Monday, February 9, 2015

The Root of Bitterness

A feverish baby woke me early.  
A list of grievances from weeks past made sleep restless anyway, so the excuse to get out of bed brought relief that finally the night was over. 
Rocking a fussy one seemed simple compared to the weight of all the chips that I had allowed permanent residence on my shoulders over the last weeks.
The bitterness had crept back in slowly; hardly noticeable at first glance.  It rested quietly in my spirit, ignored mostly, but still allowed to permeate my thoughts.  Thoughts become speech; speech becomes action. Before long, the bitter began lacing my conversation about certain topics with a touch of sarcasm; a hint of hardness surrounding my talk; the edge of a critical spirit waiting to offer an arrogant opinion.  Only unchecked bitterness can result in such anger and frustration.   
Unresolved conflict in relationships, unmet expectations of life, and the pride of thinking higher of oneself than we ought, tend to open the floodgates to all kinds of past issues. 
Moments forgotten from times past...offenses overlooked, but not really overlooked just put aside for another day...all of the yuck of yesterday resurrected.
Generalizations allowed the freedom to make bold, over-arching judgments.
Words like never and always enter carelessly.
You never...
We never...
It always..
Anger strangled as I laid my little one back down in her crib. 
Not anger toward the little one who had pulled me from bed; for she cuddled and loved fiercely in her need.  
What is my problem?  No single incident could incite such emotional ugliness.
No single incident except the brushing aside of the root of bitterness that never fails to eventually produce fruit that chokes out the good.   
When we want an excuse for our sin, we hunt desperately for the scapegoat that allows us to take the edge off of our own conviction of wrong and place the blame somewhere else. 
It's not my fault I'm acting this way.  I have reason.
I began to justify.  The excuses ready to bear the brunt of the blame for my internal battle.      
I started the mental list as I rocked alone, no longer softened by the gentle breathing of the baby.  I was left to give full vent to my sin. 
For this reason...I'm so angry.
For this reason...I'm allowed bitterness.  
For this...I resent.  Who wouldn't?
All of the things I'm disliking about myself these days cast away from my ownership. 
And on and on my list grew in the wee hours of the morning. The frustration energized by my endless pursuit for justification.
On and on I rocked alone. 
It's no coincidence that the one in bitterness is often left to themselves. 

When I thought I would surely pop from the listing of excuses, the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit pressed in--the Counselor that doesn't allow sin comfortable living space in a child of God's spirit--the awakening of the status of the heart that doesn't allow for Truth to be absent from the equation.  There are no excuses in dealing with our own sin; God's word burrows into the dark places and reveals the ugliness of hidden sin, our own deceptive hearts that try to deceive us into believing that we are excused.   The weight of our sin comes to light.  Oh, it's so ugly, and so overwhelming, and so seemingly unchangeable.  Just when we think we might be doomed forever, Grace gently enters; to cover, to restore, to heal, to breathe life; the undeserved gift that unveils the sin and offers us new mercies in exchange for our repentance. Turn back and be renewed.

We all have our own reasons for hanging on to a bitter spirit.
Some reasons seem more worthy than others.     
Some stories make bitterness understandable. 
Some circumstances make living joyfully hard to do.
Some seasons of life are just plain more challenging than others.
People hurt us.  We hurt others.  We are disappointed.  We do the disappointing.  
And life doesn't seem to ever really look the way we thought.  
But we are never excused to bitterness.  
Never.  No matter our story. No matter how hard the fight against it.  Bitterness is never God's best.
Jesus came so that bitterness, resentment, and anger don't have to steal life from our days.
Their power to destroy us broken by the grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers.   We forgive...we let go of what steals our joy...because we know the depth of our own need for forgiveness. 
I could never be sinned against more than I have sinned against my Heavenly Father.  I could never be the keeper of right and wrong because I'm not always wise in the keeping of right. 
I hate the root of bitterness that creeps into my life.  But I often water it, leave it to sprout, and then eat of the fruit that was permitted to grow. 
The image of one clinging to years worth of justifiable reasons for anger and bitterness haunts me.  
Life had been hard for her.  My heart still breaks for her years later.  Yet, there's a nagging in the heart of a Christian that whispers the question when we see years worth of harboring such bitterness,  "Is this the one hurt that could never be forgiven?"   "Is this the one thing that Jesus didn't die for?"  We don't ever get to own the right to bitterness; the poison fruit that grows from it should spur us on to fight the roots of bitterness we see in our life on our knees with all our might.  To press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus has called us to.  There's such beauty when a testimony is given and years of hard and heartache and sadness are coupled with God's grace and forgiveness and joy.   Perhaps that's why Kara Tippett's testimony ( of living her life with such purpose, joy, and grace while dying of cancer has captivated so many of us. She could be bitter and angry at the broken journey she's been asked to walk, but instead I heard her say on a broadcast something like "We choose brokenness over anger."  There's a sweet release of comfort to hear that difficult can be journeyed without succumbing to our natural tendency toward bitterness and anger and our right to justice. We crave seeing God's power in action.  We long hearing of God's promises lived out in real life.  Beth Moore (in her study of Daniel) reminds us of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who came out of the fire that could have incinerated them, but instead "the hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them" (Daniel 3:27).  They didn't even smell of smoke.  Impossible. Only God enables someone to walk through the fire in such a way. 

Hebrews 12:15 "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

Letting go of bitterness always costs us something.  It may cost us our treasured power over someone; it may cost us our excuses to not deal with our own sin; it may cost us our pride. But letting go of bitterness promises to bring about fruits of the spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.  I've seen my own bitterness isolate me in certain ways and lend an edge in certain relationships. Turn back and be renewed the Holy Spirit nudges.

I have a vision of the way I long to be as an older woman. I want to be like my mom.  Not that she's an old woman, she's actually quite young and beautiful in all ways, but her children are grown and her grandchildren growing.  I want to be one like her who speaks with gentleness, kindness, love, and joy at days past.  I want to be over-flowing with grace-filled speech as I grow older and I want to always be looking for opportunity to extend forgiveness and ask for forgiveness in all my relationships.  I long for there to be no sharpness to my comments; no harbored grudges that poison life of its promised hope.  I long for my grown children and grandchildren to feel refreshed in my presence in years to come because the stench of some hard yesterdays were not permitted permanent residence in my spirit.  I become this older woman by fighting bitterness today.  By choosing Kara's attitude (Jesus' attitude), my mom's attitude, and letting myself be broken by life's hardships and not bitter and not angry and not hardened.

I've been rocking in that chair a lot today.   My baby is still feverish and she needs lots of loving.  As I move closer toward uprooting this bitterness that strangles, I can't help but notice the life it breathes into my family.  I'm reminded that tending to the garden of my soul requires the continual weeding of the ugly, the rotten, smelly, in order for true beauty to have room to grow. It promises to be well worth the fight.