We know surprisingly little about Naomi’s past. For all of the rich detail the Bible gives us about her situation, it seems strange that we would know so few specifics about her husband and sons. We don’t know if they died suddenly or from long illnesses. We don’t see any evidence of the circumstances causing Naomi to wonder what went wrong or if she could have done something different. 

In that absence of information there seems to be a basic principle: Naomi didn’t get stuck in the past. She didn’t replay the good times or the bad. Chapters aren’t devoted to what she might have done differently or how unjust it was that both sons were killed. She doesn’t spend time holding a grudge, seeking revenge, or asking what might have been. 

If Naomi had dwelled on such thoughts, she might have used up her time and energy getting even. She could have become critical of her daughters-in-law and angry with her late husband for bringing her to such a godforsaken land. She might have tried to attract another man or asked Ruth’s family to take her in. She might have done any of those things, but she didn’t.

Naomi was busy looking to God for her second calling.  She didn’t name it that or even imagine that God had anything special for her. But one of the most striking aspects of her story is how much it is rooted in the present and future and how little it relates to the past.

The Challenge of Releasing Our Past

Giving up the past may be the greatest challenge we face during our midlife. We want to hold on to so many of the good things – our looks, our energy, and our roles that once defined us. We also tend to hold on to the bad as well – the insults, betrayals, criticisms, and injustices.

On one hand, such tendencies are natural. We can even justify them by claiming to want to be as good as we can be. But unless we come to grips with the fact that being all we can be means something entirely different at this stage of life than it did when we were twenty, we will spend our days and years trying to become imitations of our former selves. Yes, we should take our health seriously and be aware that what we eat and how much exercise we get will have a very real impact on our ability to enjoy future years. But we should do such things not out of vanity or competition but because we want to live a quality life and not be a burden to others. There is nothing sadder than an aging woman living in denial.

We may especially mourn the loss of our children as they grow up and no longer need us. But if we don’t let them go and encourage their independence, we are not fulfilling our rightful role in their lives. Many women who were terrific mothers of toddlers and early teens become negligent mothers of nearly adult children. Negligent may sound like a strange term, but I have learned that unless we give our children the skills and encouragement they need to leave us and live independently, we are creating an unhealthy dependence in them. If we don’t create a new foundation for our relationship, we will miss out on the joy of adult friendships with our own children.

At first I loved that my son Chase would call me from college to ask advice or help him make a decision. But gradually I realized that such phone calls were not necessarily a sign of my success as a mother. I needed to learn to push Chase back toward independence if he was going to be a confident man. I needed to love him so much that I would let him fail on his own and make mistakes. I had to stop holding on to the past closeness I so enjoyed and move to a place that was painful for me but necessary for my son. As much as I loved our relationship as it was, I needed to make a change that might leave us both missing the familiar.

As we have worked at this, Chase and I have developed new patterns of respect for one another. I try to celebrate his decisions even when they aren’t necessarily ones I might have made. He has learned to ask for my advice and then feel free to accept or disagree with my opinions. We now have a relationship that is less like the past but is large enough to embrace the future. It isn’t always easy for either of us, but we know we are building a solid basis for our future relationship.