to “flow like water” (to quote various martial arts teachers, including my Tai Chi teacher), it has a way of creeping up on us and playing Whack-A-*Calbert.* (Insert your name *here* – or don’t if you prefer the mental image of Calbert being on the receiving end of the Whack-A. I’m here for your entertainment.)

So we may *say* that we let it go (Watch it – I’m still listening and Beka is standing by…), only to have Mara lurking in the background, waiting for the right moment to strike. And the only person we’re fooling with our “it passed right over me” attitude is ourselves. Others see the totality of our world, and as time goes on, they may find themselves backing away or quietly muttering amongst themselves.

Disclaimer: I’m more than aware that each of these scenarios have been played out by various and sundry folks, who then managed to either work through it or embrace it, find grace, and move on. I’m just not among them. At least, not in this zip code.

*** time passes ***

Sometimes, I find myself writing through something like this, and I hit a wall – the words flow, then just stop, slamming up against a brick wall. There’s no more to be said at that moment. And I shake my head at myself and wonder why that happens – I seem to be making progress through something, only to run into a wall just when I’m in the fast lane toward clarity…

Perhaps not clarity. That’d be giving Steve (the Mental Hamster) too much credit. And he’s NOT fancy that way.

Anyway, I hit one of those walls at this point, packed up the ol’ iPad, and headed off to other things, wondering where all this bitterness was going… And as usual, my Father had a destination in mind. He just wanted me to listen a little more carefully.

There is another option, and at first glance, it’s going to seem like the worst one of all:

We can accept the bitter.


Told ya.

If you feel your indignation rising within you, ready to heave forth a mighty torrent of contention, disagreement, or at least mega-trolling, pause thou thy poison pen (keyboard, etc.) and hear my tale, ye lords and ladies.

Acceptance is NOT surrender.

Acceptance is NOT apathy.

Acceptance is NOT weakness.

“Alright, writey-boye, get to what the hork it is, that I might load my catapults of refutation and lob stones at thy ramparts.”

Wow – I seem to be stuck in medieval mode. Sorry.

Acceptance is a simple acknowledgement that we were hurt, regardless of how, why or by whomever or whatever. And that there are wounds and scars from the hurt. And that we don’t have to live damaged, bleeding, and crying.

It can be all three at the same time…

We can live in it – and accept the fact that there are scars. Every time we see those scars, there’s a reminder of pain and bitterness. It’s a part of our history, thus it’s a part of us. To refuse that is to try and perform plastic surgery on our own bodies – trying to excise the scars and make everything purty. Doesn’t really work, and can go horribly wrong.

So we accept the scars, the pain, the hurt.

We can defy it – and accept the truth that there’s no need to drag the bitterness around like a little kid with a wooden ducky toy trailing along behind them. Just because there’s bitterness in our history doesn’t mean it needs to be in our present. (And yes, I’m so tempted to go for various quotes from Kung Fu Panda 2, so save me the effort and just go watch it, ok?)

So we learn from it, and realize there’s no honor in wearing a badge of Mara.

We can let it pass over us – and accept the fact that our hands aren’t big enough to carry all that weight, all that bitterness, all those hurts and scars.

The hurt happened. The bitter came. And I’m not strong enough to deal with it all alone. So that’s where I have to climb in my Father’s lap, cry on His shoulder, get angry, scream a bit, and learn what His comfort feels like in this confused, broken world, to His confused, broken child.

Apologies if this sounds like the point where someone just threw in a pithy churchy God-thing at the end to make it a neat little devotional, but in my world, this is the only way to put Mara to rest.

It’s the only reality that gives me any hope of moving away from Mara-ville into Calbert Acres.

Call me Mara? Sometimes.

But thanks to my Father’s grace, Mara isn’t forever.

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