Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting The Goodness Of God In All Things ,by Sara Hagerty
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan Press in exchange for an honest review.]
A book like this demonstrates a few important truths when it comes to writing deeply personal memoirs about longing. The most basic of those truths is that it is much easier and more satisfying to complete a book like this when the longing that prompted it has been fulfilled. Yet that places the author, ironically, in the position of so many people who hurt her while she was impatiently waiting for the longing of her heart to be fulfilled, because she is on the other side. Even after a decade of waiting for her womb to bear fruit and to no longer be barren, she is still on the other side of longing from those who still remain in that longing, and all of the author’s passionate and honest discussion of how much she suffered in agony while waiting for God to grant her a child, even leading her and her longsuffering husband Nate to adopt four African children from difficult backgrounds does not stop the reader from reflecting that the sweetness of God’s love for us can only be understood after it is seen, not while one is waiting through the long dark night of the soul.
The book itself takes its title from Proverbs 27:7, describing the adoration and longing for God that comes through being a hungry soul. The author herself appears to be a complicated person, full of tensions and layers, simultaneously longing for love and affection and pulling away at the same time and being particularly prickly and difficult to manage, lashing out with harsh words. Not surprisingly, her adopted children, with abandonment issues and their own struggles, have the same sort of ambivalence in their lives. The author expresses a close love for her father, who appears to have been a brave and immensely courageous man, but there appears to have been a disconnect in the relationship between the author and her mother that made it difficult for her to bond with her own husband and children and that drove her to prayer and to therapy. The book as a whole is an emotional rollercoaster of sensitivity and the emotional distance and control that people often respond to in order to prevent others from easily seeing just how sensitive one is. A lot of people will be able to relate to the narrative of the author’s use of projects and devotion to service as a way of dealing with her internal emotional suffering and frustrated longings.
Although every chapter of the book includes a list of scriptures for personal Bible study on the part of the reader, and the book itself contains quite a few scriptural citations and reflections, the book itself is largely an emotional appeal written by women for women about women. It discusses the life of a wife of a man who is imperfect but certainly persistent in wooing and sticking with his wife and in seeking to overcome his own blunders as a businessman and who has some decisiveness in his own character, and it also talks about the pain of baby showers and the inadvertently hurtful things that people say to those who are suffering. It also contains striking and powerful insights from someone whose desire to communicate trumped awkwardness and discomfort to create a work that is deeply personal and lovely in a melancholy way. Most people who read it will find a few quotes that resonate with them, and enough to think about to help readers relate to their own longings for God and that they wish God to answer to. Occasionally, the author even lets her own guard down to talk about her own hurts from her adopted children, as here on page 169: “No one wiped your tears, little girl, when they were innocent. And here they are now, aged but not mature. Though it appeared that only Africa’s dust received your pain, wet and crude, there was Another, bottling each drop . Someone saw you.” If only all longings could be so elegantly expressed, and so mercifully answered by Our Father above.