Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nurturing Naomi: How to Help Yourself or Someone Else Overcome Discouragement

Naomi and Virginia, 2013

Dear friends,

I wrote this in 2001 after the birth of my daughter Naomi.  It  is the basic text of a half hour speech I gave for the Northland Home Educators support group in Longwood, Florida.   NHE has since changed its name to NearHim Home Educators.


As you know, Thad and I have a beautiful baby daughter named Naomi Faith. When I was in the hospital after her birth, I spent several hours studying the book of Ruth to get to know my baby’s namesake. I found that Naomi’s story taught me so much about how to handle upheaval, discouragement and bitterness. Here is the first part of it in a nutshell:

There is a famine in Bethlehem, so Naomi and her family leave their homeland to live as foreigners in Moab, where her two sons marry heathen women. Then her husband and sons die, supposedly ending her family line. She decides to go back to Israel, and along the way, has to say goodbye to her daughter-in-law Orpah. Naomi and her other daughter-in-law Ruth must make the long journey around the Dead Sea, which is a symbol of her experience at this point -- bitter and empty of any life. Fortunately, things start to improve for Naomi at this point, and the story ends happily, as we will see in a little bit.

I think that the keys to her comfort and recovery are ones that will help any home school mom who is feeling the pressures of life, or those who are trying to help other moms overcome discouragement. Let me ask you: What are you going through? Have you lost a family member through death, divorce or a child leaving home? Have you had to move? Are you under financial stress? Has there been a major conflict or illness in your family? Have you recently had a baby, or are you pregnant? Do you have a child with learning disabilities? Are you confused about how to teach or discipline your child? Is life just too chaotic with so many activities and responsibilities?

Our family has gone through periods of time when we’ve had almost every imaginable stress factor in our lives. If you’ve ever seen those little stress profile quizzes in magazines, let me tell you that we’ve been off the charts with death, illnesses, unemployment, career changes, new babies, and all that stuff. By God’s grace, we have survived! This last pregnancy in particular was pretty tough for my entire family since I had health problems, and was so tired and sore. It made me reconsider how I want to live my life according to the principles I will share this evening from the story of Naomi.

The first key is this:

When Naomi heard that God had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she sets out for Bethlehem. When she and Ruth get there and are greeted by her old friends, she tells them, “Don't call me Naomi. Call me Marah, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."

The name Marah means bitter, while Naomi means pleasant or delightful. The other place we find a reference to Marah in the Bible is in Exodus 15, when the children of Israel, wandering around in the dry old desert, come to a place with bitter water. The Lord does a miracle with a piece of wood and makes the water sweet.

Perhaps Naomi is hoping that God will intervene and make her life sweet from now on. She knows it’s the hand of God that allows each circumstance, bad or good. She doesn’t always like it, but she accepts it! She knows her life is not ruled by chance, but by a sovereign Lord.

As it turns out, in God’s gracious plan, Ruth ends up gleaning for barley in the field of Boaz. He’s a good man who admires her devotion to Naomi, so he makes sure that his workers treat Ruth respectfully and that they leave lots of grain on the ground for her to gather. It isn’t “luck” that lands Ruth in the right place at the right time. God sees all things, and blesses people for what they have done and how they trust him. Naomi acknowledges this when she says, “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”

How we react to the hard knocks of life is a powerful example for our children. Do you have a child who is easily discouraged when the picnic gets rained out or Dad misses his ball game because of a business trip? Have you taught him that God is still in control of everything, or do you fuss and fume when your preschooler throws the whole box of math manipulatives all over the floor, or pout because you have to stay home from a home school meeting when your second grader has the tummy flu?

If the little things like this throw you, how will you ever be able to deal with a MAJOR crisis in life?

One way that I try to help my children get ready to face discouragement is through reading good literature about people who go through tough circumstances. Lately we have been reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. It is told from the perspective of a nine year old black girl living in Mississippi in the 1930s as her family wrestles with the issue of racism and how to respond to injustice.

It’s true that God allows us to go through tough times. It may seem like he is not taking care of us, but he is. Psalm 66:8-12 declares, “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

When I am going through a tough time, I often find that I’m motivated to keep trusting and keep trying because of the gentle testimony of someone else who has gone through in a similar situation. And when I know someone else who needs this kind of support, I also try to BE part of the kindness of God by serving and giving as I am able. Our hands are the ones he can use.

Yes, we need to see God’s providence and sovereignty in each situation.
The second key from Naomi’s story is....

Over the years, Naomi has to let go of her home and her family. She doesn’t try to cling tightly to Orpah or Ruth, but gives them the freedom to choose whether they want to go with her or stay in Moab. In Bethlehem, she continues to hold Ruth loosely, letting her go out to glean and even arranging for her to get married. That’s not the sign of a jealous heart. Naomi never does “lose” Ruth, who has pledged lifetime loyalty to her because Naomi possesses godly faith and character that is worth following, not because she is domineering and controlling. Naomi even gives up her legal claim to her own land so that Ruth can marry Boaz according to kinsman-redeemer customs of Israel.

Likewise, when Job lost all of his possessions and his ten children, he still said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job and Naomi knew that things and people are a blessing, but they won’t bring you ultimate happiness. If you try to hold on to them, you will always be insecure. Relax your grip!

How can home school moms apply this concept?

First, about THINGS, you don’t have to grab up all the newest curriculum and educational stuff that is on the market! The most important curriculum resource you have is your Bible. Everything else is an “elective.” Don’t worry if you can’t afford expensive books and gadgets. God will provide what you need when you need it. One way he does this is through generosity. It’s a real blessing to see home school moms share their resources with each other. This is a modern example of the principle of gleaning. Do you have extra curriculum or a good book that you could lend or give to another mom? Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received, freely give.” So hold things loosely! God will bless you for it!

Second, about PEOPLE, don’t be a control freak!

When you are ministering to another mom, you can offer advice, but give her the dignity to make her own decisions.

Being a control freak really hits home when we’re talking about our own children! Can you trust that God will lead your children and work in their hearts? Our goal in life is not to make our children dependent on us forever, but to launch them toward independence bit by bit. Yes, we have a great influence over children, and we need to hold them accountable for their attitudes and behavior, but we can’t live their lives for them. If we try to dictate every detail of their destiny, we will get very uptight and feel guilty for every mistake they make. A bossy or grumpy Mom makes everyone tense, and won’t motivate her children to do what is right. James 1:20 warns use that “... man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

Our children will leave the nest someday. Will they have memories of a warm relationship with their mother, or will they be in a hurry to get out from under your thumb?

Learn to hold things and people loosely. Let go and let God!

The third key is...


When Naomi comes back to Bethlehem, she is greeted by the dear women in the community of faith that she had left so many years ago. After years in a spiritually dry country, this must be like sweet water to a parched soul. But Naomi is still having a hard time adjusting. She feels like the odd one out, the only one to have suffered. Has she forgotten that these women have gone through a famine in Bethlehem? They have faced their own challenges in life, so they can compassionately reach out to their hurting friend. Fortunately, by the end of our story, Naomi is very happily reconnected with this circle of friends who are rejoicing with her.

How about you? Are you plugged into a support network? What “human resources” do you have? 
  • Your immediate family
  • Your extended family
  • Your church
  • Your home school support group
  • Your Christian friends
  • Even books, magazines and internet resources are great sources of encouragement!
Northland Home Educators devotes most meetings to encouraging home school parents to raise their children for God’s glory. Small group discussions help us connect with each other on a more personal level. I really thank God for the women of NHE. For the past seven years, you have been here for me! You have offered me sweet fellowship. You have prayed for me in times of discouragement. You have shared teaching tips and advice. When I’ve been tempted to wander from my convictions about education and family life, you have kept me focused on what is truly important. What a blessing you are to me and to each other!
 When someone new comes to our meetings or maybe someone we just haven’t seen in a long while, we need to make them feel welcome! Take a little time to chat, get her phone number, introduce her to the other ladies, maybe even invite her to your house or offer to show her around at the home school convention. Help her connect with our little community of faith and values!

Do you feel alone in your struggles? You might be tempted to think no one else is going through anything like you are, but if you are willing to share about it -- even a teeny tiny bit -- you might find someone who can help you. We don’t always know when other people have been through the same problem until we ask around! Last month, a mom told me that she was able to get a diagnosis for her son’s learning disability after describing the symptoms to another mom in her NHE discussion group whose son had the same problems! That’s such a good example of networking!

It’s important to seek our spiritual comfort and advice from mature Christian believers! The world out there is full of bad opinions. We need discernment to see whether advice matches up with Scripture.

Proverbs 13:20 says that “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Who are your companions?

Proverbs 27:9 says, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.” Do you have someone to give you earnest counsel, or just someone who tells you what you want to hear?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 say, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

Do you know someone like this who is struggling or discouraged? It is easy to avoid her because we don’t feel like we have all the answers for her. But just BEING there is a ministry in itself! Think back to what helped you most when you were having a hard time. It wasn’t a lecture, but LOVE. We must communicate: “I’m here for you. Let me know how I can help.” But don’t just wait for her to tell you what you can do. She might be too timid to ask. So go ahead and bring her a plate of chocolate chip cookies, send her a sweet card, give her a hug, call her on the phone. You don’t need to say much at all or pretend that you understand everything. Just let her know you care.

Let’s reconnect with others to build each other up in our common faith and values!

Here’s the fourth key:

Not much is said about what Naomi did in Bethelehem, but is appears that she adopted a fairly calm and settled lifestyle, staying home to keep house while Ruth went out to work. During or after a period of upheaval, sometimes what we need most is peace and quiet. We need to settle down and keep the chaos to a minimum.

When we are busy running here and there from one activity to another, our home life suffers. The schedule gets all out of whack, clutter takes over, we don’t eat right, we don’t get enough sleep, our husbands start feeling the burden of extra stuff to do when they get home, and the children start acting up. Does your family get the “leftovers” of your energy, or are you being “busy at home” and “loving your husband and children” as we are told to do in Titus 2:4-5. If your life seems out of control, reevaluate your priorities. Work on developing a basic routine. Then, as you wish, you can add in one other extra thing at a time.

I find that when my house is messy, it’s pretty hard to stay focused on school work. Clutter is so distracting! It steals your time, your space, and, and if you can’t find what you are looking for, it robs you of the use of your possessions too! An organized home brings a sense of peace and rest, and it gives you the freedom to show hospitality to others.

Another major household task is fixing meals! The way to a man’s heart is still through his stomach! The same goes for our children who get struck with a case of the hungry munchies around 10 o’clock in the morning and can’t seem to concentrate on school work! There will be much less stress is your home if you serve lots of good healthy food at regular times.  Speaking of food, the NHE meals ministry is a GREAT way to encourage another mom who has been sick or had a baby. From recent experience, I can tell you what a HELP it is during a time of upheaval! 

It’s crucial to get our children involved in caring for the home. As we learn to delegate, they will learn the life skills they need, and we will get more done! Actually though, with this last pregnancy, I found I was depending too much on my older children. One of my biggest recent goals -- now that I’m able to bend over again -- is to take back some of my own duties and restore order to my home. This means I have to cut back on some of my more sedentary pursuits like writing. I haven’t given this up entirely, because I depend on it for my own sanity, and it ministers to others. However, I have made more effort to keep this one area of life in its proper place. 

Homemaking is one of our primary roles. It can do wonders for the atmosphere of our home school.

The noble Proverbs 31 woman “sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks... She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."

I just got a copy of Teri Maxwell’s new book Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit, and in one chapter she talks about how when we decide to home school our children, we are basically signing up for a lifestyle of HARD WORK. We aren’t going to have a whole lot of free time left over after we take care of our assorted responsibilities. The question is: Can you do this with a smile on your face?

I have a confession to make about this. On Saturday, after spending most of my day grocery shopping, taking care of sick children, typing business reports for my husband, and doing miscellaneous housework, I looked forward to sitting quietly at the computer and finishing up the notes for this speech.

But when I got interrupted -- several times -- I got really resentful and stormed out of the house in tears. Unfortunately, I didn’t have money in the budget for a good old shopping spree to calm my nerves, so after driving around the neighborhood for a few minutes, I went home and made dinner. I felt guilty for my poor reactions. I didn’t deserve for anyone to rise up and call me blessed that afternoon!

Like other moms, I need to learn to work cheerfully as unto the Lord, without expecting a lot in return. I need to learn to develop that quiet routine of homemaking that creates a haven of peace and joy for my family.

And the final key is...

Naomi doesn’t just think of the “here and now” of putting food on the table, but looks ahead to the future. She isn’t selfish. She really wants the best for Ruth, so one day she sits Ruth down and says, “Honey, we need to find you a MAN! How ‘bout that guy Boaz?” Well, maybe she doesn’t say it like THAT, but you get the picture. She gives Ruth a few quick courtship hints, and pretty soon wedding bells are ringing. But the story doesn’t stop there!

In the last chapter of Ruth, Scripture reminds us three times that it is the Lord who causes each child to be conceived. Sure enough, in due time, Ruth and Boaz have a baby named Obed who is the joy of Naomi’s heart. But this cozy little story did not just affect these three generations. It totally transformed the history of the world! You see, Obed was the grandfather of King David, who wrote the Psalms. The Messiah, Jesus, was born in Bethlehem because he was “of the house and lineage of David.” In other words, the Savior of the World was the fruit of this marriage!

Each and every child that we have is a gift from God. Though you may have had a baby who was “unexpected” -- at least by you -- God does not make any accidents! He forms each child in the womb for a purpose! You may feel like you have a child that you can’t handle -- one who stretches you way past your utmost limits of patience and wisdom -- but God knows exactly what your child needs. He knows your child’s past, and he knows your child’s future -- every day of your child’s future!

In Psalm 139:13-16, Ruth’s great grandson David extols God with these words: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Raising these bundles of joy to be wholehearted for God requires sacrifice on the part of the parents. We are investing our lives in our children through home schooling. Sometimes this may seem overwhelming, and we wonder why we bother. But we need to look beyond the short term, and see the ripple effect of our actions. If we equip our children with godly character and a desire to serve and glorify God, then their ministry will affect nations and generations! We must keep this in focus, or we will be tempted to settle for second best of just getting through the spelling test and the math lessons.

And let’s not forget our toddlers and preschoolers! Are you just trying to keep them out of trouble and wishing for the day when they are potty trained? They need just as much active attention as your school age children, if not more! Are you taking the time to cuddle them, discipline them, help them learn their numbers and colors and read them Bible stories?
 It seems like a blink of an eye from the time a child is doing those ABCs to when they turn into teenagers, but it happens! I actually have a daughter who is starting high school this fall. With eight children at home, it would be really easy to try to get by with the minimum for home school high school. But we have to think seriously about her future, about her life after she leaves our home. We want to send her off with the very best we can give her, even when it requires hard work and financial sacrifice.  [Note in 2010: My daughter Mary graduated from UCF with a journalism degree in May 2008, married Ryan Tindall a week later, works as a writer for Wycliffe Bible Translators, and is expecting their first baby Jacob this month.]

As we make these decisions about how to spend our time and money, we need to make sure our own children’s needs are met before we fill up our schedule with other things. Then as we are able, we can invest in the lives of other children. For you, this might mean organizing a field trip or teaching Sunday School. This year, I really appreciate Mike and Cheryl Bastian for investing in NHE children by setting up a private school enrollment option for us. For me, investing in other children means writing and publishing books and newsletters to equip their moms to home school them. They were all written to encourage you in the high call of home educating your children. They were all written as an investment in future generations for eternity.

As I close this little speech, let me ask you: Are you feeling empty? Bitter? Dried up? Let’s go to the Lord for “filling”! A home school friend named Melony writes:

The word "empty" is so descriptive of discouragement. God often speaks in His word of "fullness" and “overflowing abundance.” When I am discouraged I realize I have to allow myself to be filled, and that's when I gobble up every good thing I can get my hands, and ears, and eyes on. That is when I keep my Christian radio on soaking up all the good music and great sermons. That is when I make myself go outside and fill up on the beauty of God's creation, and I’m always amazed at how my hands want to follow along... in planting flowers, preparing a special meal, turning the pages of God's Word or a new good book, or even better, doing something for someone else even if I don't "feel" like it. Before long, I feel full again, and usually more satisfied than before, because I have feasted on the things of God instead of my own misery.

And that’s a good word for all of us....

DIGGING DEEPER: Scriptures to Accompany “Nurturing Naomi” Article

SEE GOD’S PROVIDENCE AND SOVEREIGNTY IN EACH SITUATION: Ruth 1:6; Ruth 1:20-21; Ruth 2:12; Ruth 2:20; Isaiah 61:1-3; Exodus 15:22-25; Psalm 66:8-12; Romans 8:28

HOLD THINGS AND PEOPLE LOOSELY: Ruth 1:8; Ruth 2:2; Ruth 3:1; Ruth 4:3; Matthew 5:38-42; Matthew 10:8; Matthew 16:25-26; Job 1:20; James 1:20

CONNECT WITH KINDRED MINDS: Ruth 1:9; Ruth 2:22; Ruth 4:11&17; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 19:20; Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 27:9; Hebrews 10:24-25; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

DEVELOP A QUIET ROUTINE OF HOMEMAKING: Titus 2:4-5; Proverbs 14:1; Proverbs 31; 1 Samuel 30:15; 1 Samuel 32:17; Psalm 84:3

INVEST IN FUTURE GENERATIONS: Ruth 3:1-2; Ruth 4:11-17; Psalm 78:4-6; Psalm 139:13-16; 1 Thessalonians 2:6-9; Mark 10:13-16

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the encouragement! My family is going through a very hard season...a long season of unemployment and illness and I am just so tired and overwhelmed at times..but I know this hasn't surprised the Lord and He continues to provide for us~ and yet it is difficult. So thank your for your obedience to him by reprinting this talk because I so needed it.