Where is God when life stops working for you? When you become mired in spiritual busyness and doubt? When your heart-felt longing is not met? What does it mean to receive God’s life when earthly life remains barren? How can God turn your bitterness of unmet desire into new flavors of joy?
Bible Gateway interviewed Sara Hagerty (@SaraHagerty) about her book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in all Things (Zondervan, 2016).
Briefly recount the disappointments and ordeals in your life that form the story of your book.
Sara Hagerty: There were many—and part of the ache is that they happened in tandem. It’s one thing to face a singular struggle head-on, but to have financial difficulties on top of marital strain, and a parent whose body is giving way under cancer, and a barren womb—all at once—left me feeling like I might be engulfed by circumstantial pain.
I suppose the thread that continued to show up across years—nearly a decade—was my barrenness. It was both painful in length and in depth. To know that I followed a God who could heal and then watch my friends experience the fruit that their bodies were intended to produce (so beautifully, in God), while mine lay dormant was especially painful. It’s being here that ushered me to His feet.
Why did you title your book after Proverbs 27:7?
Sara Hagerty: I read this verse one afternoon at my kitchen table and couldn’t remember ever having seen it before. It was as if all the passages around it went grey and this particular nugget from God was highlighted. Meditating on this verse was one of the first times I remember having shining perspective shed onto my circumstances.
I read it and thought “yes…yes, that’s what I am. I am hungry.” And then, “I can find Him, here, in this circumstantial pain.”
This verse gave definition to my season and, like any piece of God-breathed poetry, it worked its way into me over years as I meditated on it.
What do you mean that pain is an invitation and an opportunity?
Sara Hagerty: Over a period of time, circumstantial pain began to feel like just a burden, even a curse. I watched others around me thriving in their outward lives and I felt as if I’d somehow been marked with a forever-stain of delay and waiting. And for a while, I didn’t know that I could see any other way. I was stuck.
Then, I read Proverbs 27:7 and other verses like it that began to give me a grid for the inner growth I could experience in God while my external circumstances were suppressed. I’d not considered, before, that God could press “pause” on my outward and upward growth in order to allow my insides—in Him—to thrive.
Thus, pain became an invitation. From Him. The most beautifully divine invitation. The God of the universe was allowing me to experience unconventional growth by putting me through an outwardly dark season, while giving me the best kind of nourishment on my insides. That was opportunity.
What role did the Bible play in being able to handle the hardships you encountered?
Sara Hagerty: I found God’s Word, anew, when my circumstances were stifled.
As a new believer I would spend hours devouring His Word. It was food for me when I was fifteen and sixteen and new to knowing Him through His Word.
But then I plunged into ministry and a whole set of expectations for life in God that I’d put upon myself—and His Word became a tool. I used it for my daily quiet times and to plan talks and Bible studies, but it had lost the allure of those summer nights when I’d be up past midnight reading it like it was a love letter.
Then, when I began to face this series of external struggles, it was there…waiting for me. I started to see a person—a God-man—behind the Word. It had new life to me when I was desperate and it became less of a tool and returned to being that love letter, to me. I found Him in the pages, and His Word was what began to re-frame how I saw my pain and delay.
I blew the dust off my Bible that used to sit on my bedside table between 7:30 am until the next day (when I cracked it for my morning “quiet time”). I carried it with me in the car and to the grocery and it sat on my stack of laundry while I folded clothes. I couldn’t get enough of this Word and the God-man behind it. It had become my food and I was growing ever-more-hungry the more I devoured it each day. My circumstances began to pale in light of His Word. His Word was really re-framing how I saw life. It was becoming my life.
Why do you begin and end each chapter of your book with Bible verses and references?
Sara Hagerty: I, personally, grow through story. And I write through story. My book is a compilation of stories and meditations on Jesus—ones that have been real to me and that I believe are universally applicable to other hungry ones, like me, who want to find Jesus in the midst of their circumstances. Because of this I feel the need to tie any and all declarations that might be made—through story—in my book back to His Word. I want to encourage readers to go to the source and search it out for themselves. Our best thoughts about God pale in comparison to God’s thoughts about God in His Word. We are in a day and age where thoughts and words and opinions are so easily given and readily available. I feel a sobriety about adding my voice to those who are sharing their thoughts about God. I want my words to always be tied back to His Word. My words will fade but His Word will be life for those in dark seasons that will never fade.
What do you hope readers will do as a result of your book?
Sara Hagerty: My hope and prayer is that readers will fall in love with the God of the Bible, anew, and some—for the first time. I would love for them to see His eyes for them in a way they’ve never seen before and, as a result, have a personal brush with God that sends them deeper into His heart and His Word—for not just today, but for a lifetime.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Sara Hagerty: I’d love to encourage readers to begin practicing the habit of adoration—even if just for three or four minutes each day. I write about this in my book and we have resources on the blog for those practicing adoration. Each day we have a daily adoration verse that readers can follow along on Instagram at. This might be the greatest practical takeaway from the book and certainly is the habit that has transformed my days more than any other habit.
Bio: Sara Hagerty is a wife to Nate and a mother of five. She writes regularly about life-delays, finding God in the unlikely, motherhood, marriage, and adoption at EveryBitterThingisSweet.