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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Avoiding a Lifetime of Bitterness


“Whatever happens, don’t let yourself become bitter.”  Those were the words I heard from an old friend I hadn’t seen in years who unexpectedly showed up on my doorstep during the dark days of my divorce.  I don’t know how he heard, I don’t know how he found out where I was living, and I don’t know what he was doing in town, but somehow he had decided it was a priority to come share that warning with me.  He then explained why by telling his own story when, having ended up divorced after a long term marriage, he had allowed himself to become bitter and found it was a hard journey back.  But anyone going through a hard divorce knows, the temptations to follow the paths of unforgiveness, hatred and bitterness are very, very strong.  Divorce is, after all, a very “bitter” pill to swallow!

Have you ever been around a bitter person?  You can see the bitterness in their facial expressions.  You can hear it in their voice.  Genuine smiles are rare occurrances on their faces.  Their lives are wrapped up in complaints and grumbling.  They are convinced nobody has ever had it as bad as they do.  And frankly, they are just NO FUN to be around.  Which, of course, means most people avoid them, resulting in their being even more bitter!  It is an ugly and vicious cycle.

Even worse is the impact bitterness can have on other people.  I have always liked the verse found in Hebrews 12:15—

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;   (New American Standard Bible)

Have you ever seen that happen?  Families filled with negativity or torn apart by bitterness.  Individuals who make the work environment miserable and almost unbearable, resulting in continual employee turnover.  Churches where attendees feel anything but welcome.  Bitterness is an evil infection that festers and throbs and produces nothing good in anyone.

The antidote, of course, is to nurture the opposite traits.  Things like forgiveness, kindness, generosity, helping others, investing in the future instead of rehashing the past.  

Forgiveness isn’t the one time choice that suddenly makes everything all hunky-dory.  It is a discipline that requires continual practice and reaffirmation, until the day comes when the pain subsides and the danger of bitterness has passed.  The imagery of a root is a good one to consider, especially if you are person who has tried to remove a stubborn plant or tree whose roots have dug deep.  You have to intentionally dig, struggle, destroy and attack such a root if you are going to win the battle.  The same is true of the battle against bitterness.  

I encourage you to consider joining the battle, because the sooner you do, the less chance bitterness has had to send the roots deep, and the more content you will be with whatever life brings your way.

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