by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV
Where I live in Texas, Mesquite trees are an invasive and often destructive problem. Ranchers have been known to refer to them as “Devil Trees” or “The Devil with Roots.” They are hard to destroy.
We can cut them off at ground level. That solves the problem, for about a day, because they come back—with enthusiasm. The Mesquite tree has a tap root that reaches deep underground. Far down the root is a knot, and in order to get rid of the tree for good, we have to dig down to that knot and cut it out. Anything less, and we’ll be dealing with that tree again before too long.
Bitterness in my soul is the same. It comes in so easily, a comment made, or a look given. Sometimes it floats in like the soft weightless seeds of the dandelion, so lightly that I don’t even know I’ve allowed an offense to settle in and turn to bitterness.
But once it takes root and starts to grow, it interrupts my fellowship with God.
Less than ten seconds of watching the news tells me I’m not alone in this. The urge to be bitter is a temptation—and we know from whom temptations come. We want to give in to the bitterness, because it is our justification for feeling anything other than love towards another.
Sometimes we must distance ourselves from the source, if we aren’t yet able to withstand the temptations: social media, certain people, or even the news channel. As long as we are still feeding the root of bitterness with the fertilizer accessible from these sources, we can’t begin to dig down and remove the root.
I know some situations are impossible to avoid. Your job, your neighbors, family members. But what if it’s your church?
Paul wrote: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NASB). Holding a grudge and refusing to forgive gives Satan a foothold—not only in me, but in God’s Church.
I suggest that sometimes we need to step away until we can recognize where the bitterness is coming from. My tendency to be fertile ground always stems from something in me more than anything someone has done to me. Perhaps the offense spoke into one of my insecurities or threatened the control I try to keep on my life—or highlighted the fact that I’m not really in control anyway.
My bitterness will be contagious. Perhaps I will spread it through the way I respond to a comment or answer a question, what events I choose to attend, or where I sit. A little look here or there. Body language that reflects something other than joy and love. On a bad day, I might be tempted to make an innocent remark that isn’t really innocent at all. Like the weightless seeds of the dandelion, my bitterness can spread with very little effort. And Scripture tells me that the seed will grow to cause trouble and division, and become the burden of many.
Keeping myself in the same environment that feeds my bitterness only distracts me from getting to the true source. Like the pesky mesquite trees, I can be so busy fighting what is above the surface that I don’t take time to dig down below and get to the real source of the problem.
Paul wrote: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice…” (Ephesians 4:31 NASB). Don’t allow that invasive, stubborn root to remain in you. Ask the Lord to help you forgive, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.
Join the conversation: How do you deal with bitterness?