How To Be Not Bitter

“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.

You Will Never Walk Alone

She knows about bitter and sweet.

She knows about redemption.

She knows.

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.

15 thoughts on “How To Be Not Bitter

  1. What a beautiful painting. I agree that it is the evil done by humankind that is almost impossible to grapple with. Only by the grace of God.

    • “Only by the grace of God.” Yes. His grace keeps popping up in my life, and yet I struggle to define what grace is. Is it healing? Is it power? Is it endurance? Is it strength? Or some tailor-made blend created especially for me? In the spirit of Anne Shirley’s Davy: “I want to know.”

    • Thank you, Ann. It may be a while before your prayers bear any fruit. Our epilepsy story has been put on pause, and nothing, outside of an unforeseen major change in Tarica’s seizures, will be happening in the next few months. Which, if I’m honest, is discouraging–I’d like to resolve our questions and the future NOW. So maybe you can pray that I will be patient and trust the timeline to God.

      (Or maybe I can start asking myself “What can I learn from this?”) 🙂

  2. I like deep and heavy. It moves me to tears. It inspires me. It encourages me. It blesses my soul. I hope that you are blessed by sharing. Thanks

  3. Keep writing deep, keeps me on my toes!
    Thanks for getting me thinking today, we are in the process of relocating, and have been trying and trying to find a property. Its so discouraging! But thanks for the reminder of looking at it: What can I Learn from this! Trust! Trust! That is such a little word, but a HUGE impact on our Lives!

    • I was thinking some more about this question this morning and wondering why it works, why it shifts something in my heart. I think it’s because when I start asking what I can learn, I am no longer focusing on today and my feelings. I’m looking at the bigger picture, with a broader focus. God has a way of standing just inside the frame, and as long as I’m zeroing in on where I am right now, I can’t see Him. Asking this question helps me pull back, step back, see more. And I always see Him.

      Wishing you grace as you trust His timing.

  4. I haven’t thought of it in years but after my miscarriage (probably a year later when I was able to find some perspective) I made a list of What God Taught Me through Miscarriage. While it didn’t “make it better” it did allow me to see that good did come as a result of something bad.

    Thanks for sharing your insight. Hopefully I’ll remember in the future to ask “What can I learn from this?”

    And I think words and pictures together are perfect. You two really need to join up.

    • You know, if I made a list of what God taught me through miscarriage and a list of what He taught me through epilepsy, I have this suspicion that the two lists would look a lot the same.

      I have this suspicion that I’m a slow learner.

  5. Thanks again Stephanie! I love the deep and heavy! This thought of everyone having a story has been on my mind a lot lately. And it’s being impressed upon me, that the only way each of our stories can really have a ‘happy ever after’ ending is when we allow God to push the pencil in scripting our story. That waiting, trust, surrender, over and over again is when it becomes so difficult to resist the urge to take grip on the pencil again, and insert our own little explanations or details we fear perhaps God is overlooking. If you enjoy reading, two books I’m working through right now on this very subject, that I highly recommend are “A Grace Disguised” and “A Grace Revealed”, by Jerry Sittser. Both are very ‘deep and heavy’ if you like that kind of reading! The story, the picture, the flavor of redemption is beautiful and sweet!!

    • I like your thoughts on God scripting our story, Sharon. God never overlooks anything; why do I think my life is an exception to the rule?

      Do I enjoy reading? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. And not long ago, my friend Gina from the Home Joys blog gave me “A Grace Disguised.” It is an amazing book. I was underlining sentences I liked as I read, and there is at least one page that I underlined almost every line. I’d like to read “A Grace Revealed” sometime.

      Here’s one of my favorite quotes from “A Grace Disguised”:
      “The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering. Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss. Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace, and love.”

      Anyone who has known loss (which is everyone) should read this book.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I used to think it was strength I lacked, if only I could be stronger these things wouldn’t be such a trial to me. But actually I think it might have been grace that was undeveloped. My new motto is “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9a Only thru God’s grace and God’s strength can we keep pressing on toward the goal!

    • You’ve just quoted the verse I’ve come to think of as my epilepsy theme verse. I think those words have gotten many people through many hard times, and those words were written because Paul himself fought a difficult spiritual battle. This gives me courage. Our victories can strengthen others. Yet another lesson to learn.

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