“How do you keep from being bitter?” she asked, leaning on my kitchen counter.
This was no idle question. The woman standing in my kitchen was living a life far different from her girlish dreams. This I know, even though she has not told me. Who dreams of being a mother to a little girl with seizures? Neither of us had. Both of us were.
She and I could count our time together in mere hours, but it felt as if we had known each other for years. Our lives ran on parallel tracks in areas far deeper than the breezy connections of new friendships. On the surface, we had little in common—she is vivacious and impulsive; I am reserved and deliberate. But underneath the inconsequentials, we share two passions: the jagged-edged love for a daughter with seizures and a consoling love for our art. She writes stories in watercolor, and I paint canvases with words.
No, this was not an idle question.
When I stared down into the kettle and said nothing, she started backpedaling. “Maybe that’s too personal—”
I broke in. “No, no, it’s not. I like asking personal questions, so why would I mind answering them? It’s just that I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately.” I put down the spoon and leaned against the counter, unconsciously mimicking her pose. “Last summer, after the seizures returned, I struggled with some anger and resentfulness toward God. I don’t know if I was bitter exactly, but I was headed there.”
I stopped, aware that I was rambling, but she didn’t seem to mind, so I went on. “There have been other times in my life when I felt bitterness. The miscarriages. There was a huge property ordeal involving a right-of-way that dragged on for over two years after we moved here. And other things, like misunderstandings and injustice and good people who mean well but blindly hurt others.”
She nodded. Yes. She knew. We all have these stories.
“The turning point for me,” I said, “has always been when I started asking myself ‘What can I learn from this?’ When I began to see a situation as something that could make me a better person, it somehow took the bitterness out of it.”
* * *
I’ve come to recognize it by now, after several years of feeling the shift happen inside me each time I move from anger/pain/frustration to teachableness. I stop asking God “Why?” and start asking “What?”
What lesson do You have for me in this?
What am I forgetting that You want me to remember?
What can I learn?
What should I do with this lesson?
When pain becomes something that helps me grow, the bitterness in it fades. And eventually, the pain even becomes—dare I say it?—sweet.
Not at first. It takes time. It takes trust. It takes surrender. Over and over again.
* * *
“You know what I find the hardest to accept?” I asked my new friend. “It’s the things done by other people. With miscarriage and epilepsy, I could more easily trust that God could make good come from it, including in me. But when people hurt me or those I love, it’s hard to accept that God allows such bad things to happen. There is no redemption in the evil we do to each other. Only God can redeem that kind of pain.”
But when He redeems, the waters of Mara turn sweet.
* * *
Not long ago, my friend emailed me a copy of a painting she had just finished, a piece of representational art she titled “You Will Never Walk Alone.”
What I say in words, she says in watercolor, only better. Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? With her permission, I share it with you.
She knows about bitter and sweet.
She knows about redemption.
And we all tell our stories in our own ways.
* * *
P.S. It’s been a little heavy and deep around here. Look for lighter fare next time, when I introduce you to the new member of our household, The Box.