by Charlie Dean
What I think of first when I think about Charlie is his laugh, a firehose of joy which soaks anyone within earshot. I have the privilege of preaching at Charlie’s church this weekend, and I can’t wait. Charlie is a thoughtful father of four boys, a voracious reader, a pastor, and an endurance athlete. He wrote this post for me a week or so before the New Year began, but since we’re all still reflecting on 2013, and figuring out who we want to be in 2014, I thought it might be good to read a few days after the dust has settled on the New Year. I’m glad you can get to know him this way. You can follow him on twitter here, and read his great blog here.
Years from now, looking back on 2013, I think I will always remember it as the year that I really became an adult, dealing with adult problems. In the first part of the year I journeyed through a couple of tough funerals – one of a mentor who meant a lot to me and the other of a young guy in our church who died much too young, his funeral coming only days after I baptized him on Easter Sunday (and yes, it was every bit as heavy as it sounds).
In the second half of 2013 I’ve dedicated hours of time and enormous emotional energy to struggling marriages. Some of those marriages have survived, some haven’t and some are in the too-early-to-tell-but-the-signs-aren’t-good stage. But in all of the different situations I’ve grieved, listened, prayed, laid awake nights and leaned into situations hoping that my feeble attempts to help are actually, in fact, helpful. Hoping against hope that restoration really can happen in the midst of dark circumstances.
At the same time, I ran my first marathon this year and my wife and I reached the stage of parenting where we can leave our kids home alone for the evening. And I find myself more in love with the woman I married almost 18 years ago, than I could ever imagine. And, I find myself having real conversations with my boys, and enjoying them more and more every day, sharing laughs over movie lines and things that are really funny and not just little kid funny. And the relationships closest to me are more satisfying and rich than they’ve ever been before. And so, in all those ways, 2013 has been a beautiful year.
Maybe this is what life always is; bitter and sweet at the same time.
Shauna Niequist in her book Bittersweet, describes it like this; “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.”
However, the temptation as we close out the year, is to only toast and celebrate the sweetness. In our “best of 2013 lists” everything in us will fight to name only the goodness, only the best. But, if I’m to be true to all of my journey, all of the ways I’m being shaped, there is darkness that also needs to be named and acknowledged as we close out 2013.
And so, come New Year’s Eve, when I’m sitting around the table celebrating with some of my dearest, most intimate friends, I will toast the good. But I will also toast the difficult. I’ll raise my glass and name the pain because it is shaping, molding and defining me every bit as much as the celebrations, parties, achievements and milestones. I’ll embrace bittersweet.
Again, Shauna puts it beautifully, “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. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy.”
So, as 2013 has ended and 2014 begins, may you find the courage, the guts, to face the wholeness of your reality, to toast both the bitter and the sweet.