Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
…Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
…I desire You more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
He is mine forever.
…How good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things You do.
Even the word makes me shudder. A bitter woman is pinched and dry and frazzled. Pursed lips, tensed shoulders, dull eyes. She is defeated and defeating.
Picture Cruelle D’Ville. The Wicked Witch of the West. Cinderella’s step-sisters.
Were they just born that way? Negative and critical and waiting to pounce?
Or did someone hurt them deeply, slashing and wounding and burning up all the womanly gentleness God included in their original design?
Or maybe she did it to herself. Maybe a bitter woman makes choices about how she will handle the wounds that every living, breathing woman receives from real life. Not realizing where it’s leading, she harbors resentment, wrapping herself in prickliness to protect herself from being hurt again- ever.
We waddle around like porcupines and then wonder why nobody loves us.
And maybe we all do that— at least a little— for sure in marriage. We respond to those bumps and bruises with self-protective push back: You hurt me, I hurt you back.
Before we know it, bitterness sets in, blinding us to our own meanness. We end up edgy, just a little bit harsh, impatient with the once-again lapses our husbands (or children, or roommates, or coworkers) are prone to.
I do not want to be like that— and you don’t either. Yet just writing those words hints at my own intimate familiarity with the symptoms of a bitter, unforgiving, self-protective spirit. I know what I’m talking about here and so do you.
And here’s what I’ve seen in my own life:
When I’m holding onto resentment against anybody, I take it out on those closest to me.
My husband, my children, even my dog! One small mistake and off I go, intolerant and ungraceful, fully justifying that nasty edge to my voice while fiercely defending my self-righteous position.
The answer to what ails us is all too obvious. The hard part is the doing. And maybe the recognizing that it needs doing… the cure for bitterness is forgiveness.
And sometimes that’s hard for us to swallow. Because we think that if that person would only stop hurting us, stop disappointing us, start doing right and well and good and what we want and need… then I won’t be bitter anymore.
Only it doesn’t work that way.
Because bitterness has to do with us, not them.
Here’s the real truth:
Bitterness is caused, not by someone else’s wrong treatment of me, but of my own wrong response to their wrong treatment of me.
Can’t you see and hear and sense this truth in Asah’s song? He’s just tasted the bile of his own bitterness. Instead of blaming the bad guy, Asah realizes that the only hope for release from what ails him is found in God. Specifically, in focusing his gaze on God. “You hold… You guide… You lead…” He is finding that while people fail him, God never does. “He is mine forever”.
And as Asah revels in worship of God’s unfailing care, the angst and anxiety begins to loosen. Instead of having to keep up his guard, he finds a place of safety outside of himself— in God. And then, to his own amazement, he can’t wait to tell the very ones who hurt him all about this One who never does and never will.
How did he do that? How can I?
Before we explore further, this mystery no one but the fully forgiven can ever hope to understand, I think we need to take an honest look at our inner lives. We need to stop denying our own ugliness in order to allow the healing Spirit of God to root out any hint of bitterness that may be crowding out our ability to respond to Him.
Here, my dear girls, are…
Six Symptoms of Bitterness:
- A strong negative feeling towards someone
- Uncommon anger
- Overwhelming fear
- Emotional outbursts such as ugly comments, unexplained tears, or yelling
- Feeling resentment toward someone
- Constant turmoil in your heart
Can you see any of these symptoms popping up in your daily life? When your husband is less than Prince Charming? When PMS makes you crazy? When that slow line at the check out counter makes you late?
Job echoed what many of have experienced:
“My bitter soul must complain.”
Could a deeply hidden resentment towards someone in your past be causing all that grumbling at everybody and anybody you’ve fallen into?
Because your marriage will never be free and overflowing with love and laughter as long as you’ve got forgiveness work towards anybody left undone.
And your friendships will never last long while bitterness fuels continual bouts of complaining.
And your children will have a hard time understanding the grace and mercy of God as long as they see that bitter, edgy, constantly-correcting paradigm of righteous annoyance that pops up during conflict.
Might this just be the right time to be honest enough with ourselves to dig a little deeper? To ask God…
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
I’ll be praying for you, my girls, this week as you ponder those hidden away places to see if there is someone, anyone, you need to forgive. And I’ll be searching my own heart too.
Next week I’ll give you a quick recap on what forgiveness really is— as well as what it isn’t.
But just as a heads up, there is a difference between fully forgiving someone who has wronged and hurt you and fully reconciling with someone who is unrepentant and thus not safe for relationship.
From my heart,
P.S. What have you learned about bitterness? Are there more symptoms you’ve seen in your own life or someone close to you? And do you think men express their bitterness differently than women do?
You know I love to hear from you. Your thoughts continually deepen what I have to say.
 Taken from Muriel Cook’s excellent book, Kitchen Table Counseling. If you don’t own this book, I highly recommend it.