Every Bitter Thing is Sweet


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Yesterday, I sat in a dentist’s waiting room, while the clock ticked two hours past my appointment time. It was packed: at least a dozen people sat waiting, watching TV with Hebrew subtitles, while the dentist punctuated the subdued murmur with repeated cries for his very busy secretary, and I tried not to watch the other video on the wall: the one with the gruesomely fascinating scenes of dental problems and their solutions.

It was not at all where I wanted to be.

I hate even hearing the word “dentist” brought up in conversation. I look the other way if I see the sign for a dentist’s office when I’m out and about. After an unfortunate wisdom tooth extraction where the wonders of modern anesthetic didn’t fully mask the pain, I still battle waves of inordinate fear.

I’m ashamed of my fear. And bewildered by its violence. Why is it that I’m undone by so simple and ordinary a thing as caring for my teeth? Earlier that morning, a friend told me she had never suffered a cavity or needed a filling, in all her 70-something years of life.  I could easily wonder why the One who turned aside the pain, the weakness, and the fear for her, didn’t choose to do the same for me.

But I could also wonder why, on that particular morning, I was rereading Every Bitter Thing is Sweet in preparation for this book review. I could wonder: why did I win the book in a blog giveaway in October, bringing joy into a day where I felt unraveled and unseen? Why did it travel from America in my little brother’s suitcase, which was lost for 13 days, providing the perfect metaphor for the unchanging horizon of my single life, and arriving just when I was desperately hungry for the message it held?

Like me, author Sara Hagerty was not asking “Is God good?” But she needed to know: “Is He good — to me?” The way she longed to have His love for her shouted to the world? The opening of her barren womb.

But in the wait and the pain of this hope deferred for a dozen years, in the shatteringly difficult early days of her marriage, in the wait and pain of the start-and-stop adoption process for her four African children, God made real HIS intense longing to know and be known by her.

Proverbs 27:7 reads,

“The satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to the hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet.”

This book in a nutshell: When life is bitter, when your heart is hungry, look for the sweet!

Does it work?

Yesterday, I sat in the dentist’s chair for an hour with trembling hands and a trusting heart. Instead of inwardly railing against my fate, I asked, “What are You up to, Lord?”

I heard the compassion in the dentist’s voice, and recognized the skill in his hands. I saw the kindness behind the sheaf of red tulips and red and purple anemones sitting in a shaft of sunlight, placed just where each patient would be sure to see it.

And I knew that kindness came from my Heavenly Father.

Could God withhold the thing I long for, long enough for me to recognize my truest hunger, and look around for Him? I believe He can, and does. And I’m beginning to see, bit by tiny bit, that each severe mercy is all mercy when it leads me back to Him.

Sara wrote this book so we too might seek and find the goodness of God in all things. It’s not just for the infertile, the adopting, or those with unexpected storms in their marriage. I’ve seen it encourage the single, the painfully single-again, the 30-something newlywed whose waiting has not stopped, but only wears a different face.

This book? It’s not all about waiting and bitterness and pain. It’s about the audacious bravery of continuing to hope, no matter how long the wait. It’s about tasting God’s goodness in pain, and experiencing His miraculous answers.

I really hope you’ll give it a read! It’s short and very sweet.


  1. Seeing the goodness of the Lord in the pain – yes. There have been quite a few times, and usually His goodness comes to me in the form of friends who help carry my burdens during dark times when I just cannot bear any more.

  2. Oh, how I need this beautiful book. I’ve admired it from afar for months now but haven’t had the courage to begin. I know it will speak to my deepest hurts, and let’s be honest: sometimes it’s difficult to begin. Thank you for the chance to win it. Blessings.

  3. I’d love to read this book 🙂

  4. Wow, this is hard to put in just a few words. Though there are always many who are experiencing more, I have had a great share of pain in the past three years. Physical pain, primarily, and also some emotional. The beauty of going through a painful time is that God draws near. I am so blessed to know God in an incredibly deep way that I might not have ever known had not the Lord broken me so completely and daily that I was and am forced to depend on Him. That’s a beautiful place to be.

  5. I have felt God’s goodness in the pain of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. I painfully learned how to surrender and trust God through the difficult times and know this time of struggle brought much fruit in me from Him. He helped me breathe, love, learn how to speak again and comforted me to keep walking and trusting. He still does.

  6. I have a copy of this, but I’d love to give a copy to my friend who has had two miscarriages (one very recently), and she’s really struggling. I’d love to share Sara’s story with her.

  7. “Is He good — to me?” I’ve been asking that question over and over. Everyone else is singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” when their dreams are granted. I’m trying to sing it through tears, often as one joy after another disappears. Hope was at its lowest ebb last summer (at least, I sure hope it was the lowest — this morning person can’t take that many more sunrises she wishes not to see, mornings where she wishes for night.) As I watch others’ dreams come true and prayers be granted, I’ve kept trying to preach and sing the truth to myself. Surely it will eventually catch an answering resonance in my heart and life. . .

  8. I’ve heard this book recommended many times and would love to read it!

    This is a small thing, but I saw God’s goodness in the midst of “pain” yesterday. My life has been so overwhelmingly busy lately, and that, while not a physial pain, is pretty crippling to me. Yesterday I was feeling discouraged and then heard a song by Tenth Avenue North called “Don’t Stop the Madness.” The chorus says:

    Don’t stop the madness
    Don’t stop the chaos
    Don’t stop the pain surrounding me
    Do whatever it takes, Lord,
    To break my heart
    And bring me down to my knees

    And I was reminded in that moment that God is good and that He does have a plan and although I’m not promised “easy,” He has promised to be with me, and He will use my difficulties for His purposes!

  9. I would LOVE this book! I know the way God provides feasts in the wilderness or places of famine. He does it all the time while I live in a foreign country far from family and old friends. I want to never forget His generosity!

  10. This book has been on my “to read” list since before it came out! I love hearing stories of others who have experienced sweetness in the midst of bitter circumstances. There is so much encouragement in the Christian community that comes from knowing others have persevered and seen God’s goodness through those kinds of experiences.

  11. My favorite words here are, “It’s about the audacious bravery of continuing to hope, no matter how long the wait. It’s about tasting God’s goodness in pain, and experiencing His miraculous answers.” Y.e.s.

  12. Samantha R says:

    How I would love to read this book! 🙂
    One thing that God has continually done for me in the midst of pain is give me an encouraging word (or two!) from a friend who has been there and suffered far more than I have ever suffered. He continually reminds me that I am not alone and that is so comforting.

  13. This sounds like a book that NEEDS to be on my bookshelf;)

  14. Oh, I’ve heard so many good things about this book and would love to read it! For me, whenever I feel down and hopeless about my singleness, God reminds me through some beautiful way – a thoughtful friend or family member, a verse He brings to mind, or even time to spend alone with Him – that He is good and kind and all I need.

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