Lessons from the Monastery (When you are Bitter)

Do you ever have those days when “the shoulds “clamor but truth prevails?

I should have done the dishes piled up from last night’s dinner which are railing against me and what I believe—that one should always clean up after a meal. 

I should have gone through piles of papers collected, hauntingly reminding me of bills due and deadlines I’ve likely forgotten.

I should have made an appointment to fix my daughter’s knee, which has hurt on and off for months.  She will ask when she gets home:  did you make the appointment Mama?  Did you? When will you? Why didn’t you?

Rather, all I can think about is my bitter heart.

I am bursting with the awareness, the stinging tang of understanding.

Of how I have lived with it for so long – like Naomi in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament – bitter.

The awareness tastes sharp and severe on my tongue.

I sat in Taizé prayer today at the monastery — soaking in the echoing songs, the verse, the smells and comportment of the faithful gray-haired women sitting around me.  For the first time I was hearing the story of the founding of the Taizé  Community in France; learning of this tradition of repetition, listening and meditating, as we waited for the Lord.

But then, we were given time to pray. It was remarkable. I don’t know about you but I don’t pray – not much.  At least not well.  I am certainly no “warrior” of prayer.   Martin Luther King Jr. said “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  Okay, it’s not so much that I don’t pray I suppose, but that I have so many doubts.  My conscience won’t allow me to simply tell God what I want or need.

My limited theological understanding and lack of faith simply don’t impress it upon me to pray – not much.

(I realized recently I don’t think I even know what I think about corporate prayer. But that is for another day…)

We were given space, within the service today to pray.   So I did.

And so, I let go of my control on my mind and heart.  And go it did, racing – Airborne, soaring like so many spirits.

I began collecting my worries like a slightly frantic, manic creature.

I began to set my worries down — like weighty, heavy stones.

I place them there, one after another.

… For a friend, who lives with chronic illness.  I want to see her more. I have many regrets.

… For my children and specific things I worry about for each of them, faith, academics, relationships, health, and futures.

… For my 74-year-old mother’s future and all that is involved in her long-term care.

… For my future, for my past, for my days – it’s been two weeks since I really let myself stop, slow, truly listen.

… For my days, yes I worry so about my days.  I worry about being wasteful.  I worry about being useless. I worry about not helping others enough.  I worry that my life is a waste.

And there it was.  The awareness. 

I have puzzled out what the book of Ruth means.  Which character in the tiny book that I relate to, Naomi – bitter, Boaz – faithful, Ruth – Bold.  Oh, there it is so crystal clear.

I am bitterness. Sure, I’ve come a long way.  I have had some healing.

God has loved me through my addiction and through my fear of failure and through my bitterness.

I have believed {I am so bitter that} God has forgotten me and there is no longer any purpose for my life.  I have tried to do the things in front of me – certainly the obvious one  motherhood, the creative work of writing and photography, but deep, deep down I have felt abandoned by God.

There it is.

Aching, reaching, grasping for some deeper purpose to my life and surely knowing all the while, that this time of dearth, of learning was and is important.  Just like Naomi, who said “call me Mara (which means bitter),” I have been bitter.

I sit with the weighty knowledge, almost crushed, but not.  Still wondering what God intends to do.  Jeremiah 29:11 says; “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

I do believe that. I do even as I taste bitter.  As I sit and wonder and pray.


This is part of a Lent Series, Lessons from the Monastery.

Lesson One.

I learned today this type of listening is called kenotic listening.  It is characterized by reverencing what is sacred in someone else. So often, when interacting with each other, we dwell on all their faults.   Their failings, their annoying bits and pieces, even how they disappoint us or let us down.  A kenotic listener affirms the good in others.

Lesson Two.

I don’t find it hard to confess that dissatisfaction comes easily to me, along with the admission that my life has disappointed me. Disillusionment too, as my life is not what I thought it would be. I can admit this is true. Well, that’s not exactly right – I had no plan.  No grand scheme.  I didn’t have any idea what I would do with my life as a youngster.  One thing I knew. From that moment when I was swiftly rescued, “healed” in an only God could have done it miraculous sort of way.

This was lesson three.

4 thoughts on “Lessons from the Monastery (When you are Bitter)

  1. Kenotic listening…I should be doing that more…I know that not all Christians/Evangelicals/Jesus followers are cool with practicing yoga, but my instructors are always ending their practices by saying thank you to the class for sharing their presence and energy. It’s not the wording I’m familiar with, but I know I’ve heard the message. Thank you for reflecting a different bit of God in your life and in your personhood.

    I need to hang out at a monastery someday!


    1. If you haven’t go over and check out what I learned. It wasn’t new agey at all – but really very deep and very spiritual to be listened to in this way, by embracing someone for who they are not what we believe they should be.


  2. It reminds me of the herbs on the passover plate. It is something we don’t cast away, we transform into a memory of God’s provision and transformation.

    You are bitterness now, but like the Israelities coming out of Egypt… the bitter taste will change. In the future, it will remind you of what you’ve overcome.

    Walk… and be glad(?) that He has led you to here. He brought you here at this time, in this place to work something new (and somewhat the same) in your heart, in your life. I’m encouraged, even though this is a very chewy time for you.

    I’m with Kathy… I have always to and need to hang out in a monastery someday!


Thanks so much for reading and sharing.

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