When I worked for the high school newspaper, and later when I took junior English, I daily read a Peanuts poster on the west wall of Mrs. Williams' classroom: "Sometimes things go wrong so you can tell the difference when something goes right." I've read that phrase so many times, I can't help but think of it every time something goes wrong for which I cannot find a purpose. If nothing else, a nightmare makes waking up in the morning a bit more tolerable.
Getting engaged to the wrong guy made it much easier to identify the right one. If it weren't for everything I'd learned from what's-his-face, I might not have noticed the subtle but crucial truth: that I couldn't be happier with anyone than I would with Tim. In the Book of Mormon, we learn that the only real life is a life of contrast. Without knowing the bitter, we wouldn't enjoy the sweet. It is in the ultimate contrast that we find the ultimate joy: a sinless Christ suffered atonement, crucifixion at the hands of corrupt men, and death, so that a world of sinners might meet God.
At the end of several hours of acid reflux, when the bitter tide at the back of my mouth sinks, I can often taste intense sweetness. It's easy to get tired of the everyday things—a satisfying job, a handsome spouse, a warm home, or even the taste of our own mouths. We seek things that seem sweeter and sweeter, things that (if we were properly sensitized) would make our lips curl in disgust from the overload of sugars. We must welcome the bitter—famine, war, loss, pain, and the thorns of life—because without it we would miss the exquisite taste of all of the things God makes good for us every hour of the day.
It takes courage to live life with our hearts and minds and skin raw, but the things we feel, know, and experience with our callouses worn away by trial are the only ones we can really feel.
A good author will teach you about his heroine by giving her a foil. A superhero is only a superhero when he faces a supervillain. And so, as God writes our stories, he couldn't make us heroes in our own lives without challenging us with villainy. And more importantly, without facing villains, we couldn't identify heroes; without facing the challenges we cannot face alone, we wouldn't meet or know our Savior.
Some days, I am glad that my stomach hurts and that my internal organs seem to be waging bloody war against me. They are worthy nemeses. And without them, in a way, I wouldn't be able to define myself by the metaphorical dragons I battle and the weapons I wield to fight them. Against these challenges I can measure myself to see what kind of heroine I am, or if I am one at all.
And without these dragons, I might not have noticed the brave knight who fights beside me. Without a raging war in my body, I could have missed the hero I come home to every day, on whom I can lean for comfort and rest, who cares for me as if I were royalty. And I know I'm not.
And without my hero, I might have missed the Savior that I have come to know through his example. If a man can show such eager mercy for his wife, how much can the bridegroom give his church?
I suppose that I have learned a bit about bitterness and pain over the past few years. Certainly my education in suffering is cursory, at best, but that bitterness has taught me even more about joy than it has about sorrow. And sometimes, when I hurt enough, I'm a little less blind to the Lord's tenderness toward me in the little things—a warm home, a spouse's loving embrace, and the sweet flavor of the air I can only taste when the bitter has come and gone.