I recently heard a saying in Arabic: ‘Yom asal, yom basal’, which means ‘One day honey, one day onions’ and speaks of the bittersweet quality of life. Last week, I was bitter during a very sweet spring break vacation. It was a trip filled with both joy and pain.
On Saturday a week ago, I was standing in the driveway of our vacation rental house watching an ambulance drive away with my husband in the back. We had just arrived in Florida after a two-day road trip. The sun was warm on my face, I could hear throaty frogs in the pond and mourning doves cooing. My boys were swimming in a lovely heated pool with their cousins. And yet bitterness flooded my heart.
Why now? God, how could you let him hurt his back? This was supposed to be a much-needed week of rest and play. I was angry with God, and I was afraid of what was happening.
Jamie had injured his back, and we didn’t know the extent. Would it mean back surgery in Walton County? Or just a vacation full of pain and meds? Mercifully, it turned out to be the latter. After a day and night in the hospital, he was able to come home to the rental house and enjoy parts of the vacation despite being laid up with a severely herniated disc.
I was bitter about it. (Jamie probably was too, although he seemed to have a better attitude than I did). I also relished the sweet moments of mercy that I knew were God’s presence and provision in the midst of my fear. I was angry at God that we were driving home from the hospital at 2AM on strange, dark country roads, and at the same time I was grateful to God for every green light that minimized our time in the car. I was bitter that Jamie had to be on so much medication, and yet so grateful for the pain relief that enabled us to get him into the rental house on his own two feet. I was angry at God and clinging to God at the same time.
Can you relate to this paradox? Bitter and sweet at the same time?
The illustration of this paradox to me was the image of the Walton County ambulance parked beside our minivan with its cartop carrier full of golf clubs, tennis rackets, footballs, frisbees, boogie boards, and sand shovels. Jamie’s new mountain bike (not yet ridden!) was standing by for a week of fun.
We did have some fun. Jamie did not ride that mountain bike, but each day held some fun memories. We played games, we ate seafood, the boys boogie-boarded in the waves and caught crabs.
The Arabic phrase I mentioned earlier literally means “one day honey, one day onions,” but I think it would be more accurate (if less poetic) to say something like “most days, you will have an onion in one hand and a bowl of honey in the other.” Life is bitter and it is also sweet, at the very same time.
We had to decide: how much bitterness is going to infuse this vacation, versus how much sweet? Will we allow ourselves to enjoy sunshine and fun, or will we allow bitterness, fear, and anxiety to infuse all of it?
I think that joy and pain are in constant dynamic tension. It is not an either/or, it is a both/and.
I have been reading Tsh Oxenreider’s book Bitter & Sweet throughout lent. She talks about making the practice of Lent more meaningful by not just doing away with something but by adding a corresponding good throughout the 46 days. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. Ash—literally the bitterness of death, the idea of something being fallen and temporary, all the way to feasting and the goodness of God. The brokenness and pain is true, and so is the feasting and the very real joy of Easter.
The truth is that we can hold both joy and pain at the same time. It is a dynamic tension in a broken world that will always be there. Something will always be broken, but we will always have hope in God’s promises being fulfilled.
Do you ever feel like it’s not ok to feel joy because other people (or you) are suffering? Or do you ever try to put on a joyful face and ignore your own suffering because “others have it so much worse than I do?”
What small joy can you celebrate today, even as we observe Good Friday?
I need Thee every hour
In joy or pain
Come quickly and abide
Or life is vain.
I need Thee, oh I need TheePartial lyrics , hymn by Annie S. Hawks, “I need Thee every hour” written April, 1872
Every hour I need Thee
Oh bless my now my Savior,
I come to Thee.”
Check out this beautiful song for Good Friday, referenced in Oxenreider’s book: “Last Words” by Andrew Peterson