Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)
TITLE: Where Bitter Turns to Sweet
By Lisa Lister
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“Just a second.” She gets my father and puts me on speaker phone while I wonder why I made this call. We all know the map of this conversation.
“God has you in a waiting place,” my parents say as I detail my discontent, sense of purposelessness, and latest lamentations.
“I’m stuck,” I complain. “Stuck in my job, stuck in this place, stuck in my life. I keep praying for guidance, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“God has a plan for you,” they assure.
“Well then maybe He should move it along, show me what it is. I can’t take this stress much longer.” Can’t they understand that there has to be more to my life than this?
“Wait and trust in His perfect timing.”
“I’ve waited long enough.”
My final dramatic line in these conversations changes, but the sentiment does not. “I’m not an Israelite; I won’t make it forty years wandering in the dessert.” Or, perhaps, “I do not have the patience of Job.”
What I will not voice is my anger. I am ashamed at its extent but console myself by noting the good company I keep. The Bible is full of stories that ooze acrimony. Esau let loose a bitter cry at learning that Jacob stole his birthright. Jonah is bitter at God’s compassion towards Nineveh and declares himself angry enough to die when God withers his shade vine. Naomi attempts to change her name to Mara—bitter—to reflect her feelings at having left Bethlehem full and returned empty, a condition she blames on the Almighty. I tell myself that even Jesus had his bitter moment in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed an anguished “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” But with this, I know I’ve gone too far. Jesus’ next words prove that while he pleaded with God, he was not bitter (unlike Esau, unlike Jonah, unlike Naomi, unlike me) when he didn’t get his way. “Yet not what I will,” Jesus continued, “but what you will.”
I admire his prayer and repeat it. As I pray for the things I want in my life, pray for a job that will move me closer to my family, pray for guidance and discernment of the paths God wants me to travel, I try to make the words formed on my tongue come from the deepest recess of my heart. But sometimes they tangle and invert, emerge as “not Your will, Father, but mine.” I correct quickly, reversing those two essential pronouns. “Not my will, Father, but thine.” I know which phrase I’m supposed to say; I’m not sure which phrase I mean.
As I struggle to internalize Jesus’ prayer, I mull over the words of the sixth-century monk Dorotheus of Gaza: “Do not wish for everything to be done according to your determination, but wish that it is how it should be, and in this way, you will attain peace…. Believe that everything that happens to us occurs through God’s Providence. Then you will be able to endure everything that comes … without agitation.” I long to be agitation free. I am struck by the idea that peace comes when one accepts that what is happening now, at any given moment, is exactly right because it is of God. It is a big picture way of looking at the world that seeks sanctuary in His master plan.
Lately I have begun to think that what Dorotheus is saying, what Jesus always knew, is that surrender is sweet. I know this because in the rare instance when I fumble everything over to God, I experience peace. My churning ceases. I breath fully, without the air catching right at my heart. In those moments, I understand that surrendering to God’s plan without knowing it, trusting in His timing while not understanding it, accepting His decision without liking it, is the path to where bitter turns to sweet. While I do not often find this place—and certainly do not live there—I creep deliberately towards it. I will know my journey has ended when, regardless of circumstances, “trust in His perfect timing,” spills from my lips and “not my will, Father, but thine” pours from my heart. I will be at rest.
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