The bitterness of Marah

Last night we had another fantastic Bible study lesson that I just want to take a minute and share with you. As I mentioned a few weeks back, our group is going through Beth Moore’s revised edition of A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place – a study of the Tabernacle. And I have to tell you that every week I walk away from that group just completely revved up. Every day I’m learning something new about the Old Testament and about myself.

In this week’s lesson, we see the Israelites beginning their trek through the desert. They’ve been exiled from Egypt for about a month, and already they’re whining and complaining about how horrible they’ve got it compared to the lives they lived back in Egypt – never mind that they were slaves. My oh my, how memory is a gentleman.

One of the lessons this week really touched a nerve with me though. The lesson was from Exodus 15:22-27 where the Israelites are at the spring of Marah.

In summary, the Israelites have been through the Red Sea and they’ve been working their way into the desert for about three days. They have not seen any water since the Red Sea either, and they’re getting very thirsty…and a little cranky. Finally, they come to a small oasis called Marah, and I can just imagine the scene as it unfolded. People are rushing the banks of the water with their dippers and canteens – ready for a cool and refreshing drink. But the water isn’t sweet, it’s bitter! Talk about a nationwide spit-fest. Ugh. But God, in his supreme faithfulness works yet another miracle for the Israelites. He tells Moses to take a branch from a nearby tree and throw it into the water (hint: this is a foreshadow of Christ’s death on a wooden cross – taking our sin and turning it into purity). Even though this sounds like a strange request, Moses complies and the minute the wood breaks the surface of the water it becomes sweet and drinkable.

One of the study questions that Beth poses on this day is: Has God ever led you to taste you own bitterness? If so, what was the occasion, and how have you allowed Him to sweeten your bitter waters?

This question was difficult for me because one event in specific kept coming to mind as I was studying. It’s an event that was indeed a long drink from a very bitter cup – a cup that I’d been clinging to for many years. Let me show you what my cup contained…

I began having pretty severe female problems when I was very young, and by the time I’d reached 14 my gynecologist pretty mater-of-factly told my mom and I that I’d never be able to have children of my own. I had a fairly common disease, but one that wasn’t usually seen in a girl so young. At the time I was completely devastated. I had pictured my whole life ahead of me, and it certainly included children. In fact, I wanted to have at least 4 children – two boys and two girls. I even had names picked out for them. My doctor showed very little compassion during the examination and diagnosis – for him it was business as usual. Looking back, I believe that it would have been very natural for me to grieve this type of loss, but I didn’t. Instead, I allowed my grief to turn into bitterness and resentment.

I stopped volunteering in the church nursery, I stopped babysitting, I stopped working at VBS, and to the best of my ability I avoided contact with small children, babies, and pregnant women. For years my bitterness turned into stones that rubbed against my heart and mind. Every time I was around children I would become irritable, I could not enjoy holding a baby, and I believed that every child was Satan’s spawn. I convinced myself that I was going to be okay with never having children of my own. When I married Sam, his children were practically grown and they lived in Scotland with their mother. At the time, that was just fine with me.

I was 26 when the call came that we were going to be grandparents. I remember it was Christmastime and Sam and I were getting ready to leave our house for a small dinner party at the home of a parishioner. I stewed all the way to Omaha. I was nearly livid. The kids had only been married for a few months, they were straight out of college, they lived in a tiny rented flat and drove a car that had terrible brakes, they didn’t have any savings, no plan, and not a clue about what they were getting themselves into. Not only was I mad at their carelessness, but I was angry at God for allowing them to get pregnant right away, and to make matters worse, it was just another reminder of my own inadequacies as a woman and a wife.

Pretty much through the entire pregnancy I showed all the emotions that I knew were appropriate, but in my heart I was jealous, resentful, and hurt. I remember laying in bed at night and praying that God would find a way to not make me a grandmother – to not let any of it happen. But nine months later our first granddaughter was born. And she was lovely, and perfect, and she stole my heart even though I only knew her through photos as the kids still lived in Scotland. She had the best smile!

Just ten short weeks after her birth we got the call that she’d died of SIDS. My heart was once again wrenched from my chest in agony. God had allowed me to fall in love with this beautiful and perfect little girl and then she’d been snatched away from us all.

Because of circumstances, only Sam and his son were able to travel to Scotland for the funeral. I sat alone in our apartment for a week and sobbed my eyes out. It was one of the most horrible times of my life, and yet, through the grieving process over Heather, I was finally able to grieve my own loss from 12 years prior. The bitterness that I’d held onto for so many years was purged from my system in a salty flood.

It’s been nearly seven years now since our sweet girl was taken from us, but just like the children of Israel, God has turned my bitter waters into pure joy. Since then, God has blessed our family with three beautiful granddaughters, and in just a few short days we’ll have another wee baby to hold. Those precious children don’t make up for the lost of Heather, but now my cup truly runneth over with love for them all.


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