Forgiveness is Sweet
After a trip back from our homeland, Zimbabwe, a friend of mine brought a goodie bag, laden with dried foods, including a sack of sweet potatoes.
I was thrilled. As she whipped the potatoes out of the bag, she said, "These are very sweet because of the drought."
I smiled and thanked her for three reasons: the goodie bag, her thoughtfulness and, most importantly, she'd dropped an inspirational line without even realising it! Drought is a rather unfortunate phenomenon, and its effects on crops, livestock and human beings should never be underestimated. But, how could a disaster be associated with a positive outcome?
Sweet because of the drought...
It made me think of the many times when I used to eat maize cobs back home, which often looked small and misshapen compared to “good produce”, yet they were somehow sweeter. Fruit and vegetables exposed to “harsh” conditions were generally on the sweet side of the spectrum.
At the risk of turning this article into an agricultural lesson, I've also learnt that sometimes the best-looking and fleshy fruit and vegetables on the supermarket shelves are close to tasteless. If you've ever consumed organically grown or close-to-organic produce, you probably would have noticed the differences. May I take this opportunity to remind you that I’m not saying that scarcity or suffering is good.
However, we sometimes go through harsh experiences in our lives where poverty is a given, not a choice. Drought can take many forms such as being unemployed or unable to pursue studies because of lack of fees. Drought experiences are prevalent in loveless relationships or a job which drains the life out of you. It could define any situation that makes thriving difficult even if you're buried in good soil. It's any situation that can potentially affect one's ability to survive because there just isn’t enough rainfall to promote and sustain growth.
We will go through periods of drought in one form or another; those painful experiences that we can't control and yet they still happen. Most of us would expect crops subjected to lack of rain and scorching heat to turn bitter but, in most cases, the opposite is true. They are usually the most enjoyable to taste. Ever noticed how canned sun-ripened tomatoes cost more compared to greenhouse produce?
It all comes down to the choice you make. Stay bitter or sweet, despite the harsh reality.
Though it may be hard to swallow this bitter truth, the difficult situations we sometimes endure can work for our good. Almost every success came out of lack, so one should never despise the fact that they never had enough compared to others. There will always be something uniquely placed within each and every one of us and sometimes it takes going through a period of lack so that you can get out of your comfort zone. My kids will probably tell you that I spruce up hearty and lovely meals when broke.
As I write this, I remember a time when we used to visit slum areas, for we had a few relations who resided there. Although we grew up in high-density townships, I could see the stark differences between where I was coming from and those slums where some of the poorest dwelled. Improvised housing was, and still is, the order of the day. Naturally, one would expect to see dirty and unkempt people emerging out of these dwellings but what I observed, even as a young kid, remains etched on my heart.
It was not uncommon to see cleanly shaven dads and “highly polished” kids wearing crisp and clean clothes patched up with whatever mum could find to repair a hole or tear. Most couldn't afford to buy bread, let alone luxuries, but all meals were hearty and well prepared. My mum would brag about how one of her aunties cooked the best vegetables and never disappointed. We never had meat at her house! I remember how we used to savour her neatly cut leafy greens, served with sadza (the staple of thick porridge made with maize-meal). Her vegetables would always be fried to perfection, flavoured with onions without losing that green colour.
I'd see rows of well-polished floors and well-maintained courtyards; people woke up early in the morning to sweep around the house. How my father used to despise such practices! He always argued that it was the root cause of soil erosion, and he was right. Still, despite the harsh reality that those people were experiencing compared to most families, their daily practices spoke richness.
Sweetness in action even though they lacked financial resources to afford modern-day luxuries.
There's no doubt that being born in a challenging environment, or finding yourself in one as a result of life's experiences, is something we will all have to endure at some point in our lives. Focusing on where you want to go will take you places, although the process might be slow. That's how you gain your sweetness as you perfect whatever gifts and talents you have to take yourself out of that situation. Most of us have heard the phrase “fake it till you make it” but I beg to differ.
I'd like to compare it to having faith and exercising it. It means putting into action what you already know lies within you, even without enough resources. Hoping for something is not enough. The Bible says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). I like to believe that what we long for can be fulfilled when we actively do something to turn a desire into something visible. Use what you have, no matter how little, and look after it. Develop the hidden skills, even if you might have to do so in the dark (buried underground) and extend your roots as far as you can. Ask for help if you have to but, in my experience, you usually receive support when you've done most of the groundwork and have something tangible to show for it.
There will be people who choose to turn bitter as a result of painful experiences. I will never underestimate the experiences that people go through. Indeed, if you don’t know real pain, you should count your blessings. Used to think that letting go of the story about what somebody did or what you went through would invalidate the fact that it happened. Indeed, sometimes healing starts when someone acknowledges the pain that you went through. A lot of the time, hurt people continue to do so because they are often dismissed. There’s a Shona saying which translates to “A tree that was struck by an axe will remember what happened but the axe forgets”. True. But the danger is, the victim will end up being just a bitter person in the eyes of many, especially when they constantly relive what they went through. Forgiveness won’t happen overnight and sometimes you will fail and make mistakes. Forgiveness is a staged process that slowly peels away layers of deep-seated resentment. The more you forgive, the more you realise that there’s much more forgiving to do as layers of past hurts become revealed. It’s an ugly process but just like all detox processes, the end result will be almost always be something that you and your loved ones appreciate.
According to Dr Caroline Leaf, author of 21 Day Brain Detox, 75-98% of mental health afflictions come from our thought-life: “We learn from each other, observe each other, therefore if we are exposed to negativity because of the environment, we form a cycle consisting of a thought process contaminated with bad thoughts. It manifests as hatred, anger, bitterness and envy. We feed it to other people; family, partners, spouses, children, strangers, workmates and communities. It doesn’t stop there, it affects our health negatively, which puts a strain on others, fuelling all sorts...”.
Wrote Dr. Leaf's notes upon realising that I hadn’t fully forgiven, although I’d actively pursued the gospel of forgiveness for a few years. Remember, forgiveness is not just about forgiving others, it’s about forgiving and being kind to yourself for all the wrong choices you made. Sometime I will share highlights of my 21-Day Detox journey, which I embarked on this time last year. No drama, in case you’re expecting “juicy details” but it’s one of the reasons why I can now write without feeling the need to focus on my past pains. I learnt that bitterness (even if you’ve been wronged) will only make your life stink and rot to the core. Letting go allows you to break free, rediscover what was stolen or destroyed. Letting go will allow you to identify and nurture God’s original purpose when he created you. Don’t let the scars put you to shame; those who know the difference between a pampered plant and that which went through challenges and still survived will appreciate the sweeter version of the sweet potato.
May all the adverse experiences work for our good as we opt for sweetness over bitterness.
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