She lost her mother when she was sixteen. Her friends were talking about careers and giggling about boys. Her heart was heavy with the weight of a father to comfort and a family of little boys and girls to raise. She was a girl grieving her mother and yet overnight she had become a mother herself to the little ones.
She shed secret tears over the loss of her “impossible” dreams while she watched her friends achieve theirs effortlessly, painlessly, one by one.
She still dreamed of being a nurse or a teacher – or anything normal – when she fell asleep over her school books, late at night, after a day of cooking and cleaning the house and teaching the little ones.
She was mocked for years for wanting to be a wife and a mother and saying that she didn’t need a career. One by one the girls who mocked her dreams got married and had babies. She knew that she ought to be grateful when the older single women at church started offering her books and prayer and support, but her heart rebelled, screaming that she wasn’t one of them yet.
She fell for him quietly but sincerely, the way a heroine falls for a hero in a Jane Austen novel, over the course of a few weeks and a dinner party and a country dance. Only she didn’t live in a Jane Austen novel. Her world wasn’t governed by a delicate rule of etiquette that informed her, subtly but surely, of his intentions. She gambled her heart on his smile and his words and his character.
She lost her gamble. She lost her heart, too. And the world lost a bit of its beauty and wonder the day she met his chosen bride and discovered that she was a girl ten years younger than her and him and all her dreams.
He came and lived and loved. He spoke words of life. His gave His own life away every day to the poor and outcast and lonely. And now, alone Himself in a dark and silent olive grove, He wrestled in prayer with dread. He knew that He had to die for those He’d come to save.
She thought of Him there, asking that the cup of suffering be removed, but drinking it anyway.
And because He drank His cup of suffering, she raised her cup of suffering to her lips, knowing that the bitterest drops were not as bitter as the bitter drops in His cup. She whispered, like Him, “Not my will, dear Father, but Thine be done and Thine be whatever glory there is in this suffering.”
She tasted the bitter drops on her lips and worried that they might make her heart bitter too.
Some people say that the root of bitterness is unforgiveness. And maybe it is sometimes. But for an older single girl, life can be bitter, even when every careless smile and thoughtless word is forgiven and forgotten. And when life is bitter, well, it’s easy for hearts to be bitter too.
A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly jarred.
I’ve always loved this quote. And I’ve been thinking about it recently. It teaches that bitterness isn’t about our attitudes and our words, but our hearts. If our hearts are bitter, then bitterness will spill in our attitudes and our words when our hearts are jarred by circumstances. If our hearts are sweet, however, then we don’t have to “manage” our attitudes and words to stop bitterness spilling. When we’re jarred by circumstances, sweetness will spill.
So question is, then, how do we keep or make our hearts sweet?
1. Pray for sweetness.
Ask the Lord to take the bitterness in the cup He’s given you to drink and make it sweet for your soul. Ask Him to transform suffering into depth and breadth and mellowness of character. Pray that He will keep and preserve your heart from bitterness.
2. Worship the Lord.
Sing to Him! Sing hymns. Sing choruses. Sing songs that proclaim His love and faithfulness and mercy. I especially love Here is Love and 10,000 Reasons. Worship Him with your everyday life. Live your everyday life for His glory.
3. Preach the truth.
Don’t listen to your heart complaining and doubting and fearing. Preach to your heart. Don’t listen to the twisted, warped lies of the enemy of your soul. Preach to your heart. Preach about the Lord’s faithfulness, preach His truth, preach the dignity and honour and delight of His ways.
4. Look to others.
Hopefully you have friends and mentors who have suffered and endured and won the battle against bitterness. Remember that we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Look to Jesus in Gesthemane. A favourite hero of mine, who loved God through suffering, is C. H. Spurgeon. I’m consistently blessed, as an older single girl, by Colleen Chao’s writings on Becoming Chao. Look to all these others, discover how they defeated (or still strive to defeat) bitterness, emulate their sweetness of heart.
5. Choose sweetness.
I’m not saying that you should choose coyness or weakness or any of the other things that are called “sweet” by society! I’m suggesting that you consider sweetness — sweetness as the opposite of bitterness, of sourness, of unpleasantness — and resolve to choose sweetness over bitterness. Watch your thoughts and words. Choose to think the best of people and speak the best too. Choose gentleness. Choose quietness and trust before God. Choose intentional, tenacious clinging to God when singleness is torture and bitterness feels inevitable. Ask Him for the stamina and strength and sweetness you need so desperately to walk with Him through the wilderness of desire and disappointment and deferred or broken dreams. Choose faith, hope, love…and sweetness.
And may God so bless you that the cup of your heart is brimful of sweetness and spills sweetness for yourself and others with every jar He allows for your good and His glory.