Bitterness comes calling when life takes an unexpected turn. It grabs hold and doesn’t let go. It consumes hope, joy and faith like an uncontrolled wild-fire; leaving only charred remnants and vague silhouettes of what was once before. Bitterness, is a living death where the soul withers and can no longer thrive.
I would like to believe that I am beyond bitterness. Yet, the plain truth is, I can easily choose it over joy. On days when my body isn’t working well or my mind is slow and muddled, choosing bitterness feels rather good. It’s tempting to lay in bed, be angry at the world and say, “I’ve been robbed.” When I do, I wonder, “Did God really say???” (insert any of God’s promises here).
Over the past 10 months I have come to believe bitterness is a well crafted tool used to steal, kill and destroy. When it takes root, it robs us of our life’s purpose, plans, hopes, dreams and internal peace. If we are wise, we will stand up against it and fight for our joy; even when life takes those oh so painful unexpected turns.
I believe a great example of someone who did this is Esther. Orphaned, she was cared for by her older, “father figure” cousin Mordecai until she was given over to the ruling King to be part of his concubine. I can’t imagine how she felt when this unexpected turn came in her life’s journey. She undoubtedly experienced grief when she lost her parents; how could she experience similar loss again when she was taken away from the only family she knew? Her purpose in the palace was only for fulfillment of the King. If he liked her, he would call on her, but if she displeased him, he would have her killed. I imagine she often yearned for the life she had lost.
Yet, we don’t see Esther laying in bed full of bitterness. Instead, we see her gaining strength by turning to her foundation that was built on the living God. She fought for her people, her life and for the promise’s of God. When she did, she found great joy.
A more contemporary example of a woman who battled against bitterness is Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family were horribly brutalized in concentration camps during WWII. The suffering she experienced is far greater than we can comprehend today living in North America. Yet after being stripped of all dignity, beaten, starved and losing most of her family she battled against bitterness and unforgiveness in stunning ways.
In her book, The Hiding Place, she recounted how a former SS guard approached her after a speaking engagement.
“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost over whelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on HIS.”
By God’s grace Corrie stood up against the bitterness in her heart and discovered freedom and joy in ways that astound me. I am sure most of us would have applauded if she had spit on this man’s face after all the horrible suffering he had caused. Her bitterness and anger seems justified and yet she was willing to let it go and forgive. Humbling isn’t it?
As I type, I remember the moments when my nurse overdosed me. As I screamed and writhed in pain; I begged her to stop. She ignored my pleas. For two hours I repeated over and over again that something was terribly wrong. No one seemed to care. Sometime during those two hours — I had a heart attack and no one rushed to my side. During those two hours I pleaded with nurses to give me something for the crushing pain in my head — not knowing it was the result of a brain injury — my pleas went unheard.
Bitterness cries out to me over the injustices of those two hours and many others I experienced over the past 1o months. It screams that no one cares, I am worthless and I might as well throw the towel in. It taunts, torments and brings hopelessness and anger with it. Thoughts that I don’t need to forgive because I was, “wronged” echo in my heart and soul every single day. Yet I know if I choose the road of bitterness, I will be the one who suffers because all my joy, hope, and dreams will slowly slip away.
On Feb. 9th 2011 I never dreamed my life had been forever changed. I couldn’t have imagined the struggles that were before me. 10 months later I have no idea where this journey is going to lead. However, I have learned when bitterness comes calling, I have an amazing opportunity to stand up against it. When it tries to grab hold I have a choice to either let it consume my hope, joy and faith or I can let my hope, joy and faith consume it.
Standing on a foundation of God’s love and enduring promises, it is my most sincere prayer that He will use this heartache in my life and the heartaches in yours, to transform us into shining stars like Esther and Corrie Ten Boom. Stars that shine hope, love, peace, kindness, grace, forgiveness and mercy even in our darkest of days.
The choice to stand against bitterness is not always easy. It is a choice however, I believe we must make. Choosing to trust God, even when it hurts, replaces the death of bitterness with the fullness of life. Suddenly we are able to say with assurance, it is well with my soul!