In the several bittersweet events of life, often those that are bitter rob the joy of the pleasant life events. What is bitter, may be different for different people. For someone it may be the death of a loved one, for someone else it may be a divorce. For one person it may be joblessness, for another it may be an abusive marital relationship. From sickness to poverty to debts to childlessness, many different things can make a person’s life bitter.


There was this woman who migrated to a foreign land with her husband and two sons because there was famine in their own land. Years went by and her sons got married. In course of time, she lost her husband and sons one by one and felt bitter in the foreign land. These are the life events of Naomi, in the Bible who migrated to Moab because there was famine in Judah. After losing her husband and two sons in succession, she decided to return to Judah with the willing accompaniment of Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law. When people of her hometown saw and recognized her they addressed her by her name ‘Naomi’ which meant ‘pleasant’. However, Naomi’s emotions swelled up within her as she remembered the good days she had with her husband and sons in her homeland. Alas! Now her loved ones were not with her anymore. So, she told those people not to call her as Naomi anymore but as ‘Mara’ which meant ‘bitter’.

“But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Naomi felt empty and bitter. There was no longer any joy in her life. Nothing in her life was pleasant anymore. There was no fullness in her life. She had lost her precious ones. She felt that her happiness had been robbed away and that God had dealt harshly with her.

Most of us have been through such ‘Naomi-experiences’ – life episodes that have drained our emotions and left us high and dry. We end up feeling that there is no more any looking forward. In such situations, we end up questioning why we are alive in the first place. There seem to be no purpose to life and living. Looking for help is an option, but seldom do we desire to spread out our life secrets before others – at times especially because we don’t feel anyone can be of help. Faith in God sure takes a beating. Anything undesirable happening in our lives and we feel God has deserted us and is not concerned about us. He seems to be unjust, unloving, distant or even non-existant to some. We feel like gulping wormwood every single day.

The Israelites

Another bitter episode from the Bible which occurred years before Naomi’s life events was with the Israelites. As the Israelites walked free from captivity in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they had to walk for days in the wilderness. On one such occasion, it had been three days walking in the wilderness and they had found no water to quench their thirst. The water that they had carried along with them would have been over by then. Moreover, walking in a hot desert without water to drink is definitely not a pleasant experience. Eventually, they came to a place called Marah where there was water to drink. As they eagerly leapt forward to get a drink, they spat the water out of their mouths with disgust,  frustration and grief. The water was bitter! For that very reason, the name of that place had been kept ‘Marah’ in the first place (Exodus 15:22-24). And the Israelites complained to Moses. They grumbled. They felt that their days of captivity were much better than their journey  of liberation.

Have you had such experiences where you fell from one hardship into another of a different nature – where one bitter life episode led to another?

I know of this woman who was deserted by her husband after she developed a kidney ailment. Not much educated, she did not know how to fend for herself and her only son. She eventually took housekeeping work in a hospital even in her ill-health. Her husband refused to do anything for their son. Her life was bitter. Tears rolled down incessantly. Ill-health, no loved ones to care for her physically or emotionally, no proper finances and to top it all she had to work in that health condition in order to provide for herself and her child. There was no joy in her life; no reason to bring a smile to her lips. The head nurse of the hospital felt her heart go out to this woman. She offered to adopt the little boy. She went to the court of law and did the needful and legally adopted the boy and made him her own. A few years later, sick woman died. But, she had the assurance that her son was in good and caring hands.

When bitter episodes hit us, we fail to look beyond. The bitterness takes such a hold of our taste buds that we feel we can never taste anything better in life again. The truth however is that God is constantly working behind the scenes, unknown to us. ALWAYS! It’s only but natural to be unable to fathom the infiniteness of His works with finite human reasoning. Our bitter circumstances do not have the authority to rule over us. Only the God who created us has the authority over our lives. He promises to convert Marah (bitter) into Motaq (sweet)!

Naomi got her daughter-in-law Ruth remarried to a loving and respectable man in her homeland and her life was filled with joy at the birth of a grandson. Everyone marvelled at the happiness of Naomi (Ruth 4:13-17). She who had become bitter after losing all, started experiencing God-given sweetness which she hadn’t imagined earlier.

The Israelites got to drink sweet water to their heart’s content after Moses followed God’s instructions at Marah. The bitter waters were made sweet (Exodus 15:25).

The woman about whom I mentioned earlier, died having the assurance that her son was going to have a good life of love and care.

Most of the times, we fail to understand where life events take us or why certain things that happen actually happen. ‘Why me?’, ‘Where is God?’, ‘What is He doing if He is there?’, are commonly asked questions in times of bitterness and heartache.

Even in such moments, the Sovereign God is very much in control over our lives and life-situations. There ought to be no space for doubt about it! He knows what He is taking us through. He knows how much we can endure. He knows when and how to bestow His strength on us. He knows just when to overturn our situation for the better. He knows when to calm the raging storm in our lives.

The God of Naomi and the Israelites is the same today. He promises to convert the bitterness of our lives into sweetness by His presence. “. . . For I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them, and make them rejoice rather sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13(b))

If any bitterness is clouding your heart and blinding your eyes today, if thunderous rumblings and dark skies are threatening you from all sides, no matter how viscous they may be, the God who created you will turn the tables your way, if you believe in Him. Your tears will turn into smiles by the sweetness of His presence, if you place your trust in Him.



My Prayer for us: Lord, when situations seem unbearably bitter with no hope in sight, help me to trust in your promised assurance to change my sorrow into joy. Amen.




Mara/Marah – Hebrew for ‘bitter’

Motaq – Hebrew for ‘sweet’




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