Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken my off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.Psalm 30: 5b; 11-12 (NRSV)
Gardeners know that root vegetables thrive in cold weather. However, did you know that root vegetables, like carrots, have to endure the stress of several intense freezes in order to develop the best taste? In fact, Chef Dan Barber reports, the carrot converts its starches to sugars during those hard freezes because it doesn’t want ice crystallization which would cause the death of the carrot. So in the end when we bite into the carrot harvested in cold weather, we taste its sweetness, “but what the plant is telling [us] is that it [didn’t] want to die.”
Barber’s point was that we need to grow food where it ecologically is best suited if we want it to taste its very best. My point in sharing the carrot story is that once again the natural world gives us a parable for our spiritual journey.
We try to avoid pain and suffering (emotional as well as physical) at all costs. But in the same way that an unstressed carrot doesn’t taste the way a carrot at its best should taste, a person who plays life so safe that he or she avoids all risk of pain can be pretty bland. Scripture is full of stories of men and women who risked and suffered and became heroic figures because of it, Jesus being the best example.
The saving grace of our hurts and wounds is that God makes use of those intense events in us in the same way the “lowly” carrot does. If we are willing to allow God to work in our suffering, our woundedness can be converted into sweetness and winsomeness of character. Our healing will engage others in ways that could never happen if we were not first wounded.
If we don’t allow God to work in our suffering, we will become as cold as ice. We will die spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically. Meanness and stinginess will be what we display. And God, the one who suffered for us, will not be glorified.
We also need to remember that healing of our wounds involves humility. At some point we have to recognize that the stage we have reached in healing is probably not the final stage. Many layers of our wound may need to be peeled away. Pride in our spiritual maturity is dangerous, lest we judge others who have not reached our level of understanding of grace and forgiveness.
Finally, we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. It may be tempting to scorn the environments, experiences, and traditions (churches, political parties, schools, friendships, etc.) that in the past hurt us or stymied our growth or are viscerally connected to our pain and blame them for our suffering. If we want to be healers, we can’t brand the sources of our pain and refuse compassion and hospitality to others who wear that brand.
The carrot, by some natural instinct we may never understand, “knows” that the stresses of its world will be beneficial if it makes the adjustments it needs to make. We, too, can find value in our suffering and wounds if we allow the Holy Spirit to recycle our wounds so we become suited to nurture the health of others.
MULLING IT OVER: Are you dwelling on some episode of suffering so much that you have become mean or stingy? Where have you developed ice crystals over your hurts instead of allowing healing? When you tell your story, is it all about your agony or can you find some “joy in the morning” because of what God is doing in you? Be a carrot and allow your stresses to sweeten your life.