Call Me Mara: What Jesus taught me through Bruce Jenner

I never thought I would start a blog thanking Bruce Jenner, but if it weren’t for his Vanity Fair appearance announcing “Call Me Caitlyn” a specific passage of scripture stating “Call me Mara” would not have spoken to me as profoundly as it did. For a while, I couldn’t go more than two seconds without seeing Call Me Caitlyn plastered on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TV. When a topic is trending in today’s world, spending time in God’s word brings the topic to life in unique ways. Click To Tweet I love how Jesus doesn’t waste anything and even uses our culture to cultivate connections to His word. I want us to spend some time in the pages of Ruth walking alongside Naomi. Remember, I did not go to seminary school. I don’t have a degree in theology to garnish my writing with. I am not a pastor with any sort of pedigree. I did not grow up in the church. I have not studied the bible in the original language and often don’t know the full story behind the story inside of the story because it connects to some story in another chapter. Basically, what it boils down to is I don’t have credibility, but I can always give credit to God. I am just a princess of the King, a sheep to the Good Shepherd and a girl learning to see and share how the Kingdom and earth converge in a beautiful kiss every day. Now, that we’ve gotten the awkward first-date small talk out of the way, let’s get to know Naomi’s story.

Naomi left her famine-stricken land for a foreign country where she then lost her husband and two sons. Not lost as in they didn’t have a GPS to find their way back home, but lost as in their lives on earth ended. They fled famine, possibly in search of a fairytale life, the pot of gold at the other side of the rainbow or greener grass, but found despair and devastation greeted them. Naomi did not want to leave the land she knew and loved to go to a place where they wouldn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for outsiders. She followed her husband’s leading only to be left a widow and without her sons. This was not a time when single women were praised for being independent. There was no Kelly Clarkson singing Miss Independent in the background.  This was a time when survival in society depended mainly on the males in the household to provide protection and security. Naomi heard that the Lord had helped her people in Bethlehem and decided it was time to head home. Naomi urges her widowed daughters-in-law to stay in their land where they are more likely to find suitors. Naomi could not possibly provide a husband and more children. Through Naomi’s narrow eyes she only saw a dead-end destiny for these girls instead of the  grander plan God was in the process of fulfilling.

“Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.” Ruth 1:14

What I love about this verse is it shows clinginess led to Christ. That’s right. In today’s world, clingy women get a bad reputation. Boy, I am thankful that Ruth clung to Naomi because her lineage leads to the birth of Jesus – the one I cling to. So, ladies, the next time a guy says you are clingier than saran wrap on Thanksgiving leftovers just pull this out of your back pocket as proof being clingy can be a catalyst to best things in life. You’re welcome.“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1: 20-21

Mara means bitter. Can you blame the girl for being bitter? As she returns home after at least 10 years away, the community still recognizes her as Naomi. This is when she takes the opportunity to announce not to call her Naomi, which means pleasant, but instead to call her Mara because like Bruce Jenner a new name correlated to a new identity. When I was a kid I announced to my family that I was getting my name changed and to call me Thumbelina. Really for two reasons: One, I had a sister named Tiffani and it made things confusing and two, I really wanted to be a tiny fairy. But even if my family did listen to my ridiculous request and call me Thumbelina did that make me a tiny fairy on my way to finding true love? No. I was still a seven-year-old human-sized Tiffany. We exchange how God sees us, names us and calls us and replace it with what we see reflected in the mirror. Click To Tweet  Naomi may have been bitter, but that bitterness was never meant to be bondage keeping her from freedom. Bitterness is not becoming on Naomi or on us. It’s not meant to be a part of our DNA.  No matter how beautiful I am on the outside if bitterness is consuming me like a cancer on the inside eventually that bitterness will overflow into all areas of my life and poison a pure heart.

This is where it hit home for me. You see, I am learning how to untangle this big ball of bitterness I’ve built. I applaud Naomi for owning up to her bitterness and calling it like it is. I admire people who are authentic.  The terrifying part of my bitterness is I didn’t see it in the mirror. I’ve learned I can’t fully move past my past until I’ve accepted it and let Jesus perfectly and tenderly heal me from the inside out. Ladies, often when we’ve been hurt, we don’t express it on the outside, but rather hold the hurt and bitter feelings inside where they fester and grow. I think this is why Jesus mentions cleaning the inside of the cup and then the outside will be clean. If we are cleansing our heart, then we will be clean on the outside too. I kept my feelings at arm’s length for so long, that when they began to flood over me and out of me I was terrified. I know women, myself included, who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault, and they are kind and gentle and loving people, but inside they are bound up because of what was done to them many years ago. It is okay to be hurt. It is okay to feel that pain, but God wants to redeem that part of your story. God wants to heal places in your heart no human hand can reach. Click To Tweet Once I accepted that part of my story, I start thinking about every relationship and interaction I’ve had since and I realize the damage is like a domino effect. If only, I had sought to heal sooner maybe heartache wouldn’t hit so hard. Maybe anger wouldn’t be at my doorstep. Maybe bitter wouldn’t be my name. I was bottling so much bitterness I could have begun my own brewery business. What I didn’t expect was my bottled bitterness was bouncing around and would soon boil over. As soon as I noticed a bitter root was growing I went into a complete panic mode. I don’t know if your brain works like mine, but I can go from envisioning a relaxing day at the beach full of sunshine and wonderful waves to being stung by a jellyfish, bit by a shark and contracting some sort of fungal infection. That escalated quickly! So, as I start thinking about this bitterness I imagine it taking over my life to the point I acquire forty cats, live in an ominous house with an overgrown lawn and neighbors who accidentally throw balls over my fence, but never ask to retrieve them because I’m affectionately known as Miss Bitter Burlingame. I am like the female version of The Beast in Sandlot. So, you see, I didn’t fully understand bitterness, but I knew my future was bleak with bitterness taking center stage and I needed to break it down the only way I know how. Word math.

Anger x Time = Bitterness

Ah, anger. Now, I’m getting somewhere. You see over the past two years I’ve refused to feel anger. I naively believed I was made to only feel joy and sadness. I thought I was programmed like the dusty crockpot under my kitchen counter. You can put me on high heat (happy) low heat (sad) but any other emotion is off limits. While anger is an emotion God has created me to feel, if not addressed appropriately it will turn into bitterness which is not what God has for me. So imagine me sitting with a counselor feeling like a crazy person because the slightest things make me snap. I mean itty bitty offenses that normally would roll right off my back. Oh, you want me to give you a call? Not my problem.  Oh, you are running five minutes late to meet me? That’s a mistake. Oh, you want me to go out of my way to help you when you never return the favor? You can take a hike. Tiffany, can you…ABSOLUTELY NOT. I pretty much wanted to throat punch every single person in my path and unleash the Hulk smash on unsuspecting victims. My grace gas tank was on empty and I refused to fuel back up. I was Tiffany the ticking time-bomb that people would need to tip-toe around. Love keeps no record of wrongs, but every betrayal added to my bulleted list of bitterness. I’m so thankful that I didn’t run to my usual go-to method of suppressing instead of addressing. Instead, I rolled up my sleeves, was willing to pull the roots of bitterness out and able learn more about the soil these roots were growing in. I’ve broken down the layers of soil that are actually the steps that eventually led me to stop nurturing my bitterness and start believing in forgiveness and freedom.

Layer One:  Mind Your Own Bitterness

I became overly critical of others because I didn’t know how to mind my own bitterness. What was really happening is I became bitter with myself. Someone once told me that bitterness is anger turned inward. There’s some truth to that. I started dissecting my actions and choices and kept saying, “How could you be so stupid? How did you not see that person was damaging you? You sure were a fool. If they made awards for biggest dumb dumb you would get it. ” This critical inward perspective was reflected to the outside world. I started wanting to point out everybody else’s mistakes and flaws. My heart and speech is not naturally critical, but I became a cynic and would pick people apart little by little like we were playing a game of operation minus the fun.  Instead of leaking love I started to seep sassiness. Instead of speaking with gentleness and love I wanted to spew malicious remarks and hatred. Often, I refrained from reacting knowing that my words would be riddled with bullets of bitterness. I desperately needed open heart surgery. Instead of thinking everybody else should be laying on the operating table I needed to take my rightful place on that cold metal table.

Layer Two: Even In Bitterness, You still Believe 

“Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” “The Lord bless him!” – Naomi (aka Mara)

Even in bitterness you still see blessings. Naomi has lost hope for herself, but I find it amazing she had not lost hope for her daughter-in-law when a man took notice of her working in the field. I found myself living this out as well. I had lost hope in my dreams but suddenly started championing the dreams of others. Although putting my hopes and dreams on hold is hazardous, I’ve learned that believing with and for someone else creates a beautiful bond. Being a spectator in someone else’s season of success recharged the dormant dreams in my heart. It reminds me that this journey is more of a relay race. That sometimes my teammates pass on wisdom for me to carry. Sometimes I pass on hope for someone to carry, but we are all racing to pass along encouragement and work together as one team. 

Layer Three: Bye, Bitterness 

Bitterness will block blessings, y’all.  If it takes root in your heart and becomes a grudge or an unforgiving spirit, it can destroy you. We are not detained by the love we didn’t receive in the past, but by the love we’re not sharing in the present. Those roots began to choke the life-giving love inside of me.

Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” 

I found freedom in confession. I confessed my bitterness to God, to my support group and to other believers I trusted. Pretty sure I even confessed it to Gideon, my adorable dog. Don’t judge me. I was in tears because this bitterness began to tear me apart. But God told me to go back to my journal from the same day a year ago (kind of like a TimeHop for my prayer life). The exact same day a year ago I was praying about bitterness.  Isn’t the Holy Spirit cool like that? It showed me God was faithful to remove that bitterness a year ago in His timing and He would do the same this time around. My belief only has to be bigger than the bitterness. Step out into freedom and say bye to bitterness.

Thanks Bruce for your reveal, because it revealed something to me. I was blindsided by my bitterness the day “Call me Mara” struck my heart largely due to “Call me Caitlyn” being prominent in my thoughts. It came in like a bitterness wrecking ball, and knocked the wind right out of me. It also revealed to me that God won’t let me permanently stay in a place that’s only a temporary stop on my journey. BYE, BITTERNESS!

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