That Blasted Root of Bitterness…and how to fight it.

“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…” Hebrews 12:15

Bitterness. It is such a sneaky little weed. It curls upward and outward. When given light and nourishment, it spreads its roots like clover, interweaving across our lives and imbedding in our hearts. Bitterness can cause so much pain.

I didn’t realize until recently that I’d been carrying bitterness in my heart for a wrong done to me many years ago. What was done was wrong, but my reaction made it worse. I fed that root, nurtured it, all the while telling myself I had every right. But did I?

I’ve mentioned that my husband and I are repairing our marriage. It’s hard and long and beautiful and glorious. We’ve both had to face wrongs that we’ve done. And we’ve had to work very, very hard to seek out all bitterness and burn it up. Every offshoot must be tracked down and eliminated.

Lately this has me thinking of a few things. I was transparent about some of our struggles and that has invited many friends to talk to me about their own hurts and broken dreams. Their frustrations with their spouses and even other people in their lives. Many of us have been wronged; some of us by those that we love most whether they be our spouse, our parents, friends, or even children. In this fallen world there is no shortage of pain and hurt. I’ve been thinking of things that I’m trying to do (and things I’ve failed to do) to keep bitterness from taking root and wreaking havoc on my life and the lives of those around me. I’ve narrowed my scattered thoughts into 5 key ways to combat bitterness. I wonder if this could help you today, my friend.

1)Pray. Pray for those who have hurt you. Even if it starts as “Lord, this person is awful. I can’t find love for them in my heart…” Allow God to take your prayer and turn it into caring for the person you are angry with. Repeat daily–hourly if necessary–until it doesn’t hurt to pray for this person any longer.

2) In your anger do not sin. It is so easy when someone has wronged us to justify hurting them back. Being mistreated is not an open invitation to misbehave in any capacity. Angry words heaved at someone without regard for how they will jab and damage, retaliation for the hurt, spreading lies or gossip about the one we’re angry with–all are without excuse. Nothing that is done to you justifies sinning yourself. You and you alone are responsible for your actions.

3) Grieve. Mourn. Pout. And be ready to stop when it’s time.  I spent most of the spring pouting. Only a few people knew it. My pouting was eating ice cream and watching Gilmore Girls during nap time instead of getting anything done. I cried, oh how I cried. I avoided my Bible, I kept things picked up, but failed to be on top of real housework- our laundry pile was simply appalling. And our gracious Lord let me pout for a good long time. Until one day, He made it very clear to me that enough was enough. I had put the girls to bed and was headed for the ice cream when bits of a passage from Deuteronomy 30 hit me like lightning:

“Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live…For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach…See I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…”

This was my moment with the Lord. He might do it differently for you. But this passage appeared before me over and over for the next week (God is repetitive when He wants you to pay attention) and it was clear to me that it was time to stop pouting and to cling tightly to Him. It did not mean that the pain was over, but my grief could be.

4) Keep your hurt private, but not completely to yourself. There is equal danger in keeping your hurt to yourself and in oversharing. A few trusted friends can go a long way in healing. Dealing with hurt on your own can lead to bitterness because there is no one outside of your own shattered thoughts to speak wisdom to you. But in the same way, talking to the wrong person can be detrimental to whatever relationship you’re working on. There is a sick side of humanity that likes things to be broken, that finds sport in others’ misery. It makes us feel better about our own problems. Family will naturally want to side with the one they love and in general be offended for you. Nothing but nothing helps bitterness grow like one of your own agreeing with you in your anger. The best kind of friend or loved one is one that will listen and hurt with you without nourishing your resentment. They will pray with you, speak Scripture to you, hug you, and encourage the healing of your relationship. They will not bash the one that hurt you.

I think in this same category I can touch on guarding your relationship. This might involve skipping out on certain outings because faking happiness isn’t going to be a good call (ask my family about the family dinners I ruined, one being Mother’s Day, where I ended up crying in the bathroom with the family having no idea what was wrong–I eventually had to share with them and it turns out not bottling it up made family stuff not so hard, but we still avoid a lot of high stress dinners). We have personally had to step back from a lot of things just to hunker down and heal. I will warn you now that friends and family won’t always understand this, but it is just a season and they will survive. Sometimes healing a relationship, especially a marriage, is more important than making those outside of it happy.

5) Examine yourself and repent. I met a friend for coffee at her house last week and she said something incredibly profound that greatly resonated with me. She shared with me the impact pornography has had on her marriage and with great grace she said, “I have done more damage to my marriage with daily little things than my husband has done in one big blow.” Ouch. I had to really take that home and think on it. Even if we are hurting from something big, the offender is never alone in their sin. My favorite marriage quote that I think can extend to friends and family and anyone that you might be tempted to be bitter against is this:

“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” ~ Ruth Bell Graham

Bitterness. I think this is something we rarely think about these days except in the context of the right balance of flavors in a meal. And therein lies danger. It is a silent cancer that eats away at the most wonderful relationships, weakening love and forgiveness and grace before you even realize it’s there. If we can but stop it before it spreads, we can conquer so much.

What would you add to my little list of ways to fight off bitterness when you’ve been hurt? Why do you think this is so difficult? I would love to hear you thoughts.

B.D. Riehl is the author of The Earth is Full and The Heavens Are Telling, both available in paperback and for your kindle on Amazon.

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3 thoughts on “That Blasted Root of Bitterness…and how to fight it.

  1. 2013 was a year of healing after much suffering and pain inflicted on our family. It’s nothing I would ever dare discuss online because we’ve been judged enough by people we know over difficult decisions we were forced to make to keep our family intact. 2014 has continued the healing process, but I believe that God has done a mighty work in bringing us to where we are now. There is equal danger in keeping your hurt to yourself and in oversharing.<— this line really spoke to me tonight, as I have a difficult time finding a balance between the two, especially when talking about personal sensitive matters. Thank you for being so transparent and for sharing something so personal to you and your family!

    1. Thank you. I definitely want to be as veiled as possible but hope that others do understand they’re not alone in this crazy, messy life. There is so much hope and goodness that has come true for us and I only want to encourage. But it IS hard to be balsnced. Yeesh. Thanks for reading and sharing:)

  2. Love and understanding coming at you from here, what comes to the forefront for me is to remember the place God wrote for me in the marriage, not princess(what?!) But as life-giver. I get every bit of any need and more filled to overflowing by my True-est Love, my Savior, My All. Then I go to my husband and just give. Only give. Give respect ( earned or not), give love, support, understanding, forgiveness, kindness, tender loving care, softness, beauty, prayer (that first and foremost), etc.
    Now I am convicted. Gotta go. Love ya, lifting you up, beloved fellow bond servant!:)

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