‘What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.’
I have moments where – if I let myself – I could really indulge in bitterness. All the things that weren’t. Things that didn’t happen. Prayers that (apparently) weren’t answered. Events which made no sense. Slights. Betrayals. Wrongdoing. Wasted youth. Lost years. Poor choices.
But to what end?
I walk around fighting the temptation to put just one toe in that bitter river even when experience shows me that with just the briefest dip the current could whisk me fully immersed miles downstream with no way to get back. Because that river is not my friend. Once you’re in you’re no longer in control, the river is. And its course is a never ending loop.
Bitterness is like anxiety. There is no limit to how far it can go. New examples, new material, new justifications come spinning toward you at the speed of light, dizzying you into surrender. And every justification appears completely plausible.
It would just be so easy to start.
Much as one thinks indulging it might help (along with wine, chocolate and a sympathetic friend) no bitter reflection brings life because – how could it? It’s all based on a past which can never be changed. Bitterness binds you to what has already been. No different choices can be made now, all the horses have bolted. No greater insight now will make a blind bit of difference to what happened then.
Bitterness isn’t a road to nowhere, it’s not even a road. You feel bitter where you are, bitterness can’t take you anywhere else. And that ‘world of speculation’ TS Eliot wrote about is, after all, no real world at all.
So how can one resist the rising temptation of bitterness? Will it work perhaps just trying not to be bitter? Just leaving the ravaged ground of one’s heart alone?
But the ground won’t remain empty. Neglected ground grows weeds and weeds grow fast where nothing impedes them. Their roots grow deep and their shoots multiply. Even become pretty. But they are still weeds no matter how they appear, their roots are bitter and they’re taking over. They are choking whatever life there is left, from the good that is designed to come next; claiming territory by force and numbers.
So we can’t just leave the ground of our hearts alone, nature abhors a vacuum and the aggressive will fill it first.
I cannot wait for someone/something else to fill the vacuum of my heart. In the waiting the temptation to look back will be almost overwhelming. Liquid bitterness could seep into the cracks of a broken heart and drown me. And I will have done nothing to stop it.
Newton discovered that ‘To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.’
My resistance to bitterness must be in the opposite direction to my circumstances.
In response to the ripping out of my old life, I must sow back in. I must BE proactive and DO something.
I must choose the right kind of life to sow back into my heart. Life that brings life, and light, and hope, and a remembrance of the nature of God and his faithfulness.
So instead of doing nothing, I went to the garden store and bought loads of plants. It felt so good to get my hands in the soil. To pull out from the root weeds that had sneakily tried to take hold. To fork over and aerate the earth. To soak it with water and sow new life.
It felt so good to work on something creative. To create new life while I await the new life being created around me daily as I walk forward. Be it writing or painting or cooking or singing or making jewellery or sewing or photographing something beautiful.
So I shall clothe myself with grace and throw a blanket of grace over all the things I cannot change. All those things that have already gone down and can never be changed.
And when I focus on sowing something new into my heart, I cannot look at the toxic flow of that old river. I cannot even see it.
All is not lost.