I’ve been sad.
When it comes to writing, one of two things can happen when life deals me a setback. It fuels my writing. Or I turtle. (As I call it. I disappear. The old adage, if you can’t say anything nice…)
The thing is, I was doing just fine. Life was busy but stable. Work was busy but good. I’d been a little under the weather but managed just fine and things were okay. Good, even.
Then, a setback. Setbacks sometimes knock you a little harder when you don’t see them coming. A bitter pill.
In the middle of all that, smack dab in the middle, good made an appearance. A few little good things had been brewing, and then the even bigger good thing showed up. Said hello in the middle of my sad. A sweet taste made sweeter against the bitter.
My bitter has not been nearly as bitter as some people so so dear to me. The bitter setback I’ve seen sideswipe them would knock me flat on the floor. But even in their heartache, I’ll spy a sweet interlude appear right in the middle.
One of my closest friends and I were talking about this duality in our lives today. She said, It’s the balance in life. Even when we get really good news, you can get hit with negative that takes away a bit of the sweet. But then on the flip side, when something really bad is happening, you find a little bit of good happening there too. That’s life… days and weeks are not all good or bad.
I couldn’t find, in my translation, the term “bittersweet” in the Bible. But I found a number of stories which used the word bitter. Women weeping and mourning because of a painful turn.
Naomi suffered bitterly (“the Almighty has made my life very bitter”) when she found herself widowed with both sons dead. Her also-widowed daughter-in-law won’t leave her and they find themselves back in her hometown. How does the story end? Boaz finds Ruth, marries her, and Naomi is provided for. By those ancestors of Jesus. Does Naomi ever stop grieving her husband and sons? I can’t imagine she did. But sweet made an appearance in the bitter.
A little later, we find Hannah “weeping bitterly” to the Lord because of her infertility in I Samuel. What happens? The Lord blesses her with a son, Samuel, but even then she doesn’t get to see him off to high school. After he is weaned, she “returns him to the Lord” and he’s raised under Eli the priest.
In one of my favorite Bible stories, in 2 Kings 4, the Shunammite woman has a son after years of believing she’d live without children. Then he dies. DIES. The most unfathomable of the bitter. She runs to Elisha in “bitter distress.” Elisha calls on the Lord, lays on the boy, and he lives. Story isn’t done though. Famine hits the land and she has to run to enemy land to subsist for seven years, leaving all she has and knows. When she returns, the king restores her land. The ultimate bitter and sweet back and forth story.
They come hand in hand. The bitter and the sweet. So stark was the contrast today, I sat up and noticed it. I wanted to know what to do with it. I decided on this.
Be grateful for the sweet. My gratitude may have been even more enormous because of how much I needed it today. And still sit with the bitter. My dearest friends gave me permission to be sad or mad or whatever I needed to process. You’ve seen little stories here over and over about how good God is to show up with the sweet, even in the form of a pizza or a refrigerator, when the bitter hits.
Find the sweet. It’s there. In roaring waterfalls and afternoon phone calls. It’s in the first day of school and the plane delay that avoids the storms. Don’t paper over the bitter, but know there’s more there.