by Dale Reeves
Last Saturday as I walked out of my house wearing navy blue suit pants and a white dress shirt, while carrying my suit coat and tie, my next-door neighbor who was mowing his lawn inquired, “Wedding or funeral?” That day it happened to be a wedding on a gorgeous sunny day, but just a few weeks ago, it was an out-of-town funeral for a friend of mine. Those two events are among the only times in which one might see me wearing my “marrying and burying suit.”
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in several of these rites of passage, and one day while I was in the baking aisle of the grocery a thought about these occurred to me. It has to do with things that are sweet, semisweet, and bittersweet.
Our God created us with the capacity to joyfully celebrate the relationships we enjoy on this earth as well as deeply mourn and grieve the losses that come into our lives. Some of these things are very sweet, some are just plain sour, and some are semisweet or bittersweet. The fact that we are in the autumn season, a time when we enjoy all kinds of sweets, dispensing candy to children in costume, and my opportunity for acquiring OMC (old man candy) my grandkids don’t like, may also have me thinking about all things chocolate.
According to Webster’s dictionary, bittersweet is defined as “pleasure accompanied by suffering or regret; being at once bitter and sweet.” Bittersweet chocolate chips contain little sugar. Semisweet chocolate chips are “slightly sweetened.” I do know that when your wife sends you to the baking supplies aisle at the grocery, you have choices when it comes to chocolate chips—dark, bittersweet, semisweet, or milk—and you better get the right one! Just like apples, some chocolate chips are good for baking and some are good for eating right out of the bag.
Sometimes it just depends on how hungry you are. King Solomon wisely states, “A person who is full refuses honey, but even bitter food tastes sweet to the hungry” (Proverbs 27:7, NLT).
We need to know the difference spiritually as well. The prophet Isaiah warns us with these words, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20, ESV).
In my training as a grief recovery method specialist, I learned that when coping with the loss of someone in a person’s life, most people tend to lean toward one of two extremes: enshrinement or bedevilment. In an attempt to be accepted and appear “recovered,” some grievers focus only on fond memories of the deceased. In the mind of the griever, the person who has died could do no wrong. You’ve probably never been to a funeral in which someone got up and told stories about what an awful person the deceased was. We tend to hear only the best about the “dearly departed angel.” No one wants to think that their loved one went to Hell, but rather that they are in Heaven, “looking down on me now.”
On the other hand, when a griever “bedevils” the one who has passed away, the person has a litany of complaints detailing a lifetime of mistreatment. And, if the griever just wants to cling to the negative aspects of one’s life and is unwilling to let go of disappointments and anger, recovery will be a very difficult process.
The truth is that neither extreme is helpful. All relationships include both positive and negative interactions. None of us are either one hundred percent perfect or evil. We all have wonderful traits about us and some other traits, or character flaws, we wish weren’t evident. If you are currently in a season of grieving some kind of loss in your life (a death, a divorce, a job loss, disability, etc.), I would encourage you to be completely honest in your reflection, while leaning into the best memories, not the worst ones.
You may be a fan of “Sour Patch Kids,” “Cherry Sours,” or “WarHeads” candy, but I don’t know anyone who wants their life to be full of nothing but sour experiences. But some things in life are just sour, aren’t they? They can cause us to be depressed, and they can cause us to mourn. This past Sunday our senior minister, Brad Wilson, preached on Jesus’ beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NIV). If you missed that teaching, you can check it out here.
From time to time, we all must taste of those sour experiences that interrupt our lives. We experience trials, pain, suffering, heartache, sickness, and death. It’s all part of the imperfect world in which we live. In those difficult times, remember that you are not alone. God knows something about grief. He created this emotion, and even allowed his Son to experience it. Jesus grieved over the death of his close friend Lazarus; he grieved over people like the rich young ruler who learned the cost of following after him and chose to walk the other way; and he grieved over the city of Jerusalem because of unbelief, rejection, and the coming destruction of that holy city.
So, when you are going through a sour patch in your life, give yourself permission to grieve. Be honest with God and with others as you go through tough times. God will make a way and will walk with you through your loss and grief, and the sour experience doesn’t have to turn you into a sour person the rest of your life. I don’t know anyone who wants to be around sour people. We can tolerate it some with people we care about, but a constant sourpuss is no fun for anyone to be around for long. Lean into God’s goodness as you walk through tough times.
Just the other day as I offered to pick up something sweet for a friend of mine as we met for a counseling session, he said, “Thanks, I appreciate the offer, but I’ve been eating too many sweets recently.” That’s not the case with God. When we’re talking about our journey with him, you can’t get “too much of a good thing.”
In the last book of the Bible, we read from the apostle John’s vision:
“Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: ‘Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. ‘Yes, take it and eat it,’ he said. ‘It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!’ So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach” (Revelation 10:8-10, NLT).
The contents of the small scroll would have to become part of John’s very life and being so that he could pass on its message. Because it is God’s message, he finds it sweet at first, but when he understands the judgments in the final days that it reveals, he finds it bitter or unpleasant, and he won’t have joy in announcing the contents of the scroll. But for those who put their faith and trust in Jesus as Lord, God’s Word and his promises are always sweet, and they have nothing to fear in the future.
After escaping a life-threatening situation, King David penned these words:
“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, NLT).
Now, that Scripture verse is saweeet!! According to the Urban Dictionary, “Saweeet indicates a divine and jaw-dropping exciting moment or something to come. Saweeet comes from the droolingly-fond memory of the past (or the future), therefore, ‘So sweet’ becomes ‘saaa-weet’!”
Some things on this earth are just sweet, like the gifts that our heavenly Father showers on us every day. But the joys that we experience on this planet are nothing compared to the glory we will experience with God forever in Heaven.
“The sour times that we experience in this life now are nothing compared to the sweetness he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18, Reeves paraphrase).
Meanwhile, if you want to experience some of the sugary goodness that God has for us in the church today, I invite you to our upcoming “Glow with God” event coming up October 22. Wanna get a taste of what will happen on this sweet night? Check this out: Glow with God event! Hope to see you there!