"I tried coffee for the first time... hated it, but loved the idea of bitter. Tried bitter gourd... hated it, but loved the idea of loving it... Don't be afraid to be an unforgettable taste." ~ Rukmini Kalamangalam, poet.
In September of 2015, my friend, Charlotte, and I attended the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, DC for the first time. The festival moved indoors into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center that year instead of being held outdoors on the National Mall as was the tradition in years prior. I was disappointed that the festival wouldn't be outside in such an iconic setting until I woke up that morning and looked at the weather forecast which promised a hot, muggy day.
We spent most of our day wandering around the convention center in awe of the sheer number of books, authors and bibliophiles assembled in one place. Book signings were going on non-stop by authors such as, Buzz Aldrin, Kate DiCamillo, David Baldacci, David McCullough, John Riordan, Bryan Stevenson, Al Roker, Marilynne Robinson, Tom Brokaw, and literally hundreds more. Our favorite part of the festival, however, came later in the day in a smaller room with a simpler stage.
The Youth Poetry Slam brought accomplished teenage poets from big cities across the United States to a single stage at the Festival to share their original memorized spoken word pieces with a standing room only crowd, to be judged by the U.S. National Poet Laureate. There was much cheering, snapping (that's the thing to do at a poetry slam, don't ya know) and encouragement throughout. The line quoted at the top of this post came from my favorite entry of the night. "I tried coffee for the first time... hated it, but loved the idea of bitter."
Five years have passed since I heard that teenage girl from Houston, with roots in India, utter two sentences about how part of growing up, for her, was loving the idea of loving something bitter. I can't forget it. It resonates with me, both literally and figuratively. Several years ago, I read a book titled, "Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things," by Sara Hagerty. The title comes from Proverbs 27:7, "A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet."
Have you ever had a hungry soul? Do you have one now? A hungry soul can be prompted by the realization that earthly life is unsatisfying, or worse yet, cruel and painful. It can come about because of loss. Hunger can arise after a lengthy loneliness or unfulfilled longing. Whatever it is that awakens a previously "satisfied" soul to its hunger pangs, we can be grateful for it. Our souls were never meant to be satisfied by earthy things, for our souls themselves are made for another world. It is when we bump up against the limits of this world that the ache/hunger in our souls returns - and that is not a bad thing.
If we are wise, we will let this ache drive us straight to God through the scriptures and prayer and sacrificial living that pours forth from our urgency, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The things that undo us, God can use to rebuild us, if we allow Him to. And thus, the cursory quiet time, duty-bound offerings of service to others, the lackluster prayers can be transformed by our hunger and thirst for what the world cannot offer, and we will be transformed as a result.
Growing up spiritually, for me, has included less and less of an aversion to the bitter things of life. I still recoil at injustice and death, I still balk at broken relationships and conflict, but I've seen too much and I know too much of our God to believe that the story ends there. I know from personal experience the miracles that can arise from ashes and the sweetness that can come when the hardships of life stir my hunger for eternity and its author in new ways, and the changes in my soul which only seem to be fertilized and catalyzed by what my mind calls bitter.
I don't know what 2021 holds, but I pray that I will allow every bitter thing to be sweet, for He can make it so.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!