I’ll admit it, I’m bitter. I’m bitter and up until recently, I didn’t realize it. God has made me in his image and therefore wired me for relationships, even though he made me an introvert. Relationships involve people. Relationships are messy. People disappoint, plans get changed, and the beat goes on. In the middle of the hurt, I’m tasked with guarding my heart, for it is the wellspring of life, (Proverbs 4:23). What does that even mean, to guard my heart? If my heart is my inner self that includes my thoughts, will, affections, and emotions, how do I protect it? Figuring out how to protect it, begins with understanding where my heart is prone to wander.
Too often, I find my heart wandering around in the dwelling and retelling: dwelling in past mistakes, and retelling how I was wronged. I don’t often realize how quickly this attitude creates a posture of distrust and cynicism. Not dealing with hurt and dwelling in bitterness only makes me hostile in my heart and paranoid in my thinking. Bitterness is one of those sins that blinds me from recognizing my own role and culpability. It causes withdrawal, it breeds contempt, and it’s rooted in my self-righteousness.
The world tells me I have a right to be bitter. It tells me to listen to my inner consciousness, to dwell on a childhood trauma, to understand my unmet emotional needs, or simply just blame the man, whoever that guy actually is? The gospel speaks about my bitterness in another way. It speaks about it in the context of freedom: freedom to live, walk, and abide in forgiveness.
The gospel gives me the cure. It reminds me that bitterness is like a blade meant for another, that eventually severs the hand that conceals it. It’s like taking a poison pill and hoping my enemy will die instead.
In the end, bitterness leads to death. It robs me of joy and maximizes my anguish, while my offender is wiser, nonetheless. As I deal with my own bitterness wrapped up in my failures, hurts, disappointments, and struggles, I’m thankful that Jesus was the one severed on my behalf. He was the one who took the poisonous pill, so I didn’t have to. He was the one who freed me to forgive, because he has freely forgiven me. He is the one who takes my bitterness and turns it from mourning to joy. It’s through his blood stained hands that he reminds me of his resolve to guard my heart because he has taken my heart of stone and given me a heart of flesh, (Ezekiel 32:26). In other words, I’ve been made new. I’ve traded in the corruptible for the incorruptible. I’ve given up the bitterness and am finding rest in the peace, peace that comes only through Jesus. At the end of the day, I’m still dealing with it all, but little by little pride is being put aside and righteousness is prevailing. At the end of the day, I’m resting in the good truth that Jesus is better than my resentment, he’s better than my entitlement, and most certainly Jesus is better than my bitterness.