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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Black

When bitterness takes root.

I love my family. But family isn’t always easy. A more accurate statement would probably be family is very rarely easy. Family can often be like a magnifying glass that reveals the flaws in our lives. How we respond to family quickly shows the true condition of our heart. When done God’s way, family has an incredible ability to glorify God and exemplify Christ and the church. When sin comes into play though, family gets tough. Sometimes seemingly impossible. I love my family. Growing up in a family that made Christ a priority is much of the reason I desire have my own family one day. Like any family though, my family went through struggles and problems, ups and downs, hard times and good ones.

Growing up I came from solid home who made God a priority. I had the security of knowing that divorce was something my parents would never even consider. I was your typical firstborn, type A, perfectionist child. I got good grades, I made good choices, I was pretty good at learning from other people’s mistakes, I cared what others thought about me, I didn’t screw up, I went to church. My mom would probably tell you I was quite mouthy, but that was the worst of it. For all intents and purposes, I was a good girl.

When I was in college my family went through some tough times. Some not so great choices were made. My family struggled. And the condition of my heart was clearly revealed to me. My sins, the one that really took root in my life and in my heart, weren’t the ones that I could get caught in. My sins were the one that I could harbor and feed into when things didn’t go the way I thought they should. They were ones that separated me from God, all well I put on a smile and let everyone else think I’m was the good girl they assumed I was.

I very much remember reaching a point where I said to a friend, ‘I don’t even like who I am’. I was so angry at the circumstance and frustrated with the way that people were dealing with it. I was mad that I had made the right decisions and life wasn’t giving me what I thought it should. In hindsight, my heart was very much like the bratty 8 year old pouting “That’s not fair” when not getting her way.

Bitterness towards others, toward the circumstances that I was in, towards God for not giving me what I thought I deserved became very apparent in my life. Something had to change.

I don’t know about you but bitterness was and is clearly something that I struggle with.

The Bible tells us that bitterness is like a root.

Hebrews 12:15

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

The thing with roots is that they don’t just appear. They come from a seed that has to be planted. Often times that seed is hurt. Someone does something to us that hurts us. Someone doesn’t meet our expectations. It might be that someone sinned. It might be that we just didn’t like what was done. Either way we choose to respond. That hurt is planted and we choose to think about it, dwell on it, talk about it… we choose to let it grow into bitterness. I struggle with bitterness. Do you?

Do you struggle with bitterness?

I recently read a list of behaviors that are indicators of bitterness:

  • Difficulty in resolving conflict

  • Acts of vengeance

  • Withdrawal

  • Outbursts of anger

  • Biting Sarcasm

  • Condescending communication

  • Criticism

  • Suspicion and distrust

  • Intolerance

  • Hypersensitivity

  • Impatience

  • Disrespect

  • Rebellion against authority

  • Misuse of Authority

  • Depression

  • Remembering with great specificity the details of an offense

As you consider this list of behaviors, it might be pretty easy to justify most of them. I was just venting… You don’t understand… It wasn’t fair. .. I should have gotten that… They hurt me… The list is endless. And yet, as I went through the list I was amazed at how I could see the bitterness in each of these behaviors in my own life. At the root of that bitterness was my inability to forgive someone for something they did or I thought they did to me. Regardless of what behaviors bitterness is appearing as in yours or my life, bitterness in the end is a result of not forgiving others, something that the Bible very clearly teaches us about.

As I think about forgiveness and my inability to forgive others at times, I am quickly reminded of the parable that Jesus tells of the unforgiving servant. After being asked by one of his disciples how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him, Jesus replies, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times”. Jesus then goes on to tell a story about a king who forgave a servant of a debt that would be equivalent to a lot of money today and immediately following being forgiven of such a debt that same servant went and had another servant thrown in jail for not being able to pay him back a mere few dollars.

32 Then the king summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18)

Forgiveness. Who am I to not forgive someone for something they did to me? Better yet, was a sin actually committed or am I just upset that things didn’t go as I would have liked them to? Much like this servant I often find myself unwilling to forgive others. And yet, God forgave me to the point that he gave up his son so that I could have that forgiveness. Who am I to not forgive someone else? Who am I to take offense at something that God does not? Who am I to hold on to that hurt and an unwillingness to forgive to the point that it breeds bitterness toward others in my life? In light of how much I have been forgiven by God, the answer to all of those questions…. I am nothing.

What are you cultivating in your life?

A friend recently asked me and interesting question. “What are you doing to cultivate faithfulness in your life today?” It was a question that left me stumped for quite some time as I thought about it, prayed about it and waited for the Holy Spirit to help me find an answer that I was sure I wasn’t going to like. Maybe a better question would have been, “Are you doing anything to cultivate faithfulness in your life?” I’d like to think I was. The truth that I have come to realize though is that if I am harboring bitterness, a.k.a unforgiveness, in my life, I’m certainly not cultivating faithfulness to my Savior.

It was a question that changed my heart. My heart prone to bitterness didn’t end when I worked through my struggles when I was in college . It doesn’t end as I work through relationships today. It’s something I struggle with… often. Something I have to work at to conquer… often. Just as Christ continually forgives me for my wrongdoings, so do I need to continually forgive others when they hurt me.

I’ve seen firsthand what bitterness does in one’s own life and how it affects those around you. Would I have helped my family differently if I hadn’t been so focused on my own hurt? Did I miss out on a chance to share Christ with others through my own family’s struggles? Would God have been able to use me to impact others differently? These are questions that I’m left wondering because of what I allowed bitterness to do in my life. Questions I don’t want to have to be left wondering about again. As we start to wrap up this month of focusing on families, here’s a few questions to ask yourself:

Are you cultivating faithfulness toward our Savior in your life today? Or are you cultivating a bitterness toward someone or something that is getting in the way of your relationship with God? Who are you harboring bitterness at? Are you bitter at God because something didn’t go the way you expected it too? Are you bitter at another person for some hurt that they caused you? Who do you need to forgive? Maybe it’s not bitterness you struggle with, maybe it’s something else. Whatever you want to fill in that blank with I want to encourage you to replace it with faithfulness to Christ. Get into his word, ask Him for help, get some accountability with a friend, go gather with the church, and get committed to a growth community. Let Christ change your heart. Let Him change you. Let Him change your family. Only He can.

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