Bitter Sweet

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Later this week, I’ll be posting a few reflections on a great book I just finished, Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening your Soul to Rest, by Bonnie Gray.

I enjoyed Bonnie’s book so much that I looked up her blog, Faith Barista, and found it a beautiful way to slow down for a moment with a coffee or a journal (or both). This post, In the Bitter, There is Also Sweet, was one I could really identify with. In it, Bonnie writes about the sweetness that can come out of bitter times, and she shares a video of her playing an Erhu, a Chinese violin, which she began to learn as she continued to battle through post traumatic stress disorder.  I started to learn the violin recently (and wrote about it here), so I can relate to the fulfillment that she found in discovering the instrument. But I also identify with her post on a deeper level, as I too believe God can bring beauty out of pain.

Having moved house a lot (I’m 27 and have lived in 13 different houses and 9 different places), I learnt fairly early on in life that great new experiences and lovely new friends sometimes come in the wake of loss and goodbyes. When I went through a painful break-up, I discovered running and art as means of coping and these brought me great fulfillment for a long time afterwards. In that time, God also used nature to remind me of his goodness, and to show me how well he knew and loved my heart.  Recently I was working in a busy job, at the same time as struggling with trying for a baby but not conceiving, and felt overwhelmed by a bizarre combination of stress and feelings of emptiness and sadness. In that time, my sadness did not suddenly disappear, just as Bonnie’s PTSD did not suddenly disappear, but God also brought real joys into my life too. A puppy, and some beautiful dog walks, a great book by Ann Voskamp*, this blog, old and new friendships, time with family… The list goes on.

Coincidentally, before finding Bonnie’s post, I also came across the Bible passage below this morning, which is a literal illustration of God’s miraculous power to bring something sweet from something bitter.

Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying “What shall we drink?” So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. Exodus 15: 22-25

It reminded me of another bitter sweet Bible story – my favourite book, Ruth. In it Naomi loses her husband and two sons, and adopts the name Marah, explaining, ‘the Lord Almighty has made my life very bitter…’ It is indeed a tragically sad story – but it is also one of the sweetest tales of all time. Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth becomes her helper, accompanying her all the way to Bethlehem, providing for her, and eventually marrying a man called Boaz, fulfilling a Jewish tradition and bringing Naomi a new ‘son’. The happy ending doesn’t take away from the bitterness of its beginning, but it did offer Naomi a chance of new joy and fulfillment.

I wonder what bitter-sweet stories are unfolding in our lives today? I wonder what beauty is emerging from our pain?

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*The Ann Voskamp book mentioned is One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Where You Are, and her blog, A Holy Experience, is also well worth a read.

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