On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I watched, misty-eyed, as my second son entered the room—tall, confident, smiling, nobly draped in his royal blue graduation gown. Around his neck hung the golden cords of “high honor” and a shining medallion indicating his status as class valedictorian. It was a proud mom moment, to say the least.
Glancing downward, I noticed that instead of the dark gray suit we had planned, he wore khaki shorts. Instead of his black dress shoes? Vans. He was not seated onstage, looking out upon an auditorium filled with classmates, teachers, friends, and family, but on a plain black chair next to the TV in our living room. This was no normal graduation. They are the Class of 2020, but this is COVID-19.
Change of Plans
One can only describe this season in so many ways, and frankly, I’m weary of them all. But among all the things it’s not—predictable, normal, stable, sure—it certainly is a season of altered plans. It’s as if the “cancel culture” we hear about on social media has suddenly grabbed hold of our calendar.
That conference? Canceled.
Your child’s prom? Canceled.
Visiting your daughter’s newborn baby, your sick mother, or a friend at the coffee shop? Canceled.
If nothing else, it has been a season of cancelation. And though one by one, the businesses, stores, and restaurants we love are resuming operations, experts tell us that for the next year (maybe longer) we can expect more events to be canceled. And with them our hopes, plans, and expectations.
Roots Exposed by Shallow Sand
As bearers of His image, God designed us to be markers of time; the first chapter of Genesis established His position as Time-Keeper in Chief:
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (v. 5)
And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (v. 8)
And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (v. 13)
Day and night, signs and seasons, and later, holy celebrations—God ordained each one with pattern and purpose. As His creatures, we’ve latched onto His rhythms gladly, and created a multitude of metered celebrations of our own. That’s why it’s so painful when those things are canceled. God gave them to us, and our broken, virus-ridden world has taken them away.
The question for us is this: How will we respond?
I am just one of more than 3.5 million moms in the United States this year who watched her child’s graduation plans go up in smoke. Others have seen even more momentous events radically altered: weddings, funerals, “once in a lifetime” vacations, court cases, adoptions, and more. It’s normal to feel discouraged and even to grieve the events that might have been. I’ve done my share for sure. But I’ve noticed a far more dangerous response creep its way to the top of my social media feed and my relationships with some other moms: bitterness.
When we’re angry and upset, especially if we feel like the circumstances propelling our anger are unjust, we tend to believe that we are justified in our bitterness. Our generation isn’t unique in that—just look at these quotes from Job, who suffered all sorts of undeserved losses.
“Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?” (Job 3:20–22)
“Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. If I summoned him and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice. For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause; he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness.” (Job 9:15–18)
“I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1)
Though we have suffered losses, most of us have lost little compared to Job. Yet, we find ourselves as bitter as he was. Is it truly dangerous? The writer of Hebrews seemed to think so: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15). Not only does our bitterness cause us to miss the grace of God, but it permeates our relationships, having adverse effects on the very people we long to experience those special events with or produce them for. Doesn’t that seem a little counterproductive? Where does that come from? Well, I’ve often found that the bitter roots exposed by my disappointment were buried in the shallow sands of selfishness.
Who Am I Grieving For?
When the plans are changed or canceled, when I’m fighting for my “right” to have the celebration or experience I wanted, when I can’t sit in a crowd of two hundred to watch my son make his valedictory speech and serve fifty pounds of barbecued pork and ten different salads after, I really need to ask myself, What am I grieving for?, or in some cases, For whom?
Occasionally, I find that I’m lamenting for the right reasons—sadness at seeing others’ disappointment, a yearning that God placed in my heart for timely rites of passage. But more frequently, I see bitter roots springing from the sands of myself—what I wanted for my son. The party I wanted to give. How I wanted to feel when I watched him walk across the stage. And those are the feelings I want to let go of and replace with joy instead.
I Want to Be Hungry
Proverbs 27:7 says,
One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.
Don’t you want to be hungry?
- Hungry for God’s plans instead of your own?
- Hungry for contentment, not bitterness?
- Hungry for righteousness, not your perceived rights?
I do. I don’t want to be so engorged on my version of life’s sweetness that I can’t even taste the goodness from God’s hand when it comes. I want to turn my propensity toward bitterness into joy.
So, we did. We decorated, we photographed, we made fifteen pounds of barbecued pork and ate it for a week. We enjoyed a virtual graduation ceremony from the comfort of our living room with just a few of the people we love. We chose to celebrate rather than sulk. Whatever your disappointments in the months to come, I implore you to do the same. Your heart will be better for it.