I will become a grandmother for the first time this coming August. I am so excited! But one surprising question has caused me an inordinate amount of stress—what do I want to be called by said grandchild? A few friends, who are also becoming grandmothers, posted on Facebook a very humorous Youtube video about this very dilemma. I could relate to the woman on camera who changed her mind multiple times and obsessed about her specific grandmother title. For example, I don’t want to appear too fuddy-duddy (although perhaps saying fuddy-duddy makes me fuddy-duddy). I don’t want to pick an exclusively southern term for grandmothers, after all, I am originally from New York. I also want to pick a name that the baby can easily pronounce and not butcher into something truly odd. Admittedly, the name has to be something our children will agree to, but I also want it to be somewhat hip! Now this may not sound like a significant issue, but as I reflected, I realized the novelty in all of this—that we grandmothers (and grandfathers) get to pick a name for ourselves. After all, our first names had been assigned at birth. We had no choice in the matter. Of course we could have changed them as adults, or we could have adopted nicknames, but not without considerable paperwork or explanation. For the most part, we have been stuck with our given names. I have always thought that names reflect character. In some sense, as grandparents, we get to choose a bit of our identity—at least to our grandchildren!
Naomi is a woman in Scripture who, for at least a time, wanted to be called by a different name, and not for the joyous occasion of becoming a grandmother! I referenced her in last week’s blog. To recap, Naomi suffers through a series of devastating events. Due to a famine in the land of Judah (part of Israel), she and her husband leave for Moab, an enemy nation. During her time there, she has two sons. Her husband passes away and her sons marry Moabite women. A decade passes, and the sons die. She hears that the famine has lifted and decides to return alone to her homeland. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, insists upon joining her. When entering the town of Bethlehem, the whole town stirs. Apparently, the women of Bethlehem recognize her, even after all the years that have passed. “Is this Naomi?” (Ruth 1:20) Naomi’s answer is a reflection of her existing attitude.
“Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” Ruth 1:20.
The name Naomi actually means “agreeable, pleasant, compelling attractive with intrinsic appeal” (Discovery Bible). What a beautiful name! Mara, however, means “bitter.” Why would anyone change their name from “pleasant” to “bitter”? She wants to be called “bitter” because she feels that God has dealt bitterly with her. Yikes! This has always confused me. Ruth had been drawn to follow Naomi into Israel. She was willing to make the God of Naomi, her God. She was willing to make Naomi’s community and family her own. But in this moment, all we see in Naomi is a woman who is blaming God for her circumstances. In what appears to be a very ironic statement Naomi also says, “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.” Wait, didn’t she leave due to a famine and possibly a distrust in God to provide for her and her husband, although God had shown Himself repeatedly faithful throughout the history of Israel? Didn’t she and her husband choose to go to an enemy land, although God had warned them not to mingle with foreign gods and nations?
Justifying Naomi’s current behavior is difficult. Sadly, I have seen it in myself at times. How often have I blamed God for the consequences of the choices I have made? While I have not literally changed my name to reflect my bitterness, anger or resentment, I have not always reacted with grace, peace and joy. While it is true that God allows natural disasters and suffering to occur because we live in a fallen world, how do I react? How do I reflect God to the world around me?
Fortunately, Ruth was not swayed by Naomi’s state of bitterness. She had seen in the past enough of Naomi’s God to choose to follow Him, but in this instance, that seems more a reflection on Ruth’s character, not Naomi’s.
What will be my grandmother name? It certainly won’t be “bitter.” I want the next generation to see God through me. I will not always reflect God perfectly, but with His help, I want to try.