“How could we be in 2005 already? Weren’t we all just panicking that the world would end only five short years ago? Where did all the time go – and why in the world am I still single? I thought things finally would be different this year!”

Welcome to my typical mental soundtrack on any New Year’s Day. In fact, I’m sure I said some of those things aloud this year. But this year, the unpleasant discovery to find myself in the same state as the previous year was tempered by the shocking news of the Southeast Asia tsunami. For thousands there, change was not pleasant — it was devastating.

Whether we are facing the shock of loss or the quiet despair of hope deferred, the beginning of a new year is often the time when we close the door with relief on a year full of trials and unfulfilled expectations — and face the coming year with unexpectant apathy, certain that nothing will get better. Yet I believe that God’s Word calls us to a different response.

Surveying Our Circumstances

There is one biblical account where we can we find another single woman wrestling with the same outlook — an account where we can also find much encouragement. It is the Old Testament book of Ruth. But what may surprise you is that Ruth and her eventual marriage to Boaz is not the subject of this column. Instead, we are examining the other single woman in that story — the widow Naomi.

Let’s focus on the part of that narrative when Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-21). Here, they were greeted by the women of that town who marveled that Naomi had returned to them after ten years in exile in Moab. But to Naomi, overcome with self-pity, their greetings were hollow. “Do not call me pleasant [Naomi],” she said. “Call me bitter [Mara]. For the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Here we have two single women, one of whom has evaluated her present unhappy condition and decided that God was always going to be dealing bitterly with her. Naomi assumed her future was as barren as she was, but that wasn’t true. She had surveyed her circumstances as a widow whose only sons had died and concluded that the Lord had no further blessings for her. But God was not finished. Even as she uttered her complaint, God was quietly orchestrating the circumstances that would lead not only to the redemption of Naomi’s family line and property, but also to the ancestry of Jesus Christ. For standing next to Naomi was the Lord’s provision for material and relational blessing — Ruth. And just beyond Ruth, the barley harvest was ripening in the fields of her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. God’s quiet providence was already peeking forth, but Naomi couldn’t perceive it.

A New Resolve

New Year’s day can show us a similar, subtle form of unbelief:  When our prayers seem to go unheeded, we can learn to live in unexpectant apathy. We go through the motions, but we’re not convinced that God will bless us. Bottom line, ugly truth — we really don’t trust God. This is no minor issue. As author and theologian Jerry Bridges wrote, “God views our distrust of Him as seriously as He views our disobedience.”

Naomi’s experience reveals God’s faithful provision for one individual. But this biblical account highlights another aspect of God’s loving and wise sovereignty: He works on a scale much larger than our individual lives.

I’ve often daydreamed about the testimony I hope to have on my wedding day. I want to stand up and say that the long wait for my husband was worth it. I want to say that the Lord is fully trustworthy. I want to give Him all the glory should He give me the gift of marriage. It’s as though I’ve been running a grueling race and, having flopped over the “finish line” of marriage, I can stand in the winner’s circle with an inspiring story about the reasons for the delay.