Spit out the sour, but hold tight to the berry
Have you ever bit into something expecting one taste and receiving the opposite? It is usually a jolt to the system as our brain processes the abrupt change in expectation. The opposite of sweet is bitter.
My children and I went to the base of Mt. Si outside of Seattle this past summer and picked blueberries. Of course, as we walked along dropping them into our bucket, we would occasionally pop one into our mouths. If a not-yet-ripe berry landed on my tongue, it was quickly spit out by the shocking bitter taste.
I can still remember the tone of my daughters’ voice as she returned home from school to inform me that she was not friends with Stephanie anymore. As she spoke with hot tears in her eyes, I could tell the pain ran deep, but pain is not what came out of her mouth. From her lips came pure venom of the awful person Stephanie was for embarrassing her.
Similarly to a sour berry, when we encounter a bitter experience, we desire to rid ourselves of it, to spit the bitterness out. My own heart has been tattered numerous times as I’ve stepped into relationships not prepared for the bitterness that was waiting. No one enters into friendship with a desire to be hurt, but it happens. Life is messy and relationships are work.
If I know the sweetness of a friend is a gift, do I also comprehend the bitterness of a friend is always a risk? Is my identity grounded in Christ to be able to spit out the bitter while holding onto the friend? Ephesians 3:17 says we are “rooted and grounded in love,” which means when others hurt us, we can know with confidence of Christ’s love for us and act out of His love, instead of reacting in the temporary hurt.
Intentionally authentic relationships are a process and there are a times when the bitterness catches us off guard, an unexpected sour berry amidst an entire good pail. But the pail is not often worth dumping.
Our culture avoids pain at all cost, but some of the greatest joys come after walking through pain with tenderness and vulnerability to find out if there are more good berries in the pail. At times, the entire pail is sour and boundaries need to be set to protect us from more hurt. Other times we need to use discernment as we investigate our own motives and perceptions.
Relationship is worth the risk of temporary pain, and pain should be expected as we tread deeper into others' hearts. Before engaging in deep relational work, examine your own heart, grounding yourself in the truth that you are already loved and complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10). Once Christ’s love for us is established in the depths of our own heart, we are able to step into the messy lives of others and tread into the potential of bitter berries without fear or selfish motivation. And that is where intentionally authentic friendship can begin.