I try to guard against bitterness, but sometimes it sneaks into my heart and flows out before I realize it. When I wrote Fairytales and Other Pet Peeves, I was concerned that perhaps I had been too negative, though it was not my intention. I think as we get older, we become more susceptible to bitterness because we allow wrongs against us to build up over time. Whether the wrongs are real or perceived, each time we choose not to forgive, we add another to our collection. We keep score in our hearts. The Devil must love this because we have such a difficult time recognizing that it is happening. Then it leads to all kinds of anger and sin.
I like to compare bitterness to rust. When God first started working on my heart over this problem, I realized that bitterness in my heart was both a buildup and an eating away. Like rust makes metal appear thicker, bitterness can make us feel stronger. But we know that rust leaves holes behind. Bitterness eats away at us, too. It robs us of our love and compassion for others, as well as our own peace and joy.
The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.
I feel that bitterness is a particular danger to single women, and I want to avoid it, if possible. At times, I have had my share of resentment and anger over being single. God worked on my heart and helped me to look back on rejection with a different perspective. If I had let myself continue to keep score and harbor resentment against men, how could I ever be at peace? Yet it is easy to view our resentment as ‘righteous anger.’ We prepare a legal case in our minds to convict each person of his wrongs and comfort ourselves with being right.
When I was writing my as-yet-unpublished book, I discovered I had some hidden resentment. A friend who was reading my draft, pointed out to me several places where I had written things that would be hurtful to other people. When I reread those passages, my eyes were opened to the bitterness my words represented. God had helped me to forgive the men who had rejected me, but I was holding on to anger at married women who had said hurtful things to me, over the years. As a result, my words had a resentful tone. I was trying to score points back against those women. I appreciate that my friend was brave enough to be honest; I needed to hear it.
I can’t say that I have totally rid myself of bitterness. I want to always assume that it is there, so I will keep looking for it and dealing with it. Recently, I’ve had with a couple of conversations where I detected acrimony in the other person, and perhaps I should have said something. But I’m afraid of being the person pointing out the speck of dust in my friend’s eye when there is a log in mine. When it comes to forgiving others, is there anyone who doesn’t struggle? We are anxious to add to our scorecards, so much that we will adopt wrongs done to others as our own. Even when there is no real wrong, we find reasons to be upset about how another person behaves. We are so eager to feed the rust! But to find true freedom and joy we must let go of the wrongs. We can’t live as victors in Christ if we are busy being victims of other people.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Life is full of disappointments and hurts, but we can choose how to respond. Moreover, Scripture tells us how to handle these situations. This takes me back to my former topic of parents giving their children unrealistic expectations about life. Obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life. Learning to trust God requires an understanding that there is hope in the midst of adversity. My fear is that young people, who are raised to think that everyone gets married and then life is happy, are going to be faced with disappointment that they are not prepared to deal with. However their lives turn out, this can become a barrier between them and God. It may result in the ultimate resentment: anger directed at God, Himself. I’ve been there and found a way out, by God’s grace.
My intention is to encourage, not reprimand. My hope is that young women and men will seek their happiness and fulfillment in God, and will keep marriage in the proper perspective. Several years ago, I heard a sermon on Matthew 22:23-33. It was difficult for me to hear the truth that, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage. . .” It made me feel all the more as if I were missing my chance. But God has helped me to see things more clearly, since then. The other night, as I was vacuuming, the Casting Crowns song, Wedding Day, came to mind, so I was singing it aloud. It is a great reminder to me of the hope that I have; the lyrics bring chills and tears. Someday, we, the Church, will stand beside our Savior as His beloved bride. I am not missing out on anything! Praise God for hope that dissolves bitterness.