A Bittersweet Hope


‘Having is hope feels so bitter yet also so sweet at times.’

That’s what my husband said one evening after we had finished rounds and made our way up to the roof with cheap cans of cold Chinese beer in hand.  We leaned over the concrete wall, peering down into the streets below in silence as we watched mopeds and cars zip by.

We had lost another kid that day, one of the orphan children who had been in our care, and found ourselves grappling with the loss of this child in the light of our hope and trust the sovereignty of God along with our role as medical care providers.

Death is one of those things in life that doesn’t get any easier with each encounter.

The abruptness of it always sharp. 

That distinct searing of that kind of pain strikes with each encounter whether it’s the first of hundredth. 

When you lived long enough, it strikes closer and closer.  And the longer you live the closer it continues to strike.

Henri Nouwen’s work A Letter of Consolation is a compilation of letters Nouwen wrote to his father after the death of Nouwen mother, his fathers wife, whom their deep love for her was evident in every word written in these letters.

The letters were written during the Lenten season, his last letter written to his father was on Easter Sunday which parallels beautifully the time of reflecting and the darkness known in the Lenten season in contrast with the magnificence and light when Easter Sunday finally dawns.

After recounting the events of Resurrection Sunday, the garden, the empty tomb, the road to Emmaus and Jesus’ encounters with the disciples, Nouwen, in an almost pleading tone writes to his father saying;

‘Isn’t this good news?  Doesn’t this turn everything around and offer us a basis for which we can live with hope?  Doesn’t this put death in a completely new perspective?  It does not make death less painful or our own grief any less heavy.  It doesn’t make loss any less real, but it makes us see and feel that death is part of a much greater and much deeper event, the fullness of which we cannot comprehend, but of which we know if life bringing . . .what seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning; what seemed to be the cause for fear proved to be the cause for courage; what seemed to be defeat proved to be victory; and what seemed to be the basis for despair proved to the basis for hope.’

Hope is the best new we could ever hope for yet hope doesn’t soften the blow of death. 

What my husband, Justin, spoke of that night on the roof top, about how having hope can be so bitter and be so sweet, struck at the heart of that truth.

Hope doesn’t make the loss any less of a reality, it doesn’t make the pain of death and the grief we encounter any less heavy.  That’s the bitterness.

But the sweetness of hope it seems to good to be true.  What’s the end is just the beginning of a new a beautiful story to depict redemption in all of its bold and brilliant colors.

The event that has caused us deep anguish and despair is the event that hope is born from in a new a beautiful way. 

In the darkness that surrounds us in this world, hope can feel foolish.  When death strikes, having hope can feel more bitter than comforting when we are grappling with God’s sovereignty.

But the sweetness that hope brings when we can trust and rest in sovereignty is unmatched.

The light that hope shines on this dark world enables us to see the beautiful redemption that is bursting forth all around us.

That’s what we discovered that night on the roof top, that’s what we tasted amidst our conversation and sips of Yan Jing, we tasted the bitterness of the pain and loss and we tasted the sweetness and the goodness of hope.