You know that bitter old lady? The one who is never happy. The one who finds the dark lining in silver clouds? If you tell her to have a nice day, she will scowl at you and say “not likely”? The one who can tell you about every wrong that has ever been done to her but doesn’t thank you for mowing her yard? She has a good life but she can’t enjoy it because she is so focused on what people have done to her. She obsesses on her failures and doesn’t know how to celebrate her victories. Her husband is beat down and has given up trying to please her because nothing he does will ever make up for what he didn’t do.
I’m sure you know that lady, because I’m that lady!
Wait?! What?! No, you’re not!
When I tell people about my struggles with bitterness, they seldom believe me. Thankfully, no one sees me as that bitter old lady, but deep down, without Jesus, that is exactly who I am:
My hubby and I recently ventured into the world of pre-marital counseling. We often have couples coming to us for advice. I think this is because my husband and I sincerely love each other, have a lot of fun, AND we have the two most opposite personalities on the planet.**
In the work book, we are using for counseling, one of the first activities is to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.)
As you read the passage, you are supposed to identify which aspect of love you struggle with the most.
For me, there is no question: love keeps no record of wrongs.
Something in me, and it’s obviously NOT LOVE, is a great recorder of wrongs. I can still remember the snarky comment one of my friends made about my favorite sundress when I was in the first grade!!! (I’m 47…that was a few years ago.)
I remember the argument my hubby and I had on our honeymoon like it happened yesterday and we’ve been married 26 years. I wish I didn’t remember, but I do. And when I remember, all of the same feelings are there.
So, yeah, it’s a struggle. A struggle that I know how to win but I don’t always. Just a few weeks ago, I had to go around to a bunch of people and painfully apologize for spreading my bitterness.
And truthfully, I frequently catch myself sharing stories of the wrongs that I’ve recorded and I often laugh and say, “thankfully, I’m not bitter.” It’s a common joke among my friends. I can’t forget the stories but I can laugh at them and refuse to let them make me bitter.
But every one of those stories is a reminder of the struggle in me. If I give in, I’d totally be that bitter old lady.
In Hebrews 12:15, the Bible refers to bitterness as a root. It warns, “see to that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
It’s a very fitting word picture of what bitterness is like:
Recently, I was trying to get all of the poison ivy out of my yard. I thought about how bitterness is so much like poison ivy.
Ugggh!!! I hate this one! Sometimes, I wish I could just pray and God would “fix” my behaviors without having to pry into the “root”!
For example, I used to be incredibly mean and sarcastic in the way I reacted to my husband. I didn’t want to be this venomous crochety old meanie, but it just kept spewing out of my mouth. I prayed. I memorized Bible verses. I made calligraphy pictures for my frig…and I still reacted harshly to the least bit of criticism.
Finally, I sat down one day and lashed out at God. I was so mad. Why wasn’t he coming through for me?!!! Then I finally got quiet and listened. I realized that I was insecure and I was focusing on little hurts that my husband had done towards me. I was holding on to these wrongs so tightly that he had no chance of making up for them.
I had to learn to change my focus and apologize for my wrong attitude.
God seldom just zaps us and changes our behavior. He deals with the issues that need to be addressed. It’s pretty amazing (afterwards).
Most people around me never know how much bitterness I may be dealing with. God is constantly working in my life. He doesn’t abandon me because I’m messing up. I’m seldom a completely miserable troll. But I still struggle and I treat people close to me harshly. I give in to despair and other forms of negativity. Just like a flower being choked by a poisonous vine, I waste a ton of energy fighting to overcome the bitterness that is choking out my joy.
I’ve been told by organic gardeners that rule #1 in fighting all weeds is you have to replace them with the plants that you want. If you pull up weeds and just leave dirt, you will end up with new weeds.
Plant what you want and take care of it.
Just like our hearts. Get rid of the bitterness and replace it with good things. Focus on loving others, forgiveness, joy, hope, peace, and all that is right and good. (Philippians 4:8)
With the people closest to you, you have to choose not to focus on ways they have hurt you*. Instead remember all the good they do. No one has to teach us to replay hurts. It takes discipline to learn to replay the good that people do.
*(Obviously, I’m not talking about abuse….)
Apparently, birds like poison ivy seeds the way I like chocolate. Birds flock to the seeds and spread them all over the place in their poo. Then poison ivy springs up everywhere there is a little loose dirt.
Unfortunately, birds aren’t dropping poo packets of rose seeds and flowering orchids in my garden. Those things have to be deliberately planted and cultivated.
Just like in life. All the poo around is great fertilizer for the seeds of negativity that are constantly dropped on us!!! LOL
But good things don’t grow where you want them without effort and constant attention. It takes discipline to focus on the good and develop positive attitudes and actions.
Things like reading the Bible, taking care of your body, quieting yourself to let God speak into your life, choosing to see the good in people. All of these things take practice and constant attention. You can’t just do them once and walk away.
It’s a lot of work!!!
But it’s a whole lot better than letting bitterness take over and becoming that lady!!!!
** Seriously!! All couples have differences, but we are different to the extreme! My husband is a super-focused mathematical thinker. We joke about him being so focused that if he were working on building an analytical, statistical, voodoo math model – (or whatever he does)- and the house caught on fire, I’d have to grab him because he wouldn’t notice that everyone left. He is the most focused person I have ever met. I, on the other hand, struggle with…Squirrel! Did you see that movie? Wasn’t UP the sweetest movie ever. Well not as good as Ever After! I always have about 5 projects going at once, I love to write, listen to loud, crazy music, I get bored easily….oh yeah, and I’m not very focused.
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!