We’ve been in a season for a while now where it feels like everyone and their dog is either having a baby, trying to have a baby, talking about trying to have a baby, or bringing their newly adopted baby home from wherever. These seasons come in waves it feels like. Sometimes no one is pregnant and sometimes everyone is. Sometimes new life is every place we go and sometimes it just isn’t. These seasons are fun. New life is exciting. Getting surprised by friends as they tell you they’re pregnant is the best. Walking with friends as they adopt and then actually meeting (or seeing pictures of) that little person everyone has been praying for is a moment for the books. Holding sweet little people who made your friends parents is kind of really awesome. Celebrating with your people is a sweet thing. It’s always sweet.
In the midst of all that sweetness though, sometimes it can feel really bitter too. Wanting a family and not having one yet is really hard. It’s just hard. That’s all.
I’m coming out of a phase where I ugly cried a lot in the name of celebration, good things and exciting news. Bittersweet cries are a weird thing. I ugly cried in my car, in the shower, under my covers, at my kitchen table, and in many a bathroom stall. I ugly cried at church on Father’s Day and couldn’t leave the service because it hit me during the prayer. The pastor had asked all the dads to stand and I think every single dad in the place was sitting on our row. KILL ME. I ugly cried on a walk once. I also had a thing for a while where I would accidentally ugly cry while I was running. Just for the record, doing both is hard. It’s kind of like sneezing while brushing your teeth. It’s not impossible but it just isn’t going to end well.
Watching other people get what you want but don’t have yet. It’s the hard stuff of life, y’all. It’s just simply bittersweet.
Over the summer I read Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. It literally breathed new life into my hurting soul. Her words were like salve on my freshly battered heart. The prologue made me sob. I wasn’t even one page in and I had to put the book down in order to get myself together. Shauna knows loss and grief. She knows joy after loss. She knows change. She knows wanting but not having yet. She knows getting. She knows the trenches. She knows celebrating. She knows life that is good and life that is hard. She knows Jesus in the midst of it all. She knows. She gets it.
She doesn’t offer words of sympathy or pity for those of us feeling the bittersweet. She doesn’t try to fix it or find a silver lining for the bittersweet. Instead, she just acknowledges it. She names it. She calls it what it is. Because sometimes life is bitter. Sometimes life is really sweet. Sometimes it’s both. That’s all there is to it. She gives you permission to simply feel it, to feel the bittersweet parts of life. Permission to feel with no strings attached, no at least this or at least that, no in God’s timing or God has a plan (Because saying that is a load of crap. If you stop saying anything to hurting people, it should be this one. I’m convinced humans have no business telling each other what God’s plans are for their lives). That kind of permission does wonders for souls. That kind of permission is what heals.
The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness.
Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy.
So this is the work I’m doing now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.
To my people who are here (for whatever reason): stay here for a minute. Feel it, feel the bittersweet. Keep celebrating. Keep ugly crying. You won’t always ugly cry, I promise. When life is bittersweet, call it that. Name it. There is freedom in naming things. Surround yourself with people who can handle the bittersweet. The people who can love you during the bittersweet, I believe they will get a special crown in heaven. I do. Drop the people who can’t (for now). They’re the worst. The people who offer pity, silver linings, and sentences about God’s will and timing for your life? Smile, say a cuss in your head (if you’re into that), and let them go in one ear and out the other. And then have a glass of wine. Because they don’t have a clue. Sometimes life is really bitter. Sometimes life is really sweet. But sometimes it’s both. And that’s totally okay.