From the moment we are born till the moment we die, things are constantly happening to us. A former pastor of mine used to say quite often; “Difficult circumstances will either make you bitter or make you better.” That's a scary thought but I have found this to be true in my own life and have seen it to be so in the lives of those around me. Bitterness is something we all have to struggle with. Such an easy pit to fall into when our world seems to fall apart!
The word bitterness can mean “ to fester”, “to be sarcastic”, “to be jealous”, “to rankle”, or “to be hard”. We’ve all had times in our lives when things happened that made us have some of these feelings. Sometimes bitterness can be a secret sin. Someone does some kind of wrong to us…we get bitter….but we want to appear as good in the eyes of our friends so we try to not let this bitterness show. So it doesn’t hurt the one we’re mad at….it only hurts us. Isn’t it ironic that in wanting to hurt someone else, we end up only hurting ourselves?
On the other hand, sometimes bitterness is extremely obvious. Let’s say that a mother has lost a son to death and she blames God for all her sorrow. She may curse God and never set foot in a church again. It is very obvious to all who know her that she is a bitter person. There may be another mother down the street who has lost a child, too, but she has continued to be faithful to God and has used the compassion she has found through the death of her own child to become a comfort to other grieving parents. This latter mother has become better through her trial instead of bitter.
The only “good” definition of bitterness I found was “to show sorrow.” In Zechariah 12:10 the Bible says, “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” This verse paints a picture of how we should feel when the grace of God has been applied to our lives and we realize that it was our sins that “pierced” the Son of God. Then we should be in “bitterness”, or in other words, show sorrow for our sins.
Yes, I have found it so very easy in my own life to become bitter but it is so much more rewarding to take my problems, my disappointments, my losses, and my pressing cares to the One who can make all things right. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
While studying to write this article, I came across a quote by Harry Emerson Fosdick that I thought summed up the contrast between bitterness and its opposite, which is love. Here is the quote:
“Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it.
Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it.
Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it.
Bitterness sickens life; love heals it.
Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.”
My prayer is that both you and I may have the power of the Love of Christ in our lives “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15 b)
May God help me to be better.....not bitter!