“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20
Riptide. Batgirl. Jumpstart. These are a few names given to counselors at the summer camp our family attends every year. Created by their peers, the camp nicknames usually derive from an embarrassing incident, a funny habit, or a favorite hobby.
Nicknames aren’t limited to camp—we even find them used in the Bible. For example, Jesus dubs the apostles James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). It’s rare in Scripture for someone to give themselves a nickname, yet it happens when a woman named Naomi asks people to call her “Mara,” which means “bitterness” (Ruth 1:20), because both her husband and two sons had died. She felt that God had made her life bitter (v. 21).
The new name Naomi gave herself didn’t stick, however, because those devastating losses were not the end of her story. In the midst of her sorrow, God had blessed her with a loving daughter-in-law, Ruth, who eventually remarried and had a son, creating a family for Naomi again.
Although we might sometimes be tempted to give ourselves bitter nicknames, like “failure” or “unloved,” based on difficulties we’ve experienced or mistakes we’ve made, those names are not the end of our stories. We can replace those labels with the name God has given each of us, “loved one” (Romans 9:25), and look for the ways He’s providing for us in even the most challenging of times.
Think of a nickname someone gave you. What did you like or not like about it? How does being called a beloved child of God change how you see yourself?
Heavenly Father, thank You that I’m not defined by the circumstances or experiences of my life. Thank You for calling me Your child.
The Bible tells of people who were renamed to reflect their changed circumstances. The childless Abram became Abraham, meaning “father of many,” because he now would have countless descendants (Genesis 17:5). Simon was renamed Peter, meaning “Rock” after he proclaimed Jesus as God (Matthew 16:17–18). Naomi’s parents had given her a beautiful name meaning “sweetness or pleasantness.” But now, Naomi asked to be called “Mara,” meaning “bitter,” to reflect her harsh and difficult life (Ruth 1:20). As Naomi and Ruth enter Bethlehem, “the whole town was stirred because of them” (v. 19). Bethlehem was a small town (Micah 5:2), and the townsfolk would’ve remembered Naomi even after being away for more than ten years (Ruth 1:4). But their question, “Can this be Naomi?” (v. 19) suggests they barely recognized her. Perhaps her appearance had been considerably and conspicuously altered by suffering.