Bittersweet: Write to Live

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Bittersweet. Over three years ago, I wrote a post with that title. At that time, I was in the middle of a transition like nothing else I had ever experienced before. New job, new church, new ministry opportunities, new home (actually, I had to move in with my dad for two months, as I was in between apartments—thanks, Dad), no longer using the degree I was paying off…generally everything I counted comfortable and certain from the previous few years had been turned upside down.

During those months, Father God loved me in a way I hadn’t fully experienced before. I was confident in his call on my life, but was as uncertain as the wind on just about everything else. For my birthday that fall, my older sister gifted me with a book that spoke to and held my heart in that season. She gave me Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.

At the same time that I was reading Bittersweet, I was also seeing my counselor who not only helped me walk through the transitions but faithfully pointed me to Jesus in the process. I remember this one cloudy Thursday morning in particular. In between our chairs was a globe of the world and outside the rain-streaked window were lots of car lights. People going places. I felt stuck on something.

My counselor was reading my journal entries from the previous week, when he just stopped, looked up at me and asked a question I have hung onto ever since, “Rach, who are you when it’s just you and Jesus?”

That was something I thought about for a very long time—and something I still think about. Weeks later, I was able to tell him that my truest self is who I am on the pages of my journals. The prayers, the stories, the thoughts, the memories on those pages are the realest reflection of my relationship with Jesus.

In response to my answer to his question, he simply told me, “Write. Rachel, write often and much. Put it all down on these pages and pour out your heart to God.”

Over the years, I have continued to pour out the depths of my soul in tight, black letters of ink and smudgy tear spots. And over the years, I have also come to the realization that in some sense, my very life depends on writing. I write to feel, to understand, to live. I write because the deepest places of my heart need Jesus the most. And when the prayers and cries of my heart find their way onto paper, their verbal counterparts seem to be pulled from my lips in audible words to Jesus.

Sometimes, I get too busy, too tired, or too sad to write. Sometimes, I have no energy to give words to the dark, deep places of my soul. But in this bittersweet season of change, I have been compelled to once again take my counselor’s advice from several years ago and simply write.

Write to live. Or rather, write because I desperately need Jesus, because Jesus is life itself.

Who am I?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post based off a quote of Bonhoeffer’s that expressed the turmoil of wondering who he really was—one person says one thing, I feel another. He closed his poem with the simple line—“whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

If I can be gut-wrenchingly honest, I am in this place. The questions swirl though my thoughts, tug on my very soul, and stir the water behind my eyes. I am in a season of transition and change. My heart fully believes that the same God who called me to this previous journey has, again, whispered to my soul that this is the path he is setting before me.

But, goodness, it hurts like a root canal. Incredibly painful while also being incredibly good in the end. Friends, I do not even know who I am anymore. I feel broken beyond words and aged beyond my time. The depths of my soul ache. I hardly know anything anymore, except for these things.

1. God is still God

Even in the pain, the questions, the doubt, God is still the same. He is still reigning and nothing in all creation could ever take him by surprise. Even when we don’t know who we are anymore, he never has that question. Who he was thousands of years ago is who he still is today (Heb. 13:8). The wonder-working God of the Exodus still does miracles today. His arm has not gotten weak, he is not tired, he has not changed (Num. 11:23, Is. 59:1). And when God asked that rhetorical question of Moses all those years ago, the space following should still be filled with a resounding, “No! This God has not changed. He still does all things well—even in brokenness, pain, change, and loss.”

2. Love has a Name

And his name is Jesus. The entire story of the Bible is one of the great love of God to his broken, lost, sinful people. Jesus came to die for us, so we could be with him (2 Cor. 5:18). This God loves us with a love too vast, too deep, too consuming for us to understand. His love is everlasting and will be forever lasting (Jer. 31:3). Nor does it wane with the day-to-day cares of life. In the darkness, his love brings light, hope, and comfort.

3. Jesus won’t break us except to heal us

It could feel like the worst thing to ever happen to you, but Jesus wants you to trust your very breath with him. He will not blow out your flickering candle, even in the bleakest situations of your life. He will make your light shine again—with Him. He may break you, but he will heal you—even if it never looks like what you would have chosen for yourself (Hos. 6:11, Job 5:18). He will carry you in his arms (Is. 41:11) and the very pieces of brokenness will one day sing for joy (Ps. 51:8).

4. God knows who we are, even when we don’t

This is something to rest in. The Potter sees what his piece of clay is turning into, even when the clay is being squished, spun, and burned. We only feel the great pain, the incredible discomfort, and anxious uncertainty in all of it, but God sees our very end from the very beginning. He will finish what he has started in our lives (Phil. 1:6), even when we can’t see where we are going, who we are, or why we’re even here. He knows. Hands of infinite tenderness caress and carry our broken vessels. He is with us. And he knows us intimately.

There is much I do not know about this season of life. But these things I do know: God is still God, he loves us deeply, he will heal our brokenness, and we are completely known. I may not know who I even am anymore, but Jesus still does. He died to make the sadness happy, the confusion clear, the broken whole. This life may split us in two, but Jesus is never divided in his great love for us. This God can be trusted with the questions, the tears, and the change. He will not rip the rug out from under us, except to pull us into his arms.

Who we are—Jesus knows.