“Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness. Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands.”
– Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
Friends. Something horrific happened. On Wednesday night, I shockingly found and angrily plucked a gray hair out of my head. I AM TWENTY-FOUR YEARS OLD. Barely 24, at that. I am not the premature silver fox American Idol winner of 2006. I looked in the mirror in disbelief and thought, most assuredly, in all of my human vanity and ego, that this early-to-the-party gray hair was quite possibly the worst thing to ever happen to me.
Okay, reality check. I was grumpy for about two minutes before my brain settled with my soul. I had one gray hair, and my mom told me some time ago that if you pluck it, it will just grow back anyway, those pesky little things. This gray hair, though rogue and acting out alone, was a reminder that I’m changing each day, growing older each minute, despite my youth and my false sense of invincibility that everyone has in their twenties.
Last night, I finished the book Bittersweet: Thoughts on Grace, Change, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist, with tears in my eyes and a new-found resolve in my heart. I’ve been reading Shauna’s devotional for the past few months, and I knew I just needed more of her wisdom, perspective, and relatable anecdotes. I devoured it over the past week, frequently nudging Chad or running down to the living room to tell him: “Babe! I have to read this paragraph to you!” And he loved it too, because each sentence brought hope and power and a lot of laughs, sometimes a tear. It rocked. my. world.
I won’t spoil it for you, but I will tell you that if you’re like me, and sometimes wrestle with how you can be both joyful and sorrowful at the same time, going through a hard season but celebrating the day-to-day, or if you’re faced with questions about the future and exactly what your purpose in this big, bad world: run like Forrest Gump to the library or the nearest Barnes & Noble and get your hands on this baby. It was everything I’ve been needing to hear for years. I don’t know where you are in this season: studying or working, single or married, painfully waiting or gratefully celebrating, joyful or sorrowful, maybe a little bit of both. But I’m willing to bet that like me, you’re a little scared of the change that always seems to be happening in life, never slowing down, the inevitability of going through tough seasons of refinement.
The bitter and the sweet in life is something beautiful. I’ve got ugly calluses on my hands that are so rough and cracked, I consider the day a win if I didn’t have to shake hands with anyone at work. But, these ugly rips are from something challenging I’ve been pursuing lately: gripping bars, lifting weights, struggling through pullups. It’s not a pretty sight, on my hands, or watching me flail on the gymanstics bar – and I’m not very confident about it. It’s a painful, refining season of learning something new. But the beautiful thing is that I’m trying something new, out of my comfort zone, fighting to get stronger on the inside and the out. It’s both ugly and beautiful at the same time. Change always seems to be that way, doesn’t it?
And folks, call me a walking anti-aging cream commercial, but I’ve got some early lines on my face. Two tiny worry lines between my eyes, from years persistent anxiety, doubt, and fear. But you know what? I don’t scrunch my face so much these days. I’ve been overcoming that crippling worry over the past few years and I’m living with a little more peace and faith each day. Ugly lines, beautiful story. Bitter, and yet so sweet.
On Wednesday night, after my brief and vain wallowing was over, it dawned on me that this gray hair was kind of a gift. One teeny, tiny, reminder of the slow and gradual change that’s taking place, when every thing around it looks exactly the same. When it grows back, like my mom swore that it will, I might not pluck it. I might just let it stay. Because that’s kind of how life is, isn’t it? We can try to fight the change, try to outrun and ignore the messy parts of our life – but we’ll always come back to it again, being molded and shaped, with change over time, into exactly who we were designed to be.
I just might be thankful for that rebel gray hair after all. A picture of constant grace, inevitable change and learning the hard way to see the good in all of it.