“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Do you ever read something that perfectly describes your current condition? Last Friday, I was reading the Savor devotional by Shauna Niequist when I was struck by a description of the bittersweet. She describes bittersweet as “the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful.” A life full of bitter will depress you, but a life full of sweet will spoil you. Calluses form after repeated impact and strain to protect against further injury. Muscles rip and tear to become bigger and stronger. Our bodies develop antibodies against small doses of disease. Without struggle, we would be weak and fragile, unable to face anything outside of our sweet, familiar comfort zone. The best balance is to seek the bittersweet.
On the surface, I’m walking in a joyful, peaceful season of life. I have a job that I love, my course work is light, and I’m marrying the love of my life in 109 days. However, there is still bitterness. There are relationships that are strained or tense, and my fear of disappointing others has only grown as I’ve tried to become an adult overnight. Tim and I still don’t know where we’ll be living in 4 months, and have my student loans on our backs. I avoid constant stress by focusing on the good and acting as if nothing is going wrong, because surely God wants me to be grateful for what I have, right? My life seems so sweet right now, but perhaps the stressful aspects that I avoid or ignore are meant to magnify the good. The unknown is a biscuit for the honey of the known. Tense relationships usher gratefulness in intimate relationships. Chaos frames the masterpiece of the quiet. My life is bittersweet because the Master doesn’t protect me from every pain or struggle. He knows enjoying the good only comes when you’ve lived the not-so-good.
Consider the story of Job. God described him as the finest man in all the earth, blameless, a man of complete integrity. Satan insisted that Job would turn against God if his health was wounded, and God allowed the enemy to attack him. After Job broke out from head to toe in boils, his wife encouraged him to curse God and move past his agony. But Job knew that blaming someone else for his circumstances wouldn’t ease the bitterness, and he knew that bitterness was necessary for an abundant life. The wise words Job shared with his wife are crucial to walking with God in a broken world, a world filled with sin, sinners, and Satan.
“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”
God doesn’t divvy up blessings based on your personal merit. Nor does He dole out curses on those who disobey Him. Jesus was a perfect man, but his circumstances rarely were. He was born surrounded by animals, without a midwife or cradle to comfort him. He was raised a poor boy, watching his father survive off of his personal labor in carpentry. He was a misunderstood youth who couldn’t relate to any of his peers. His father presumably died in his youth, as Mary was alone at the crucifixion. He was nearly murdered by his neighbors and childhood friends when he began his ministry, and was stalked by a group of arrogant know-it-alls who were constantly trying to slip him up. He was murdered by those he came to save, knowing the exact people who would eventually return to him and who would reject him. He died experiencing our every sin, and buried in a stranger’s tomb. Until he was joined again with the Father, Jesus’ life was bitter. His circumstances were negative for the majority of his life, yet we never see Jesus ungrateful or depressed. He never doubted his Father’s love just because he was raised in poverty or misunderstood by those around him. Jesus accepted the good and the bad from the hand of God, and he never used his own miraculous power to benefit hisself. If there was anyone who the enemy attacked as fiercely as Job, it was Jesus. Neither man deserved the lots they received, but both continued to worship through the bitterness. That’s where you find the sweet side of life—not in with your circumstances, but in your worship. Posture yourself to focus on the Lord, and you’ll see sweet in your bitter. Like syrup over a latte, the Lord will sink down into your bitterness, your hurt, your confusion. Scripture never promises that God will take away stressful responsibilities and looming anxieties, but He does promise to never leave us. When you can’t handle the pungency of life any longer, the honey is never far.
So I’ll rejoice in the unknown, the scary, the stressful, and the sad. I’ll rejoice in the known, the calm, the peaceful, and the delight. I’ll rejoice in every part of life because God has a plan for me. He won’t leave me dangling off the edge, and He won’t allow anything to happen that can’t be redeemed. God is sovereign over the bittersweet, and that should bring you great joy.