Life is hard. There are no doubts about that. But some trials are harder than others.
There are some trials that just seem to take everything you have. Kind of like some wounds cut deeper than others. Those trials and wounds can leave us feeling bitter.
That’s what happened to one woman in the Bible. Her name was Naomi, but she asked those around her to call her Mara (Ruth 1:20). Why?
Because Naomi means pleasant, and Mara means bitter. And Naomi was bitter about where her life had taken her. Worse yet, she blamed her problems on God.
Sometimes I find it’s easy to look at people in the Bible and judge them. Like, how could they have such little faith? But then I take a step back and realize that their life was just as real to them as ours is to us. If I were to step into their shoes, I have no idea how I would handle things. But I do know how I handle what life has thrown me… and it’s not always pretty.
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The Struggles of Life
Just over two years ago I came down with the world’s worst migraine, and it never went away (though some days are better than others). After just six months I started to get bitter. I’d like to say that was the only time I found myself bitter about my situation, but it wasn’t.
Let’s be honest, there are lots of situations that can make us bitter. Chronic migraine (diagnosed as Status Migrainosus) just happens to be the one I am currently wrestling with. Yours might look like divorce, trouble with a boss, betrayal, etc. Another one that trips me up frequently is when people do wrong by my kids. The rest of my family forgives and moves on, but I find myself holding a grudge.
Needless to say, my right to sit on a high horse and look down on Naomi… well, it doesn’t exist. I struggle with the same things she does, I just don’t come right out and say it.
Or maybe it’s that I don’t embrace it?
For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Acts 8:23 ESV
“Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good.” Job 21:25 NIV
5 Ways To Avoid Becoming A Mara When Life Is Hard
I think we all struggle with becoming bitter from time to time. It’s just one of the emotions we have. It’s part of our sinful nature. But as long as we struggle against it, as long as we don’t stop and embrace it, welcoming it as a long-lost friend, I think we’ll all end up okay.
So how do we do that? What steps do we take once we realize we’ve become bitter?
I’d like to share some of the steps that have worked for me.
1.) Shift Your Focus
When Jesus called Peter out of the boat, Peter literally walked on water. Right up until his focus shifted from Jesus to the wind and the waves. That’s when he started to sink.
When life is hard, Jesus is still there. He is still right where He was before the storm blew in, but sometimes we let the storms of life distract us from how steady and sure He is. Or at least, I know I do.
To avoid becoming a Mara when life is hard, be intentional about where your focus is. Shifting our focus back to Jesus is a small step that can have a big impact on the way we view our circumstances. Instead of being scared or bitter, with Jesus we can remember that God is with us. Yes, life is hard, but we can take heart because He has overcome the world (John 10:10).
I’m going to be completely candid here, and it’s actually a little embarrassing. I mentioned that six months into my migraines I started getting bitter. It was prayer that shone a spotlight on that.
My head hurt really bad, there were people praying for me, but I was still trying to live a normal life. That meant I was still really involved in ministry; both at my church and online. Anyway, multiple people had asked me to pray for them that week, and I was just done. I didn’t feel like my prayers were working, and I was definitely bitter about it.
There was one final request that put me over the edge. Once I realized how hard my heart had become, I knew I needed to not just pray for my friend, but also confess my sinfulness.
And do you know what happened?
God showed up.
He softened my heart and He answered the specific prayer request I was praying for my friend. She was thrilled.
I can’t tell you why God answers some prayers so swiftly and other times He seems to remain silent. But I can tell you that I trust Him and believe in the power of prayer. And I also know that prayer will always bring us closer to the heart of God.
So, to avoid becoming a Mara when life is hard, pray. Pray for those who do you wrong. Pray for God to soften your heart. And pray for those around you who just need prayer.
3.) Recount The Deeds Of The Lord
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “count your blessings.” However, tucked away in Psalm 118 is a different idea. Instead of counting his blessings, the author (most likely David) wrote, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (ESV).
Now, I have to tell you; if you ever stop and recount the deeds of the Lord, it leaves you feeling pretty awesome. Kind of like you’re on top of the world. And the Bible is chock-full of examples of this.
The Psalms time and again tell of the creation of the Earth, or what God had done in the lives of the Israelites. It wasn’t until I started recounting God’s deeds on my own that I realized the significance though.
In order to avoid becoming a Mara when life is hard, try recounting the deeds of the Lord. If you go back to the beginning, retelling the story of creation and how God set the stars in place in your own words. It’s amazing.
You can also start with your own life story. Recount what God has done in your life or through your life. What He has done recently or what you have seen Him do in the lives of those around you.
Recounting the deeds of the Lord also helps shift your focus. It can lead you to pray or bring on praise and worship. In my own experience, it has never left me unmoved.
Related: Ruth: God's Amazing Love For YouAre you a Naomi or a Mara? When life gets hard, it can be so easy to let bitterness take over and keep you from enjoying the many blessings God has given you! Click To Tweet
I know this can be somewhat of a hot topic, but it’s important if you don’t want to become a Mara. I already mentioned that I’ve been guilty of holding a grudge long after everyone else has moved on. So, this one is close to my heart.
When people do us wrong, or hurt the ones we love, we must forgive them if we want to avoid becoming bitter. It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with us.
There was a child at school who bullied one of my kids. It was really hard for me to forgive that child.
They never apologized. Before it was even completely resolved I realized how much it was eating me up inside. I had become bitter not just towards her, but towards her whole family, and I knew I needed to forgive her in order to move forward. I couldn’t show any of them the love of Christ if I was hard-hearted (and I most definitely was).
Sometimes forgiveness is like that. We have to forgive so we can move forward without becoming a Mara. Whether that’s with the situation we are in, or if we are moving into a new situation.
5.) Give Thanks
When I look back at Naomi, I look at all that she had to be thankful for.
Naomi said, “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21a ESV). But she wasn’t alone. She had Ruth.
Naomi had a place to live. Apparently, she still had her husband’s land (Ruth 4:3). Yes, her heart was hurting, but she still had so much to be thankful for.
Of course, it’s always easier to count someone else’s blessings.
My family used to do this thing at Thanksgiving where we would all go around the table and name one thing we were thankful for. It was like pulling teeth.
I’ve since learned the secret to giving thanks is context.
A couple years ago, my husband’s car broke down while he was out of town. I could probably write an entire post about everything that went wrong that day. However, there were also so many things we were thankful for.
In order to avoid becoming a Mara when life is hard, every time something goes wrong, think of something to give thanks for. Yes, acknowledge that the situation is hard, but then remember that God is still good.
Related: What the Bible Says About Gratitude
How To Avoid Becoming A Mara When Seasons Change
A while back, I found myself in a situation where a season in my life was coming to an end. It was something I had invested so much of myself in it hurt to watch it fall away. But it felt like the choice was being made for me, and that stung.
Have you ever been there?
Have you ever felt like something you were invested in was being taken away from you?
Maybe you move to a different town. Maybe you switch jobs. Or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, it causes real grief.
And with that grief, there is a temptation to become a Mara.
I know because I have been there.
And can I just say that I wasn’t exactly quick to go through the five steps above?
I didn’t even realize I needed to at first. I just knew that I had lost something, and I was grieving. I didn’t realize I was becoming a Mara.
Until I did.
It’s what I did when I did make the connection that mattered.
So, if you’ve been there, or if you are there, I encourage you not to be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to grieve. But don’t let your grief turn into bitterness.
When life is hard, don’t say with Naomi, “Call me Mara,” instead, take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.
Have you found yourself becoming more of a Mara because of life's little detours? How did you come to realize it? What did you do to change it?