The Poison of Bitterness


The poison

Bitterness comes when we least expect it. It is a poison.

The stray cat had claimed our place as home – probably because she was fed and invited to stay.  For some reason, stray animals keep finding our place and end up staying. That wasn’t a problem until she rubbed against my legs one afternoon. By evening, I had developed a rash – and an itch. It was a horrible itch, and I kept wanting to scratch and scratch and scratch. I knew I couldn’t, yet every time I tried to wash over the rash, the itching got worse.

I knew it had to be the cat. She had probably rolled around in some poison that day and brought it with her. The pattern of the rash on my legs was distinct. She had meowed her way against me, starting in front at one side, moving between my legs and then rubbing against the back of the other leg, all the while waving her bushy tail against my skin. Yep. The cat was the culprit and I paid the price for weeks.

Poison oak started moving up my legs. Oh, was it a battle! Not only does Benadryl knock me out, it doesn’t quite cut it once the poison is in my system. For days, I barely kept my senses about me. Between the discomfort and the medication, I felt like I was living down under. Things changed from bad to worse when I had a reaction to the steroid I was given to counteract the poison. It is no fun to wake up at three o’clock in the morning with jaw pain only to discover that the pain is from swelling of the entire face.

If only that stray cat hadn’t shown up at my house. If only she hadn’t played in poison oak before she came to rub against and between my legs. If only I had washed immediately after she rubbed against me, the poison might not have stayed or at least not been as bad. Yet, how was I to know? If only.

The Response

I’m telling you this story because there’s a moral here. Some of us are more susceptible to bitterness than others. Some of us readily “invite” bitterness to stray to our place – and then allow it to stay.

When we allow ourselves to foster ill will, it turns to bitterness. The more we “scratch”, the more the itch will stay there – and the more the poison and rash will spread.

Life isn’t fair. Things happen that cause pain, heartache, and grief. I had no control on the cat that showed up at my door. I did, however, get to choose the kind of treatment I would take. Had I known, I could have avoided the poison entirely by steering clear of the cat.

Most times in life, we don’t get to choose what happens. We can, however, choose our response. The problem is that the easiest response is often the most deadly. Generations can be affected by the wrong responses we are tempted to take – responses that come so naturally and easily.


How poison infects

Bitterness is like that. A  hurt is coddled. We re-live it over and over. Like a cow chewing its cud, we bring it up and chew on it, then swallow it down. We bring it up again, re-living the pain and the anger. Before we know it, the poison has taken hold in our system, and we become prisoners of our own minds. The poison affects how we live and what we do. I’ve been a prisoner, and so (if you’re honest) have you.

We pass the grudge on to our friends or our kids. They pick up the torch, carrying the grudge, many times not even knowing what the grudge was about in the first place. Or, if they’ve heard the story behind the grudge, it’s become so twisted that the original story is hardly recognizable. All they know is that we feel vindicated for our pain by keeping it alive. In their loyalty to us, they keep stroking the grudge, fanning the flame to keep it alive. They continue to look for ways to prove that the anger is valid. Like poison coursing through our veins, our bitterness festers and grows. Soon others are infected, sometimes taking on our grudge.

It happens over and over. Honestly, every one of us knows folks who are bitter. Many of them are bitter because of things that happened years ago that never affected them – except for the bitterness that is carried today in solidarity. We get a lot more sympathy when life is unfair than when we are blessed. So we keep carrying the torch.

The scars remain. I still have markings on my legs from the flare-up of poison that happened weeks ago. I still get itchy if I rub those areas too hard, and this happened weeks ago!  I’ve been declared cured, but the pull is still there. It’s a warning to me to stay away from those spots.

Proof of Poison

If there are folks we avoid, is it because we are bitter? Are you and I so busy carrying a grudge and making sure somebody has to pay for our bitterness that we’ve failed to receive the grace that God has made for us? Hebrews calls it falling short of the grace of God. Do we refuse to participate in events because of someone who will be there or because of something someone did? That’s a symptom of bitterness.

If we continue to regurgitate the contents of our minds so we can re-hash and re-live the wrongs that have been done to us, to our friends, our parents, or our grandparents, then perhaps it’s time to consider how we are poisoning ourselves and others.

The Poisoning of Many

It doesn’t just stop with you or me. Like one infected person to another healthy and innocent one, it gets passed down from one generation to another. Family strife and discord can often be traced back to one event that has never been forgiven. The rift is kept alive by continually re-hashing what happened so long ago. Remember the Hatfields and the McCoys?

For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, there is only one thing to do: get rid of the poison. The book of Hebrews tells us that we should be looking diligently. The scripture tells us that we deserve to rest in Christ. However, we are to look diligently so that none of us falls short of God’s grace. If a root of bitterness crops up, it will trouble us and then many will be defiled.

I know this is true. I have experienced it. I struggle, at times, with bitterness. I for sure have experienced the fall out of bitterness from someone else who poisons and drains a person.

In a moment of frustration one day, a friend of mine told her sister, “You are so bitter!”

To which the sister replied, “I know I am. I am full of it. It’s eating me up inside, and I don’t know what to do.”

Both sisters experienced the same upbringing. One chose to look at all that she had left and the other chose to look at all that she had lost. Each of them chose a different response. I knew both of these gals. One was fun to be around; the other one I avoided – as did many others.


The Symptoms of Bitterness

A physical rash is a reaction to a poison. Just so, there are symptoms that show us when bitterness is exhibited in our lives. These are the ones I look for in myself when I am experiencing unhappiness or feeling adrift. I check to see how much time I’m spending re-living past hurts. If I can’t sleep at night, sometimes it’s because I’m rehashing a hurt. I have to deliberately re-focus my mind on the goodness of God and the mercy He has given to me. (No, I did not say this is easy. It isn’t.) I have to choose, sometimes, to forgive someone again.

If you find yourself doing any of these, then consider whether or not a root of bitterness has sprung up in you. I figure if these are the symptoms that signal bitterness to me, they might do the same for you.

  • reflecting blame or gossip on someone to make certain his/her reputation will not be blessed because of me
  • refraining from connecting to or relating to folks who have hurt me, my friends, or family
  • refusing to admit that the reason I avoid someone is that I resent them – not so much because of who they are, but because of who I am and what I am harboring in my heart
  • regurgitating the episode and chewing it over again – often times during a sleepless night
  • rehashing what happened (sometimes to others) so I can justify my hurt or anger
  • reliving the memory and becoming angry again
  • reminding myself to not get too close to someone who has hurt me
  • retelling the story (often with embellishments) to make certain that others light the torch and keep it flaming

Are there people who have been defiled because of you? Scripture calls us clearly to look diligently, lest there be any root of bitterness that might be trying to spring up in us, thereby defiling many people. If it’s pointed out in God’s Word, then it’s a cause for concern.

The Healing from Bitterness

  1. Watch for it. When we are angry or hurt, we need to watch out for the root of bitterness because Satan is waiting in the shadows to use that pain.
  2. Name it. If we have symptoms of bitterness, then we need to call it what it is.
  3. Confess it. Confess the sin – because that is what bitterness is.
  4. Change Focus. Focus on what you have, instead of on what you’ve lost
  5. Forgive. Forgive the one who has wronged you. Keep forgiving when the poison starts to creep in again.
  6. Bless and Pray. Bless the person who has hurt you. Don’t retreat. Be proactive. (Oh yes, you do know how you can bless that person!) Pray for the person who has mistreated you, even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
  7. Claim Grace. Claim the grace of God! Don’t miss out on what He wants to do.

This I know. The more I pull out that root of bitterness, the more easily I can identify its symptoms. The sooner I take action, the easier it is to get rid of it because it will not have had time to fester and grow. In taking these steps, I’m opening myself up to grace from God. He heals, and He restores. All I need to do is ask.


Avoiding Bitterness in Suffering

                                                     Avoiding Bitterness in Suffering


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How Beauty Comes from Pain

The fragrance from crumpled petals.

It wasn’t my church, and it wasn’t my people, but a friend told me what happened that Sunday after church. Half a century later, I still remember. I remember the beauty that came from the fragrance of crumpled petals. Beauty from pain!

The older lady stopped to speak to a group of girls standing outside church one Sunday morning. A woman of graciousness and character, she moved with assuredness and certainness. Grace knew who she was and to Whom she belonged.

Some things had happened in their church and folks were still reeling from the aftershock of pain. Relationships were strained and restoration seemed bleak.

Did Grace perhaps sense the discouragement of these teenage girls as she stopped to speak to them? Over a few minutes’ span, she chatted with them about day-to-day things. Nobody mentioned the pain or what had happened. Yet the elephant was there in the room. The one thing that brought pain; the pain that nobody knew what to do with, the pain about which nobody knew how to pray anymore. Could beauty possibly come from such pain?

Better, Not Bitter

Finally, Grace spoke to the experience they all were avoiding. “I want you girls to know I am praying that God can use the things that have happened to make you better and not bitter.” That was all.  She turned and walked away.

The girls knew the hurt Grace had experienced over the years: torn family relationships, children who walked away from God, and the pain of strained relationships. One would think, from watching Grace, that life had been easy for her. She was always sweet, kind, and gentle. Her face belied the nights she had stayed awake to pray for her wayward child, the days she had cried for answers when no answers came, and the years her prayers had gone unanswered. Yet, she stayed the course and she kept praying.

Instead of becoming bitter, she allowed her pain to make her a better person. Grace allowed pain to make her kind and compassionate. She cared about others. The pain she experienced made her better. God used that pain – because she allowed Him – to make her more gentle, more caring, and more easily able to notice the pain of others. She allowed the crushing of the petals to exude fragrance and rest.

When Grace told these girls her desire for better instead of bitter, they knew what she meant. They had watched her walk through valleys of sorrow; they had watched the pain of brokenness change her hair from black to gray in a few short months. They had seen the wrinkles increase on her face, but they had also seen the beauty shining through that pain. Was it because she spent time with Jesus? Having seen and felt her spirit, these girls wanted to become like her.

Crushing Brings Beauty and Fragrance

It is the crushing of the rose petals that brings out the fragrance.  The sweetness of her spirit remained after she walked away.

Grace isn’t here anymore. When she went to Heaven to be with Jesus, some of her prayers had been answered. Some of them were still there, at the Throne of God, like incense before her Lord. When I think I Grace, I remember the fragrance of her spirit.

She didn’t allow the pain in her life to push her away from God. Instead, she allowed that pain to push her toward Him.

I want to become like Grace because she embodied character traits of Jesus. I want the pain in my life to push me toward God instead of away. I want to allow Him to use the pain to make me better and not bitter.

beauty from pain

The Potter’s Wheel and Broken Pieces

I want to allow Him to put me back on the potter’s wheel and remake me, patching up the broken, rough edges. Over and over, God uses our brokenness to shape us into His character so we can become like Him. When we’re broken into pieces, He doesn’t throw those pieces away. When our dreams are gone or are so shattered there is no mending or repairing, He takes those broken pieces and gives renewed hope and vision. He gives us new dreams.

If we ask Him and allow Him, He scoops us up and puts us back on the Potter’s wheel. In the turning and molding, He shapes us into what He wants us to become.

No pain is too great that He cannot use it.

beauty from pain

Life is an opportunity to let Him shape us into becoming like Jesus. This is not easy and sometimes it is downright hard. When we’re emptied and broken, when we’re wounded and crushed, He never quits. He continues to mold us and make us worthy because He does not throw the clay away. Grace modeled this for those girls.

Let Brokenness Become a Fragrance

If you’re struggling with brokenness today, listen to this song. Ask God to make of you a vessel of honor. Ask Him to produce fragrance from the crushing so that you, too, can become molded into His image. Your sweetness will be a fragrance to those around you.

The SONG “Emptied and Broken”

The Words by Gene Reasoner

Emptied and broken, I came back to Him

A vessel unworthy and so scarred with sin.

But He did not despair, He started over again

And I bless the day He didn’t throw the clay away.


Over and over, He molds me and makes me

Into His likeness, He fashions the clay.

A vessel of honor I am today,

All because Jesus didn’t throw the clay away.


He is the Potter and I am the clay

Molded in His  image, He wants me to stay.

But when I stumble and I fall, and my vessel breaks,

He just picks up the pieces, He doesn’t throw the clay away.

The Song

To listen to this song, click on this link.

Pinterest How BEAUTY comes from pain





What to Do With Resentment

resentmentAs long as the world turns, we will struggle with resentment.

It is subtle and it’s often hidden. Sometimes resentment is masked so well that we hardly recognize it for what it truly is and where it can take us.

Life isn’t fair and other people have abilities, talents, and treasures that we wish we had. Rather than being happy for them, we find ourselves filled with resentment. Some folks make poor choices, but life continues for them like a song with no seeming consequences, and we find ourselves feeling resentful. We rather expect all things to be equal, but they just aren’t. So we become resentful.

The Very Beginning

You know where this started? Way back in the Garden of Eden – with the very first family.

God gave the first sons of Adam (Cain and Abel) interests and abilities that were different from each other.  They had the same parents, same genes, same bloodline, but they had different interests, and different abilities. God is allowed to do that. The boys didn’t get to choose their talents; they came along with the genetics.

First, we have Cain, the first born and a tiller of the ground. That’s a noble profession, for God had said that man was to till the ground.  Apparently, Cain was a good farmer.  I’m sure his produce was some of the best. He was obviously the first born and liked to be in charge. I get the feeling that folks didn’t readily tell him what to do.

Abel, the second born, was the younger brother, and a keeper of the sheep. It sounds like he was the farmer and took care of the animals. I get the feeling that he was bossed some by his older brother.

Both occupations require sweat and hard work. Both boys had their calling and their interests in life. Neither gifting was better or worse than the other. The problem wasn’t the giftings that were given to each son.


The problem was that when it came time to bring an offering before the Lord, the eldest didn’t follow God’s instructions. The consequences of that choice caused resentment.

Cain pursued his own interests and brought the fruit of the land. It makes sense, really. Husbandry was his thing and it was where he was the most comfortable.  He could choose the most delectable produce and make sure it had no blemish. It wasn’t that being a farmer was wrong. The problem was that God had given specific instructions for how to bring Him an offering, and Cain failed the test.

Here comes younger brother Abel, the sheep herder.  He brings the firstlings of his flock to the Lord, and God has respect for his offering. Abel did it the way God said it had to be done. It wasn’t that Abel’s offering was better than what Cain brought. It wasn’t that Abel was a farmer.

The resentment problem wasn’t that Abel obeyed God, but that Cain didn’t.

As we are prone to do, Cain got upset. Everybody knew he was upset because the story line says that his countenance fell. Usually, when a person starts pouting, the purpose is to let others know that life isn’t fair, and that they’re upset; that they want things to be different. So Cain pouted.

God recognized the problem.

He asked Cain, “Why are you so upset? If you did well, then your offering would have been accepted. If you didn’t do well, then it’s because you sinned.” (Basically, God was saying, “Don’t be mad at Abel; he’s not the problem. You’re the problem because what you did was wrong.”)

If only Cain had listened to God. If only Cain had not resented Abel and become angry at him.

The problem started a long time before this offering episode. Could there possibly have been a previous discord between the brothers? It’s not likely that a pre-meditated murder occurred over one single incident. We sense that there was conflict, and it probably stemmed from sibling rivalry or resentment that went a long way back.

We don’t know the words exchanged between those two brothers that day in the field. All we know is that Cain talked with Abel when they were in the field. Subsequently, Cain rose up and killed Abel.

Why? What went wrong? How could a brother hate another brother so intensely that he would end his life?


It Continues Today

It is still prevalent today. Siblings, relatives, coworkers and church folks struggle with rivalry and envy. Somebody has something we wish we had, and suddenly it becomes their fault for having something we wish we had.

We do the same thing. When it’s time to follow what God says we should do, we find a way to get around it and justify our attitudes because of what someone did or didn’t do to us.

When there is discord among our siblings, cousins, coworkers, or friends, we do well to stop and ask ourselves:  What is the real problem here?

Why am I upset with him/her? Does he have gifts I don’t want to acknowledge? Why can’t I compliment her for her abilities? What makes me want to hold back from affirming? Is it because I resent his talents? Is it because she has something I don’t have? Is it because he has something I want?

If only Cain had focused on what he had done that fell short of God’s standard instead of being angry with his brother! If only Cain had recognized his own jealousy instead of being angry at someone else!


The Solution to Resentment

Each of us is faced with the choice to bless those who have what we wish we had.

Can we understand that not succumbing to our pain and disappointment will pave the way for future relationships? Can we grasp the concept that blessing someone else for what we don’t have acknowledges that God has chosen and gifted us as He desires – and chosen to gift them as well? We would do well to look beyond what we wish we had, what doesn’t seem fair, and recognize that often what seems so unfair has nothing to do with what someone else has done on their own. More often than not, what they have is the result of God’s decision to give through genetics and experiences. Can we let God be God or will we try to make Him out to be a god of our design?

One of the best ways to get beyond sibling rivalry, cousin conflict, or friend fiascos is to bless those with whom we have rivalry or conflict, especially if our conflict stems from jealousy or resentment.

What if we would stop and think about those whom we resent? What is it about them that we find so repulsive or that makes it hard to wish them well? Is it really something they have done, or is it their abilities, their talents, or their financial success? Was it because they might have made some good choices while ours were poor choices, or was it because God has gifted them in ways He hasn’t gifted us? Perhaps someone else made poor choices that affect us negatively today. How is that the fault of the people whom we resent, those who have what we can’t have? Either way, how is what happened to us their fault and a reason for our resentment?

There are days I’ve mixed a batch of bread and passed out a few loaves – not so much for the receivers as for myself.  I sensed an attitude brewing in me, and I knew if I didn’t do something positive, I’d be seething inside, building walls.


So I make myself do the hard thing. I face my resentment and I bless by giving.

Amazingly, the giving lifts the darkness. The heavy silence in the car is gone. The first day back to work with the new supervisor who got the job I wanted is smooth sailing. My neighbor waves at me again. Others see that what I do is for Jesus and not for me. I’m not in bondage to what I wish I had.

When we can learn to bless others, we are no longer rivals. When we learn to bless others who have what we wish we had, we are overcomers. When we learn to bless others, we are being Jesus to our families, to our friends, and to the world.

pinterest resentment