Overcoming Bitterness

Gall. Wormwood. Poison. All these words are used in the Bible as synonyms for bitterness. They all effectively conjure an image of an emotion that sours, pollutes, blinds and destroys a man from the inside out. The beleaguered Job of the Old Testament repeatedly refers to his €œbitterness of soul. € And that is precisely where bitterness finds its root and its festering place: deep in the soul.

Bitterness is the archenemy of hope, the ultimate corruptor of faith. Bitterness sucks away joy, keeps us ever mired in the past, robs us of the ability to celebrate life and all its possibilities. In order to thrive, bitterness averts its gaze from God €™s grace and mercy, focusing instead on the multitude of ways He and people we €™ve counted on have let us down. He said He loved me. How could He let this happen to me? Bitterness is forever making its case that God is hateful and vindictive the exact opposite of who He is.

The Roots of Bitterness

Ron is 52. He €™s never forgiven his mother for walking out on him and his father when he was eight years old. His anger at his mother has deepened and mutated over the years, poisoning his relationships with the women in his life (he €™s been married four times). He has no friends; they €™ve all tired of his constant tirades against €œthe system € that €™s cheating him out of money, the women who €™ve used him, the employers who fired him without cause. He blames his mother for every bad break he €™s ever had. SHE €™S the one who set him up for failure.

Ron is now overweight and alone, his body wracked with health problems from a steady diet of junk food and the cigarettes he chain smokes. Ironically, his mother has been dead for 20 years.

Why We Choose Bitterness

Ron started out as a little boy deeply wounded by his mother €™s abandonment. Interestingly, his sister Penny was also a victim in that situation. But there came a point when Penny made the decision not to let this traumatic event completely dominate her life and future. She sought counseling, forgave her mother, found a supportive church family and moved on with her life. She considers herself a happy, well-adjusted person.

By contrast, Ron chose a different path. By blaming his mother for everything bad in his life, he €™s never had to take responsibility for his choices or his selfish behavior. The problem now for Ron is the high price he €™s paid for that luxury. Holding onto bitterness may have given him a certain sense of personal justification, but the poison of that bitterness has repelled other people and now begun to eat him alive.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

One insidious aspect of a bitter spirit is that it manifests in behavior that pushes people away. Ron €™s unrealistic expectations of people and his lack of grace when they disappoint him make them afraid to invest in a friendship with him they know how easily he could write them off.

Ron is bitter at people for not reaching out to him but it never occurs to him to make the first move. There €™s a saying that €œif you want to have a friend, be a friend. € Bitterness makes us myopic and self-obsessed, focusing only on our deficits and what we want and need. Bitterness has made Ron like that big man-eating plant in the movie Little Shop of Horrors that demands over and over again, €œFEED ME! € Is it any wonder people stay away?

A New Attitude

People like Ron operate under a basic wrong assumption that life owes them a pain-free existence, and that when presented with the choice, people will always do the right thing. But the Bible warns us of the realities of living in a fallen world:

As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12, NIV).

Only when Ron forgives his mom and learns to extend grace to others and himself, will he finally be freed from the prison of his bitterness. Only when he surrenders his pride and admits that he is, as author Larry Crabb puts it, an agent of sin as well as its victim, will he finally begin to grasp the full import of Christ €™s sacrifice for him on the Cross.

Do you struggle with bitterness and disappointment? If so, you don €™t have to let it continue to define your existence. Ask God to come into your heart and help you forgive those who €™ve hurt you so deeply. Tell Him truthfully what you feel, including any anger you have toward Him. Ask Him to give you new eyes to see His blessings in your life, and to replace your spirit of bitterness with a spirit of gratitude. Allow Him to minister to your broken heart. He WILL do it. Just ASK.

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