Bittersweet. Until Jesus, I had no idea what that word really meant. Until Jesus, I couldn’t see sweetness in the bitter. Until Jesus, I had nowhere to take the feelings found in the bittersweet moments of life. Until Jesus, well, life just wasn’t worth living.
Bittersweet. It’s that burn behind your eyes right before the tears ooze out. It’s that last swallow of coffee in your favorite mug. It’s the smell of the last bonfire of the year. It’s the feel of closing the cover on the final pages of a special book. It is both the ending and the beginning of two equally precious things. Bittersweet is the taste and feel of change.
This strange feeling also fills our hearts when we experience something too beautiful for words. It is found in the splashes of pink, orange, yellow, and purple of a sunset. It is the ocean sweeping the beach at the end of the day. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” elicit the same response. It is also the rainbow rising over a corn field or the sun bursting through a dark sky. It is encountering something so beautiful and final; we feel both happiness and heartache. It is hope rising out of the ashes of a broken life. And it is found in the arms of Jesus when everything else around us is falling to pieces.
Until Jesus, bittersweet was just the name of a burnt orange-colored crayon that had nothing to do with sweet. Until Jesus, it was either entirely all bitter, or completely sweet. There was no combination of the two emotions. Until Jesus.
In Jesus, I have found a Savior who lets me feel the pain and pinch of loss, but also feels it with me. Jesus lets me cry until there are no tears left. He is an “ever-present help in trouble” and bears the burden with and for me. He lets me live the “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” verse. Finally, he understands what I’m feeling when I can’t even get the words out. And He holds His arms out to me and draws me to Him.
But you know what else? He and Paul know exactly what those bittersweet moments and slices of life feel like.
- Paul—“I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:23-24). That is the burn of being pulled in two completely good directions. That is the bittersweet taste found when you can only say “yes” to one option.
- Jesus—“who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). That is real bittersweet: enduring pain because of the great prize at the end.
They lived bittersweet perfectly, and I want to follow their example through the messy times. I want to say “yes” to one of two good paths, but more than that, I long to fully experience and endure the darkness of a situation because of the surpassing joy found in knowing Christ through hardship.
Right now, I am in the middle of changes that are affecting every aspect of my life. Church. Ministry. Counseling. Work. Housing. Car. Relationships. In the midst of what should be a very messy, difficult, stressful time, I am finding hope in Jesus and confidence in His plans for the next few years of my life. Deep joy, complete peace, and lasting excitement are the words that I would use to describe how I am feeling about life right now.
That is not to say that there aren’t moments of fear, feelings of inadequacy, and nights of tears sliding down my face from the loss found in having to make a choice between two precious things. But my heart knows so well that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. It’s beautifully bittersweet.
Sometimes, change is the tool that opens the crimp on our lives. When nearly everything is changing, it is almost natural to say, “Why not change some other things at the same time?” That is exactly where I am right now, asking God, “Is this something I should be letting go of? Is this relationship bringing more damage than good into my life?”
Bittersweet allows me to hold my hands out to Jesus and say, “Take it all, Jesus. It’s all Yours anyway.” These are special times of going deep with God and finding Him trustworthy and safe in change and loss. In this season of life, I am finding Jesus to be more than enough. With Jesus, I am at peace with the tears dancing in my eyes as I look into His face. They are the tears of change and loss. They are a sweetly bitter but equally precious part of seeking to grow into a mature follower of Christ. And He is so worth it.