Biblical, Mental and Emotional Health
Resilient Women in the Bible
Rachel, a daughter of Laban, was a beautiful woman who grew up in a home that contained idols. Her father practices divination and often cheated others, including Rachel and Jacob, whom she eventually married. Once married, she suffered for many more years because she couldn’t get pregnant and because of the rivalry that existed between her and Leah, and her sister and co-wife. Eventually, she did have children – Joseph and Benjamin.
Ruth was a citizen of Moab, a region of pagan people who worshiped gods that, in some cases, required human sacrifices. She married Mahlon the son of Elimelech and Naomi, Jewish immigrants who left their home in Israel because of a famine. Ruth soon became widowed, and though she’d had no children with her Israelite husband, she decided to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who was also a widow with no living children. When Naomi returned to her home in Bethlehem, Ruth was at risk. She was a woman, a foreigner, and a young widow. But after some uncertainties and struggles, Boaz married her and provided her with a good life.
Hannah, whom we discussed in the previous lesson, suffered terribly because of her infertility and provocations of Peninnah, and because of the resultant depression that made her so unhappy. But eventually, God blessed her abundantly – she had a son, Samuel, and then three more boys and two girls.
Mary was a young virgin, was entrusted with a great task of being the mother of the Messiah. The circumstances of her pregnancy brought her great difficulty, threatening even her relationship to her fiancé, Joseph. She delivered Jesus in very precarious circumstances, and in addition to poverty, the family had to live with the incredulity of many who questioned the circumstances of His birth. During Jesus’ life, Mary had a limited understanding of His ministry and His role as the messiah, yet throughout His (Jesus) life on earth she (Mary) was a partaker in His sufferings.
All of these women had a divine calling and divine guidance, but all of them had to endure a great deal of suffering. Yet they each came through the trials with increased strength.
Let’s study two other women who particularly exhibited resilience: Naomi and Esther.
Naomi: The ancestor of Jesus suffered a great deal for many years before she could make any sense of all her adversities. Here are some of the particular difficulties she experienced.
- She and her husband, Elimelech, together with their two sons, were forced to leave their country because of famine, which is a very different experience than leaving a place in search of new opportunities.
- Their destination, the land of Moab, was an agricultural area where they could survive, but that land was inhabited by an idolatrous people whose practices violated Jewish beliefs.
- Naomi’s husband died, leaving her a widow with two boys to care for – a traumatizing even made worse because they were in a foreign land.
- Naomi’s sons, Mahlon a Kilion, married local women, a fact that probably upset her and brought turmoil unto the family, since Moses’ law stipulated that Moabites couldn’t enter the assembly of the Lord – and neither could their decendants up to the tenth generation (see Deuteronomy 23:3).
- Her sons, whose names mean “weakling” and “sickly,” also died, leaving no living members of her immediate family – an incredibly tragic situation.
At this moment of deep tragedy, Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, provided God-sent emotional support. Naomi must have been a remarkable woman to have inspired the devotion of her daughters-in-law, especially Ruth, who accepted the God of Israel and made the first decision to care for her mother-in-law for life, even in the land of traditional enemies. However, Naomi still had to go through a number of uncertainties and bitter stops before she could reach the end of her ordeal. Her statement to old friends in Bethlehem reveals some of her feelings: “Don’t call me Naomi . . . call me Mara, because the almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). The two women returned in poverty, didn’t know whether the connections with Boaz would work out, and were uncertain about the reaction of the kinsmen-redeemer. But the story ends in a beautiful succession of events, and Naomi was pleased with the results (Ruth 16, 17).
Ether: The name of the Lord doesn’t appear anywhere in the book of Esther. Yet his book is packed with God’s providence and guidance. Esther, the central character, shows her resilience through how she handled a number of difficult circumstances.
- Esther had no mother or father. That’s why her cousin Mordecai, a captive taken by King Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem to Babylon, adopted her. As Esther was growing up, she may have experienced prejudice because she was an orphan.
- When Esther was chosen as queen, Mordecai instructed her not to reveal her nationality or family background. This was a particularly difficult challenge, for the lifestyle in the court must have contrasted drastically with her Jewish faith and identity.
- Esther lived for some time with the fear of being identified as a Jew and the uncertainty of what would happen if she were found out.
- She informed the king that two of his personal officers were plotting to kill him. This must have been a source of stress for her, too, as the conspiracy had to be investigated, and if there wasn’t sufficient evidence, she could have been killed.
- Perhaps the greatest pressure Esther bore was that of being the only one who could save the Jews of Babylon. At first she hesitated to intervene, but Mordecai put even more pressure on her: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish” (Esther 4:14).
- Anyone who entered the inner court uninvited while the king was there faced the penalty of death. And because the king hadn’t called on Esther for quite a while, when she entered his throne room to save her people, she was risking death.
Despite all the pressure Esther faced, she didn’t crumble, Instead, she devised a strategy to accomplish what seemed impossible. She asked all the Jews in Susa to assemble and fats for three days. Then she appeared before the kind. Several miraculous events followed, and the Jewish population was saved as a result of Esther’s mediation. The story is described in a most interesting way in the rest of the book of Esther (chapters 5-10).
God is Still There:
Even when we’re under extreme pressure, God is still there and will accept and answer our prayers even if they’re weak. The experience of Leonard Mulcahy confirms this conclusion. Leonard works at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University, and he teaches courses in fitness, wellness, and recovery. In an article published in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, he tells of his happy days of childhood and of his loving and caring family. He also says he was mentally healthy during is high school years, with plenty of friends and involvement in sports. But during his undergraduate days at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, he started to experience symptoms of depression. He went through depressive moods, loneliness, suicidal ideation, and even paranoia a symptom of psychosis that isn’t normally found in depression. Leonard became suspicious of people. He thought they were talking about him and laughing at him, and this reinforced his isolation.
Prayer was the turning point for Leonard. In telling his story, he said “resilience was a term I was not familiar with, but as my illness progressed it became clear to me that I needed to be resilient in order to stay alive. I took a lot of time to pray. . . . . I prayed for people in need and for people who were on the street and homeless. Prayer was my life saver and helped me to find a place for myself in this world.” When the symptoms of depression began to appear, Leonard told his therapist that he was to sick to pray. She encouraged him to pray anyway and to nurture his spiritual life.
Leonard worked as a volunteer in a soup kitchen, and he participated in prayer meetings regularly. He notes that “part of being resilient is being involved with others.” He concluded his testimony this way: “Along my journey, which has been filled with many trials and tribulations, prayer has kept me moving forward down the right road of spiritual wholeness instead of self destruction and death. . . . Prayer allows me to be fully alive and spiritually awakened, which made all the difference.
A pastor friend of mind told me this story about himself. It isn’t easy to affirm with the apostle Paul, “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (II Corinthians 12:10). I still remember how I felt when in secondary school, I failed my final exam in English three years in a row. I had studied enough, and I thought I was well prepared, but it seemed this wasn’t the case. It is true that the assessment method was difficult and unreliable. We studied various subject at our local school for a whole academic years, and then, in June, we went to an official examination hall on the other side of the city for a week of final tests. The stress meant that results could go either way. However, I didn’t fail any of the other finals. – only English, which I failed three years in a row.
I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t have my summers free from makeup work. But in the years since, I have become certain that he Lord caused it – or permitted it, or whatever – because it meant that I had to spend three extra summers studying English. Later, that additional study proved to be extremely useful because I needed to red English sources at college and to take graduate studies in the United States.
Even in the middle of difficulties, we must have faith that suffering will end and may have a purpose. One-night, famous Welsh minister and bible commentator Matthew Henry was assaulted by thieves, who took his money. Of that incident, Henry wrote in his journal, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and I who robbed.
If you are going through affliction, you will undoubtedly find it very difficult to understand, but you may take courage from the knowledge that it is transitory and that
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give away and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging (Psalm 46:1-3)