When I taught 3rd grade, there was this experiment in our science book about the different kinds of taste buds on the human tongue. The children were allowed to taste a variety of foods that had a strong taste to see if they could tell where on the tongue the different kinds of taste buds were located. One of the foods was cocoa powder. The first year I did that experiment, I was shocked at the violent reactions the children had to the bitter taste. I suppose they were expecting the sweetness of chocolate milk powder, and so the bitterness took them by surprise. (By the way, in subsequent years, I issued a warning about how looks can often be deceiving and to taste only a small amount of the cocoa powder. I’m not a cruel person by nature!)
Bitterness can often overtake our lives as well, and often by surprise for it doesn't take long for bitterness to grow and entangle a heart. Something unfortunate or tragic happens in our lives, perhaps a prayer doesn’t get answered the way we would like … and suddenly we find ourselves with a bitter and hardened outlook on life.
I spoke previously about the summer my marriage fell apart and how utterly heart-wrenching those months were for me. I felt helpless to do anything on my own. I knew I had to rely fully on God. And yet, He didn’t work the way I prayed or the way I thought He should. His timing wasn’t my timing. His answers weren’t my answers. I felt like He had turned His back on me … and I would be untruthful if I didn’t say there was a part of me that wanted to turn my back to God as well. Those thoughts and feelings were lies though … lies that Satan wanted me to believe and embrace. Satan wants to block us from God at every turn, and he will do whatever it takes to prevent us from embracing God’s truth.
Thankfully, I didn’t totally turn my back to God. I continued to pray and to seek godly counsel. At some point during that summer, I felt that I should pray against bitterness. I don’t remember why I felt so strongly about praying not to become bitter. It could have come from my many hours of counseling. It could have come from one of the dozens of books I read on Christian marriage, divorce and divorce recovery, or perhaps it came from a conversation with a friend. That doesn’t matter so much because I know it was God who so deeply impressed it upon my soul to pray against letting bitterness settle into my soul.
As I prayed, I began to feel that the Lord wanted me specifically pray to not be bitter, but to be better as a result of my divorce. I asked God to show me … and this is the conversation that the Lord and I had:
Me: Lord, You will have to show me. How is it that I can be a better woman and not a bitter woman? This hurts really bad!
God: Take the ‘I’ out of bitter.
Me: What does that mean? Take the ‘I’ out of bitter?
God: This isn’t about you. Don’t make it all about you. If you don’t want to be a bitter woman, then take yourself out of the center of this situation.
Me: Okay … but how do I do that? It sure feels like it is all about me! I’m the one who got left high and dry. I’m the one who is standing in the middle of a pile of rubble, wondering what happened to my marriage. So how can I make this not about me?
God: Replace the ‘I’ with an ‘e’ … the ‘e’ is for ‘exalt.’ When you exalt or praise Me, you make it about Me and not about you.
Me: So if I praise You in the middle of this awful situation, then I will become better and not bitter?
Wow. It was without a doubt one of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had with God.
I wish I could testify to you that I was faithful to consistently praise God in the middle of that storm. I wasn’t. But when I did, I was definitely better for it. In the choosing to give God my praise, even when life wasn't going my way and I felt all alone, I discovered a joy and peace that filled me. I found that I couldn't exalt God and have a soul that was bitter and hard.
Over the course of the past 2 years, God has shown me these things again and again and again. In EVERYTHING give thanks. Praise God for His mercy endures FOREVER.
This is what I know to be true about me: I have been bitter and hardened my heart to God. I chose to turn my back because I didn't understand His ways. I have been guilty of thinking that I knew much better than God. But I am learning to yield completely to God, for His ways are not mine. And I'm aspiring to praise Him in everything ... on the good days and the bad days, when I feel in awe of God and when I feel like I'm all alone. And when I choose to do this, I become a better woman and my bitterness is gone.
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. ~Hebrews 12:15
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. ~Exodus 15:2