Bittersweet

Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Way

Many of you know that this past year has been one filled with a lot of change. And for someone who tries to shy away from change at all cost, it has certainly been an ongoing process of learning how to accept and even embrace it. I am firm believer that we cannot qualify and quantify change. Change is change in whatever form it takes. Moving to a new city. Losing a job or starting another. Having a child or going back to school. Getting married. Ending a relationship or starting to date.  For some what may feel invigorating and exciting for others feels overwhelming and downright frightening. It doesn’t help to compare and size up whose change is bigger or harder. I have learned sometimes it’s just better to acknowledge it for what it is: Change.

I recently finished Shauna Niequist’s new book Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Way. With an honesty and vulnerability that is rare to find, she shares how struggle, pain and dark places can lead to something beautiful. Shauna doesn’t give cliche answers or simplistic solutions. Instead she writes about stories and people and the process that we must go through to begin to see how “loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.”

The Gift

When I was in college (at the same place where Shauna studied) one of my favorite English professors always asked us at the start of class, “Ok, what’s the gift from this text?” The gift of Bittersweet is that Shauna names what for many of us is so hard to name. She gives faces and stories to describe the feelings, the situations, and the things that seem hardest to admit.

This is one of my favorite passages as she reflects honestly on her longing to become pregnant and the process of waiting:

“I know that most of us are longing for something…I know people who are longing to marry, who are longing to be healed from disease, longing for their children to come home, longing for the financial pressure to release. I get that longing is part of how we live….
“That’s why its hard, I think, to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I love that line from the Bible, but it’s so incredibly difficult sometimes, because when you’ve got reason to rejoice, you forget what it’s like to mourn, even if you swear you never will….[so] I’ll celebrate with my friends. I’ll hold their babies, buy baby gifts, ask them what’s it’s like for them and really listen to the answer. I’ll do it because it’s the right thing to do, and because I can’t ask them to mourn with me unless I’m willing to celebrate with them, as deeply painful as it is on some days. And my friends have done it for me, certainly; they stood in my wedding when they wanted to be brides, brought shower gifts when they wanted to be mothers. No one is exempt from the longing, and now, it seems, it’s my turn.”

Throughout Bittersweet Shauna creatively weaves in spices and flavors and colors that season every essay and remind us that life is meant to be tasted and savored, even when it is hard. She does not promise us some sugar coated recipe for life, but rather a beautiful description how we need both: the sweet and the bitter in order to grow.

FREE copy of Bittersweet

I consider finding free things to be one of my hobbies. And now you get to benefit because  you have the chance to get a FREE copy of Bittersweet. Here’s how it works:

1) Leave a comment on this post about a change in your life that was either bitter or sweet, or maybe both.

2) Then I will chose one winner and email you to get your mailing address.

3) Shauna’s publisher will send you a FREE signed copy of the book. Not a bad deal, huh? : ) You have until midnight on Wednesday, November 10th.


(you can find out more about this wonderful author and her upcoming events at her blog: http://www.shaunaniequist.com/
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12 thoughts on “Bittersweet

  1. Michelle- what a fabulous review. I just finished reading Bittersweet, and I too loved the book. In fact, I’m leaving a comment because I actually gave my copy to a friend, and I’d like to win a new copy to keep. 🙂

    To answer your question: a change in my life that was bitter was the process of leaving college. I remember moving from a house full of girls to a studio apartment. Living alone after such a full season was, to put it bluntly, awful. Actually- I think that was the summer we were at Lindamood Bell together! That was a tough summer for me.

  2. I think most changes in life are bitter and sweet. I remember my job change…. closer to family, more continuing education offered… but less pay, loss of friends, loss of ministry.

    My singleness is very bittersweet. I don’t have children nor a mate, but I do have independence.

    The bitter and the sweet have different components, but are all apart of my journey, and really a window to who I am as a person and my relationship with God.

  3. I’d say we are in both a bitter and sweet change as we search for a new church home. We didn’t see ourselves on this journey, but here we are. It’s a bit of a relief knowing where we’re not supposed to be, but it’s really hard to not ‘belong’ anywhere. It’s lonely. But we continue on and trust God for the results even if we don’t understand the why. One thing I’m thankful for during this time is that where we live, there is not a lack of choices! 🙂
    (w.michigan)

    Blessings to you

  4. My parents got divorced when I was three. That was a change, but one I could do nothing about. The real sweet change, that God helped me see, is that I need to forgive my mom even if I don’t feel like it. I was very bitter at her for leaving my dad, for moving so far that my time on a Greyhound Bus, travelling back and forth between parents could be measured in days, for never, to this day, asking for forgiveness. But bitterness just eats away at my heart. Forgiveness mends it. That is wonderful change.

  5. In my life I met the man of my dreams in 2007, we married 3 months later and now have 2 beautiful little girls. What is bittersweet is that I also have a 13 yr old daughter who lost contact with her dad when I got married. Even though she is probably better off since he wasnt that great of a dad, it still hurts me as a mother that he would rather have no relationship with her if I am to be happy. So in finding my soulmate and living the life I always wanted with a man I am so happy with, my daughter lost her father. Its sad, and yet bittersweet. Sometimes I truly believe we are all better off without him. But my heart breaks for her.

  6. Just saw this tweeted by Shauna herself! So jealous. Too bad I already own my copy- sitting next to my bed in Haiti.

  7. I experienced several major changes in early 2005. After much heartache, I dissolved my marriage to a man who wasn’t right for me. We shared ownership in a software company that I founded; his best friend was a business client who committed fraud and dragged me into litigation as a defendant. I spent $10k / month on legal fees to defend my innocence. In order to get out of litigation, I claimed bankruptcy on the software corporation after 5 successful years. To pay the mortgage, I went back to work in corporate america. My life totally shifted. I went from being a married woman who owns a business to being a divorced woman working for the man. It took me a long time to climb out of that mental anguish of failing in marriage and in business. This was a time of great learning and I’ve become that much stronger and full of grace for that reason.

  8. Wow, this last year returning from the mission field on top of the world to face a complete change of lifestyle, including unemployment was bittersweet.. I spent months looking for a full-time job, a place where I could feel like I was accomplishing something for the Kingdom work God showed me while I was abroad. God was always close (the sweet part), but he kept saying, “wait on me” (the bitter part). After almost a year of floundering I can now look back and see how sweet my life is now and even how sweet it was then- so much free time!. I miss the life I had abroad traveling and ministering full-time, but I know God has sweet plans for me here and now!:)

  9. What a great post, Michelle. I feel like even though I’m a “thirty-something” with a husband and 3 kids, we are walking a similar journey. And I think that is exactly what Shauna refers to. I am in a “bitter” spot, for lack of a better word, and longing for the sweet (aunque hay demasiado azucar aca). Leaving family, friends, beauty to come to the 2nd biggest city in Argentina to work among the poor who speak a language that me cuesta mucho has been the biggest bittersweet time of my life. And I don’t say that lightly.
    PS I’m totally not assuming I’d “win” this contest – I’ve never entered one before! – but unless the author/publisher would like to send me a free book via kindle, the mail service here in Argentina is unreliable, expensive, y no vale la pena.

  10. Dear Readers, Wow. I am so inspired by the honesty and authenticity of your responses. Thank you! It’s hard to chose one (so I chose two!) The winner is….(drum roll please)

    Lived in Wien!

    Congrats. Please send me an email at michelle@simplycomplicated.me with your mailing address and your book will be on its way!

    And Krista, you’re the honorable mention winner! An electronic copy is coming to an inbox near you : )

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