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.
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 relive 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
- 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.
- Name it. If we have symptoms of bitterness, then we need to call it what it is.
- Confess it. Confess the sin – because that is what bitterness is.
- Change Focus. Focus on what you have, instead of on what you’ve lost.
- Forgive. Forgive the one who has wronged you. Keep forgiving when the poison starts to creep in again.
- 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.
- 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.