As time has passed, I have discovered brokenhearted people get a little bitter. It is kind of hard to separate the two of these things from each other. One actually feeds the other and it is kind of like no matter how hard you try to break free of one, you cannot until you really break free of both. Bitterness just doesn't arrive on your doorstep one morning beckoning you to invite it in. It usually comes because we have been disappointed with results of something, dreams have been shattered, or we have had our feelings tremendously put into a tailspin by someone. Brokenhearted people invite bitterness in, not the other way around. I know this to be a fact, not because I see it in others, but because I lived it in my own life. It is so easy to drift into bitterness when our hearts have been shattered by the actions of another. In time, we justify our bitterness because we feel we deserved better. We sacrificed for the other person, made little adjustments in our lives to accommodate their needs, and then they go and do something which leaves us in a mess of emotions we just begin to nurse. In time, these nursed emotions become tiny roots of bitter feeling - raw nerve endings which are "pricked" every time someone even looks at us wrong. These are magnified over and over again until we have nursed those emotions into a frenzy of bitter thoughts. If you have ever tasted a truly bitter thing, you know how difficult it can be to get that taste out of your mouth. For a very long time, that feeling it leaves behind is there and you must do something to rid yourself of it or it will stick around causing you a whole lot more discomfort if you don't. The same is true of these emotions we nurse which turn a little too sour for our liking. We have to actually do something to get rid of them or they will continue to cause us discomfort.
Once I was bitter and brokenhearted. I was stupid and ignorant, and I treated you as a wild animal would. But I never really left you, and you hold my right hand. Your advice has been my guide, and later you will welcome me in glory. In heaven I have only you, and on this earth you are all I want. My body and mind may fail, but you are my strength and my choice forever. (Psalm 73:21-26 CEV)
One of the first things I needed to recognize when dealing with my own bitterness came as I began to want to lay all the blame on someone else for the misery and misfortune I believed I was facing because of their actions. In truth, many of the emotions I was dealing with were my own sense of frustration, disappointment, and angst over the things "I" had done in the relationship. It wasn't so much about the other guy - it was about me! Once I began to allow God to deal with my part in the issue, I began to see the things I was holding onto and justifying as "righteous indignation" toward the other guy were really just selfish ways to attempt to hold the other guy in bondage over the issue at hand. Yeah, I was thinking I could actually control or wreak havoc on their emotions, causing them a little of the emotional turmoil I was experiencing! Now, how foolish is that? You don't have to tell me, because I came full faced into the mirror of my foolishness! When I began to see how all this angst I was creating was really not "righteous indignation", but rather selfish bitterness, I had a little bit of confessing to do. In essence, I had done what David penned above - I was treating the other person as a wild animal would - snapping at them, looking to do some harm, trying to weaken them so they would be "lame" and stumble themselves. Not so "righteous" of behavior - was it?
The good news is that God never left me in my bitterness. Even when I was acting foolishly and holding onto stuff because I thought those things needed to be nursed a little, he walked right there beside me. God may not stop us from acting with prideful intent, or responding to life's disappointments with bitterness and heartbreak, but he is there once we are willing to turn fully to him for his help. This is probably the most important thing I can tell you today - God doesn't abandon us in our bitterness and brokenhearted mess of a state. He might not like the "taste" of what he is experiencing as we nurse all that bitterness, but he isn't going to allow us to walk through it alone. He isn't put off by our acting like wild animals! He may allow us to nurse our brokenness a little while - because he wants us to come to the place we are finally ready to let it go. He won't force that on us - he is too much of a "gentleman" to do that!
When we finally come to the place of being willing to let go of the brokenness, he is there to begin to put the pieces back together. A word of advice here - the more pieces there are, the harder it is to put something back together. It isn't impossible, but it is more difficult. The thing to understand is that nursing those "wronged feelings" too long will lead to a whole lot more destruction of our heart and mind than we might have originally imagined. We might just think those things weren't getting as deeply affected by our bitterness, but we really don't see the far-reaching impact of bitterness until we try to get all the root of it out! It is kind of like crab-grass. That stuff can trail off forever and ever - with an underground root system that brings it up over here and then over there. We have to treat the whole yard in order to rid ourselves of the crab-grass, not just the immediate place we see it. The same is true when it comes to nursing bitterness in our lives - it has deep roots not always seen right now in this moment. Sometimes other activities will expose the evidence of the root still being active in us. When this happens, we need to confess we see another "root" and allow God to do the work of extracting that root. Do this often enough and the things we allowed to root will begin to die!
Remembering that bitterness begins with someone or something affecting our heart, we need to guard our hearts. Maybe this is why God places such a premium on the heart - it is easily affected by whatever has the most influence over it at the moment. If we allow God to be the object of our affection, it is difficult to allow other things (or people) to affect our heart negatively. There isn't time to nurse the wounds we might experience. When we make God the object of our affection, any wounds we might experience in this life are immediately taken to him for mending. This is how we guard against the root of bitterness. It took me about forty years to recognize this. It is my hope we all break free from the things which have broken our hearts and allow God to heal those areas where we are truly broken and bitter. Only in this release is there true freedom and enjoyment of his grace. Just sayin!