Naomi is introduced to us in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth. In the story she suffered from depression, just like we still do today. She even changed her name to “Mara” (which means bitter, or feelings of grief) to reflect her dark mood (1: 20).
Peoples’ emotions haven’t changed all that much since Naomi’s time. That’s because depression has no time boundaries, no race preferences, no cultural favoritism. And no social-economic bias. Depression just is no matter the background or the era.
Depression is often overlooked by family members, sometimes misdiagnosed by professionals. And the result of either one is disappointing, to say the least.
Naomi’s depression happened because she had lost all her family members over a span of ten years. She had a right to go through deep sorrow. I don’t know how long her dark mood lasted but seems like it lingered for a while.
I relate to Naomi not because of her loss, but because of her depression. I’ve been in and out of different types of therapy for depression for years, with only minimal results. So, I know what I’m talking about when I say, “less than desired results.” Oh, I would feel good for a while after a few sessions of counseling but, like all feelings, it just didn’t last very long.
Something for me had to change. And, thank God it did. Over the last three years I’ve been going to a therapist that’s taken in my life’s “full picture.” And it helped that I felt I could connect with her from the beginning.
The type of counseling she uses is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Sometimes this is called “talk therapy,” and it has given me a huge amount of relief. I feel as normal and happy with life as is humanly possible. I wake up each morning with an eagerness to live a fresh new day in my life. Since I started this type of therapy, I’m managing depression much better now.
I want the same healing for you if you are suffering with depression. Or if not you, then someone you know. There are different kinds of depression, but there are also different types of therapy. If CBT hasn’t worked for you, then find another type that will work better for you.
None of us have endless amounts of time to straighten things out. Our lives are running ahead of us, and often at lightning speed. Don’t let depression be your life’s story. We all are more valuable than that.
Naomi did experience an emotional healing in time. Even to this day, she points the way for us on how to overcome depression. But how did she experience this healing?
I hope this brief look into how she overcame depression will be as helpful to you as it has been for me, even though I have dysthymic (chronic) depression.
I want to encourage you to read the Book of Ruth. It’s found in the Old Testament and is only four chapters long. But, don’t let its brevity fool you into thinking there’s not much teaching in it. Like all the Bible, it has multi-layered messages written all through it, and is forever fresh and relevant for us today.
In this story, Naomi is a background personality. She was the older woman who connected Ruth to her new husband Boaz. Their great-grandson became King David and ruled over Israel. But who was Naomi outside of her pivotal role of being a Jewish matchmaker? And how was she healed of depression?
Her story is enveloped between the larger story of Ruth meeting Boaz and then marrying him. But before that took place, we’re introduced to Naomi and her family. Elimelech was her husband, and her two sons were Mahlon, and Chilion. They lived in the Jewish town of Bethlehem. But when that area had a drought, they moved to a country across the Dead Sea called Moab. Today it’s called Jordan.
Now the Moabites spoke a different language, practiced a different religion, and had a different culture. But this young Jewish family even in spite of all of that, had high hopes of doing well in Moab. I assume they moved there to farm, since it was a lush, green country known as a “place of many oasis.”
Not long after moving there Elimelech dies. Naomi and her two sons decide to stay on and continue farming. Well, Mahlon and Chilion grow up and marry two Moabite women. One is Ruth and the other Orpah. Ruth, of course, is the center focus in this eloquent story.
Then, ten years later both sons pass away. No children are mentioned being born to either couple during that ten years. So, now we see Naomi living in a foreign country with two young women she’s no longer related to. This is where we see Naomi’s personality come to the forefront. It’s also where we see her depression sit in.
I believe her depression moved over her from day to day, like surging waves that crash on the beach. That’s like the depression I’ve experienced. And perhaps you, as well.
After her sons’ passing Naomi decides to sell the farm and move back to Bethlehem. I believe being separated from her extended Jewish family increased her depression. She knew she would feel better being back around them. Once her mind was made up, she saw no need in putting off this difficult trip.
It’s clear to me that Naomi held on to her faith and missed her worship services in Bethlehem. That’s where she worshiped God with other Jewish believers. This also, helped to restore joy in her life.
Being active in my church has helped me. I’ve met many other Christian women there that I’ve emotionally and prayerfully supported like they have me. Fellowship, and Bible study are a part of my mental wellness plan.
Just like Naomi, people down through the ages have had or will have depression. I want to encourage you to not let depression go untreated. There are effective cures being used to treat this form of mental illness.
I see Naomi as a realist, and a pragmatist. She saw life as it is, not how she wished it to be. Once she planned to do something then she became resolute in carrying it out. That helped her in solving difficult problems, which then helped her in overcoming depression.
Now Orpah and Ruth wanted to travel with Naomi to Bethlehem. In preparation, each woman would’ve made sure they had some fresh water stored in a dried animal skin, several loaves of unleavened baked bread, and roasted grain for their evening meal. They also had cakes of figs and clusters of raisins for stamina and quick energy while they were traveling. This would’ve been their common “travel food.”
So, after gathering up their small bundles the three women start out on this arduous journey together. But they hadn’t gone far when Naomi takes the leadership role and told the two young women to go back to their mothers’ homes (1:8,9).
Like Naomi, you’re not going to get better unless you show leadership in your own life. If you’re unsure of which direction to go in, then seek some guidance from someone that you trust.
Avoid taking negative advice from someone who demeans you. And don’t take advice from someone who won’t meet even their own expectations or potential.
Naomi only wanted the best for these two young women and didn’t want them to take unnecessary risks. But she was a woman with a strong will. And not afraid to take a calculated risk.
Naomi had been the glue that held her family together. She had mentored and cared for all of them. That’s why the two women wanted to go with her. She had taught them all about the Jewish faith during their time in Moab. How do I know that? At the time of their departure Ruth told Naomi that she wanted to follow “your God.”
Now when Naomi said her goodbyes to these two younger women something significant took place at that dusty crossroads. Let’s find out exactly what happened.
A Brief Look At Orpah
There they were, three women standing at the crossroads of not only their physical direction, but also their life’s direction. And it didn’t take long for Orpah to change her mind.
It did seem logical for her to go visit her family. But, in truth she longed for the lifestyle she had before she married. She was tied to her past. The past in in the past and none of us can change it, nor relive it.
Orpah, looked too closely at the problem instead of looking at the big-picture solution. Because of this she bought more problems on herself than had she gone with Naomi.
Orpah may sound like someone we might know. Or one of us. We get started on the right track, but things just don’t seem to last beyond a few months or so. We lose our focus then our ambition slowly ebbs away. Then, we begin a new set of “self-improvement” plans. I want to encourage you to stop the “yo yo cycle” of self-improvements. Like I’ve said, I’ve been there, done that. There is a better way.
I’m only surmising about Orpah’s life, but I believe she “pushed the easy button” many times in solving her life’s problems. She seems to have lacked problem-solving skills that would’ve brought some order to her life. That makes her no different than many of us.
A Brief Look At Ruth
Ruth would not be swayed from leaving Naomi’s side. Instead she spoke these immortal words to Naomi:
“But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.” 1: 16,17 (ESV)
We learn about Naomi by looking at Ruth. Why would this young woman even consider taking this dangerous journey? They could’ve died of thirst and/ or starvation during their journey. And how long would it take them to walk or ride in a caravan approximately a hundred miles?
Naomi and Ruth obviously, had a strong loyal bond of friendship between them. And Ruth was the type to think through her decisions before making them. Doing this kept her from being indecisive.
While they were under Naomi’s teachings in Moab, Ruth became a Jewish convert. But, apparently hadn’t made it known until the start of their journey. That’s when she made a public profession of faith to Naomi.
Naomi must’ve had a nurturing personality to have had Ruth so drawn to her. The two of them spent quality time together even before their trip. Ruth severed all connections to her past. Doing that helped her to plan a brighter future for herself.
When they got settled in Bethlehem, Naomi didn’t go out into the fields. I think Ruth told her to rest in their home, while she went out in the hot sun to gather barley.
Well, Ruth happened to gather barley in the field of a man related to Elimelech. The owner was named Boaz. And he observed how this young foreign woman took care of the older Jewish woman that lived with her, which impressed him. He started asking others who she was. (2:11).
I believe Naomi stayed in Moab because she got caught up in the routine of busyness. Busyness can consume our time, but it’s not very fulfilling. Busyness always leave us feeling empty and wondering if life has more meaning then just the routine.
In the middle of her busyness, Naomi got blind-sighted by events she didn’t expect to happen. At first her husband then her sons passed away. She could’ve let her grief rob her of any joy she might’ve had in the future. But she didn’t.
Moving back to Bethlehem helped Naomi find joy again. Her relatives still remembered her as having been a joyful person in her younger years.
I relate with Naomi on moving back to a place she called home. I experienced joy when Jeff and I moved back to Western North Carolina where I’m from. I had left my hometown of Sylva, some thirty years before, being a single young woman. A few years later I joined the Air Force, and met my future husband, Jeff.
We both were stationed at the same air base in Germany and married there. When my enlistment was up, I received an Honorable Discharge. We had our first child by then, and I wanted to stay home with her. He reenlisted, though and made USAF his career. Along the way we added two more precious daughters to our family.
Thirteen years later we moved to Shaw AFB, SC. We had been out of the country for six straight years. Three of those were spent in Turkey where I drove very little and never off base.
So, I was glad to be back in America and drive anywhere I needed or wanted to go. But not long after settling there, I began longing for us to move back to my hometown of Sylva, NC. I still had extended family living in the area and missed the mountains. Jeff’s from Monroe, Georgia. Moving there never interested me.
Well, Jeff only had a few more years to finish his career when we moved to SC. However, we ended up staying thirteen years in Sumter. Our girls finished school there, and I finished my credits and graduated nearby Coker College during some of that time. Then, we just got busy with life. Finally, after our girls left the house, we began making plans to move up to the Sylva, NC area. I relate with Naomi on so many levels.
Naomi’s joy also came back because she changed her focus from herself to others. Her problems became smaller by her doing that.
Ruth had become like a daughter to her by this time. It was in taking the older woman’s advice that Ruth was able to capture Boaz’s attention and his heart.
Boaz and Ruth married and had a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse. He had a son named David who became King over Israel.
In moving back Naomi became involved with life in her village. The women socialized with each other during their daily chores. This is where she began bringing joy back, not only in her life, but in others as well. She understood that life is bigger than her own personal problems.
She had set a goal of moving back home. After that her goal was for Ruth to meet Boaz. Naomi kept setting goals for herself and became involved with life again. And she let the rest take care of itself. And it did.
In the end, Naomi had a complete emotional healing. She was happy and contented. This can happen in your life as well if you seek God’s will for your life. Don’t expect everything to work out as you’ve planned it, though. God’s plans are higher than ours.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11