Remember the wormwood. Like a soft whisper to my soul, these words had snaked in and out of my mind some weeks ago, a reminder that is both welcome and necessary. For it is easy to become lax and complacent amid all the triumphs and joys, as if the fiery and bitter tests had not actually taken place but are only a part of a distant past. But I have learned, as I know others have also, that forgetting them and the great mercies of God that delivered us through them, is not the way of the Lord.
Lamentations 3, though full of anguish and sorrow, has always been beautiful to me as it was a powerful source of hope. Like the Book of Job, a story of trial of all trials, which had been my companion in my own bitter trials, Lamentations 3 was like a lamp in the dark forest, a hope in the soul that, though small and flickering, cannot be quenched.
Maybe the Lord doesn’t want me to be so engrossed with His gifts that delight my soul enormously. Like watercolor painting, for one. That I might forget how I arrived into this place of joy and unending inspiration. That the gifts would become more important and capture more of me than what I give to the Lord – my love, my joy, my time, my energy. For God is a jealous God.
Maybe that and the news about my aunt who is now suffering a similar sickness like one of the many that I had suffered: gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD. Twice in the past 13 years of illness, I had not been able to eat solid food for months, even more than half of the year. I lived by water, clear soups, and runny porridge. It was as if my stomach had lost recognition of food.
But I lived through it. And now I’m eating well again. Every now and then, like when I bite into a luscious fruit, I remember this.
Remembering the mercies of God stirs up praise and worship from the depths of our soul. Not only that. It also makes us remember to fear God and keep a humble posture before Him and reignites our desire to walk uprightly.
And so, amid the swirls and splashes of watercolors, the lights and shadows that are created by the stroke of a red sable brush on a rag paper, in between the image that is slowly emerging out of it and the exultant heart, is the whisper: Remember the wormwood.
“Yes, Father, I do remember,” my soul whispers back.
The author of the Book of Lamentations (he sounds like the Prophet Jeremiah to me and he might very well be the one who penned it) recalls the heart-rending, soul-wrenching times that he had seen, lived, and suffered through. The scope of the first half of chapter 3 is a very familiar terrain to me, like the well-worn path that leads to home. You know the position of every stone and tree and the shadows that dance against the sunlight peeking through. So familiar you could almost assign a scent to it, redolent of the hard days when God’s hand was heavy upon one’s soul. These words, they are that to me.
I am the [woman] who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.
He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.
Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
(Selections from Lamentations 3)
Wormwood is a plant that has a bitter taste, the main ingredient in making absinthe. Today, it is considered as a natural therapeutic herb and used as an alternative medicine, especially in cleansing harmful microorganisms in humans and animals. “Wormwood is known to help the body produce an environment that is toxic to harmful organisms.”*
God concocts a drink made up of wormwood and makes us drink of it, the whole cup of it. His tests are bitter and grievous and brings us a lot of anguish and sorrow. But not without purpose. God, being the Creator of every plant that grows in the earth, knows each of their nature. He used wormwood in the Old Testament to symbolize the bitter trials and also the cleansing process – refining and sanctification – His people must go through which is His main purpose.
These trials and chastisements – they all emanate from His heart of love and mercy.
As our Father, He knows there are things we need to learn. The process, like the words of Lamentations, is excruciating, but the end of it is a pure product.
…when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)
These I remember. Oh yes, Father, these I remember and have not forgotten! They come to mind when I sing praises and worship, like fragmented scenes in a good movie. Remembering them colors my praises with more vibrant, deeper hues and makes my worship a soulfelt experience. They are the tangible proofs of the Savior’s love for me.
Only last night at dinner, I recalled again how I lived through the valley of the shadow of death in early-2015 (that place where the shadow of death literally covers you and wraps you all around). When all day long everyday, I fought to be able to breathe and live. How I would wait for Tim to arrive home from school, when he would nap beside me in the bed straightaway, and I would snuggle close to him and try to pick up the easy rhythm of his healthy breathing. As I held him, I breathed with him, hoping to ease up my own, calm my body, and live with him, too. For days and months, Tim unknowingly comforted me. While he was sleeping. (Choking back tears now).
I whispered to my husband as Tim left the dining table, “That boy is so precious to me.”
Remembering the wormwood is not to taste again the bitterness, but to affirm the truth that God is just and merciful. That even in that place of affliction, wormwood and gall – there is hope!
To remember the wormwood is to position and reposition ourselves again on the higher ground, not giving in to temptations as the good, blessed days roll by.
To remember the wormwood is to let ourselves be cleansed and sanctified by Christ again and again. To become like the white and fragrant flowers (the white Magnolia is a good example), whose sweet-smelling scent wafts to all the people around us wherever we go and which reaches the throne of God in heaven.
Let your gentleness [and holiness] be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phil. 4:5, annotation mine)
*Global Healing Center
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Journey with Jesus,