My feet hadn’t even touched the floor and already I felt it creeping around inside of me. Bitterness ... my old friend. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see that monster waltzing out from the dark recesses of my mind, but there it was dancing across my heart as the morning sun skipped along the walls of my bedroom.
I was feeling sad at prospect of a lonely weekend. My children were gone with their father ... and I was jealous because he gets to be the fun parent. I lay there contemplating how all weekend he will get to do wonderful things with them that I cannot, and before long I was rehashing in my mind the story of how my life fell apart at the seams. Though it wasn’t a pleasant way to start my day, I couldn’t seem to stop the endless parade of thoughts. Soon my mind was reeling over the unfairness of how my life has turned out to be, and I was wallowing in the mud and muck of my own self-pity.
Bitterness always starts small. A fleeting thought about a wrong done to us, and if it isn’t stopped soon it will begin to gnaw away at your soul little by little. It feels rotten, and yet somehow embracing the bitterness is easier than pushing it away. I am often unwilling to let go of the unpleasantness of the bitterness in order to exchange it for something sweeter in my life.
Bitterness hurts, for it strips a person of all that they are and all that they could be, sucking them until they are nothing but a dry and brittle shell, unable to feel much of anything other than bitterness itself. As bitterness takes hold in the garden of our hearts, it begins to blossom into thorny plants, threatening to uproot compassion and gentleness, kindness and mercy ... and love, for in the end bitterness takes away our ability to love.
Bitterness that is allowed to mature takes away the tenderness of a person’s heart and soul turns it into a hardened place that nothing can penetrate. A hardened heart is not a beautiful thing. The sharp, jagged edges wound everyone around us ... even those that we want to love. Oddly enough, we usually begin to first feel bitter when someone that we love and care about wounds us. We think on how it is unfair or how we were mistreated, and as we lick our personal hurts and wounds, the bitterness begins to settle down deep in our hearts.
As I sit here this morning, trying to battle the bitter thoughts threatening to creep in along with the pale sunlight and dance in my heart the way the shadows of the leaves are dancing across my bed, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with the Lord in the early days after my marriage first began to crumble. It went something like this:
Me: Lord, this hurts so bad! I am so angry and so bitter! How can I possibly feel better?
God: Start by taking the “I” out of bitter.
Me: What do you mean, “take the ‘I’ out of bitter?”
God: This isn’t about you, so don’t make it all about you. If you make it about you, focusing on how you were wronged and on everything bad that happened to you, then you will only become bitter. The first step to getting better is to take yourself out of the center of the situation.
Me: Well how do I do that? It sure feels like it is about me! I am the one who got left high and dry. I am the one left standing here in the middle of this pile of rubble that used to be my marriage. I don’t see how I can make this not about me. How do I even begin to do that, Lord? Show me!
God: Replace the “I” that you removed with an “E”.
Me: I need you to explain this God ... I’m not seeing it.
God: The “E” is for exalt, Paige. If you exalt me, then I become the center. When I become the center, then you will be a better person ... not a bitter person.
Me: So what you are saying is that if I choose to praise you in the middle of the bad situation ... in the middle of my hurt and my pain ... then I will not grow bitter. Are you saying that the more I praise you, the better I will feel?
After that conversation, this verse was given to me: "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
Just thinking about that revelation brings a smile to my face, for really that was perhaps the turning point for me on a long and painful road. And yet, I realize this morning that my heart is about as dry as the ground where the flowers are trying to grow in my front yard. I’ve been making my life about me again lately, and the danger in doing that is always the same ... growing a hard, bitter heart that thinks only about oneself. As long as I am focused on me and my hurts or feelings or longings, I can never be a blessing to anyone else.
As I lay in my bed this morning, trying to fight away the bitterness and talking to God about how I wanted to choose today to be a better woman instead of the bitter one, God saw fit to reveal a few more “E’s” that I can use to replace the “I.”
Bitterness usually begins when my expectations for how I should be treated by another person are not met. Therefore, even as I expect others to treat me fairly, I should put for some EFFORT in treating others well. This is simply what I know as the golden rule: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12)
God also showed me that another way to ward off bitterness is to be an ENCOURAGER to those around you. Paul wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11) As you encourage someone else, you take the focus off of yourself ... which means that you are no longer inwardly turned but are thinking of someone other than yourself. The more we take ourselves off center-stage, the less likely we are to feel bitter.
Finally, God showed me that if I EXTEND myself, and go beyond what I normally do to be an EXAMPLE of God’s love to others I will overcome bitterness. Showing love to others should be one of the biggest goals every Christian has in life. In John 13:34, we read these words, “A new command I give you: Love one another.” I cannot share God’s love when I am thinking only of me and how I feel or what I need. So, by changing my focus away from self, I become less likely to be consumed by those negative feelings (such as bitterness), and I am able to share God’s love with those in my life.
My prayer today is that the Lord would help me to make the effort to be an encourager and an example of God’s love each day, and that I would seek to exalt Him even when I feel discouraged.
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