Bitterness. What an unpleasant state to live in. For years I was entangled in the darkness of bitterness as it seemed that everyone else had the very things I so desired but were not a part of my present reality. In God’s kindness, He didn’t allow me to live in that tangled web of bitterness forever and through a series of circumstances and lessons that confronted the very core of my beliefs about God & His love for me, He gave me great freedom from it. As painful as that time was, I’m so thankful that God broke me of it, because no life stage in this broken world is free of comparison, bitterness, envy & jealousy.
This week, I sat in my room, upset and battling this very thing. My current set of circumstances leaves me feeling that dangerous root of bitterness again rising up within my heart. But this time, I’m desperate to fight it, and to have God clean out the ugliness more quickly and deeply than before.
Hebrews 12:14-15 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…” I so desperately desire some characteristics to be true of me – peace, holiness, seeing the Lord, the grace of God. But where do I feel my heart leaning? Towards the opposite: bitterness, trouble, defilement.
I don’t want to be wrapped up in that bitterness, as I once was. But it’s not as simple as just telling myself to “stop it!” and being freed. In this battle against bitterness – and I truly do mean battle – I must fight this head-on, and, truthfully, only through the work of the Holy Spirit empowering me.
Here are some practical steps I am taking to battle this bitterness from taking root I wanted to share with those of you who may be battling the same thing:
- Prayer. I must recognize that I am fully dependent on God to do the primary work of heart change in my life. What does this look like? You may have heard of “spiritual breathing” in Cru. It’s a simple way to think of living out the Christian life in a moment by moment way. First, I exhale – I admit my sin, my feelings, my desires, my longings & that I can’t do it without the Holy Sprit – and then I inhale – I remember that I am forgiven because of Jesus’ work on the cross & I yield to the Holy Spirit to take back the throne of my heart and empower me.
- Where is my identity? In Because He Loves Me by Elise Fitzpatrick, she writes, “Rather than being inebriated with God’s mercy, grace, and Spirit [Ephesians 5:18]… we’re reeling from the belief that the most important factor in any given day is our success or comfort. Life has become ‘about’ us and God’s love in the gospel has taken a seat in the back of the bus, behind coveted invitations, the respect of friends, NFL championships, and full stomachs. We mistakenly think that these things are measures of God’s love for us because we’ve forgotten about the Lamb who takes away sins.” How powerful! Am I living out my identity based on who God is & what He’s done for me? No? It’s not enough to just “stop it!” – I need to go back to point one! I must recognize the disparity, and say, “Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief!”
- Love like Jesus. This was an encouragement in the midst of my bitterness from Lindsay, who discipled me at the time. Who holds up the better end of the relationship deal between me & God? Definitely not me. So, how can I, with the help of the Holy Spirit, truly love my friends and continue to love them even when I felt like I was overlooked or like they had such better lives than me, and through my heartache? What does it look like to be gracious, merciful, honest, resolve conflict, etc. so that bitterness cannot stick to my heart as it grows in love for others, rather than suffocating the life out of it? This is a great challenge, but it’s humility (or “thinking of ourselves less” as Tim Keller writes) that brings me true perspective on love!
- Foster gratitude & generosity in my days. If there is a command that seems harder to me when I am in a set of undesired circumstances than rejoicing with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15), I’ve yet to find it. How can I rejoice when I want the thing they have? Do I really want to be that girl who cannot rejoice with other people? No way! But I can be sad about my circumstances while still rejoicing for others’. The two are not mutually exclusive! I must foster a heart of gratitude for what God has given me and a heart of generosity towards others. My friends have wept with me and loved me through the hardest moments of my life recently. How much more can I rejoice with them by being generous – with my time, my resources, my heart, my listening ear, my love? Giving to those who are in circumstances I dream of being in allows me to forget that I want to be bitter about their lives, because I am moving towards them in love. This isn’t something I can do on my own, either. I often must take a minute to be honest with others & the Lord about my disappointment, heartache, and sadness – God does not ask me to ignore the fact that I am hurting – and then I ask the Holy Spirit to empower me to love others, to care for them, and to be generous and grateful as is fit for the situation. And surely God does it. He loves to answer those prayers.
These aren’t some sort of magical steps in a formula that will quickly fix all of your heart problems in regards towards bitterness. Only God can do that. But I’m here to say that there is freedom to be found from bitterness, and a fight to be had for that freedom.
I wonder what would it look like if we, as women who believe that God loves us, took time to really put in the hard work of yielding our lives to the Lord and turning from bitterness, jealousy, comparison, and envy. How would our communities, our families, our hearts change?
“Let us lay aside every weight and sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, looking to Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.” – Hebrews 12:1
I truly believe that this, the gospel, changes everything. Holy Spirit, work in us that we might better reflect you & that we may find freedom from things like bitterness which so easily take root in our hearts! We love you. Thank you for loving us.