Bitterness. It’s such an ugly word. So is bratty. I was both recently.
I didn’t get my way. I wanted something… and I wanted it NOW. But no matter how much I pleaded with God, begged, cajoled, or tried to ‘trick’ God into giving it to me… He didn’t. At least not in the way or timing that I wanted it.
I was an angry brat. And I realized that it was not just over this incident, but had been brewing over a series of recent situations that I just couldn’t understand why God wasn’t rushing in to answer me in the way I thought was best.
This attitude can be a subtle, but slippery slope to bitterness. How do I know? I have been here before.
There was a time a long time ago when I fell prey to bitterness. A serious and shallowly buried bitterness. It lay beneath the surface for years, it’s evil seeds planted the night my father died. I had just turned 17 the month before.
My father had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. He first had it when I was 14, but with treatment of radiation and chemotherapy, he beat it, or so we thought. One problem was, my father was a severe alcoholic. Between the drinking all his life, and the ongoing chemotherapy to fight the cancer, his doctor had told him he needed to quit drinking or he would die because his liver couldn’t handle it.
He did quit drinking. Cold turkey, just like he had quit smoking years before. He was a new man for a while. But then, he received the news that the cancer had come back. And then one night when I was shoveling snow, I watched as he drove up the driveway, and I knew instinctively, as only children of alcoholics know… he was drinking again. It wasn’t like he was driving erratically. Just an imperceptible impression we learned to gauge as children. We could even very accurately gauge how drunk our parents were, (my mom was a severe alcoholic too.) just by watching them drive up the driveway, and get out of the car. (You can read my Salvation testimony here.)
My heart sunk.
I believe after that, he gave up. He went back to drinking full force.
You need to know that my father wasn’t saved. He had never, as far as we knew, given his life to Christ. My mother had just recently before this given her life to Christ. She wouldn’t be delivered from drinking for a few more years, but her salvation in the Fall of 1977 was a miracle nonetheless. I don’t know about her, but I know for sure that all 4 of us children witnessed as often as we could, over the years, to our father. We prayed and had him added to our Church’s prayer list years before.
My oldest sister was off in college, as was my brother. My sister was more local, and would come home on some weekends. She had given Dad a book “Born Again” by Charles “Chuck” Colson. My father had been an avid supporter of President Nixon, and devoured anything Watergate related, so this book, an autobiography by the “Hatchet Man” of Watergate was right up his alley. I know he read it because I took mental note of how his bookmark moved forward in the pages of the book. I don’t know if he finished it or not before he got too sick to read, but I do know he got past the part where Chuck gave his salvation testimony.
Dad was re-admitted to the hospital in late April of 1978. It was a downward spiral after that. One day, in the second week of his hospital stay, he looked good, like maybe he was turning a corner. I had been praying so constantly for him, this propped up my hopes.
I had also felt like God had given me a verse to cling to while I was seeking Him in prayer, and believed it was my answer. John 11:4 “When Jesus heard that He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” It was one of those “open your Bible looking for an answer” moments, but I clung to it in childlike sincerity and youthful trust.
We didn’t go to the hospital the next day; I can’t recall why, but the following afternoon when we went, everything had changed for the worse. Tubes were now everywhere, and dad was now intubated, so he couldn’t really speak. The most notable thing to me was his skin and eyes. They were a sickening yellow I will never forget.
My younger sister and I called our Pastor to come and talk to him. We had been praying, as I had said, but also so many others had been praying for him too. Mostly that he would come to know Jesus as his personal Savior.
When our dear Pastor came to the hospital and gave him a clear presentation of the Gospel message, I still vividly remember my heartbreak as I witnessed my father forcefully flailing his arms at the Pastor as if to say, get away, stop talking to me, leave me alone.
Within 24 hours, my father was dead. We were there minutes before he succumbed to his final moments, although we were made to leave the room as he actually died and left for his eternity. I don’t remember much after that, but I do remember leaving to go home. Just my mother, my younger sister and I in the car. My older sister had been there multiple times as she could get away from her university, but my brother was farther away at an out of state college and didn’t make it home in time to say goodbye, but arrived later that night.
I remember sobbing all the way home in the backseat of the car. Out loud, uncontrollable, ‘wrestling with God’ sobbing. “Why? Why God did you let him die? He wasn’t saved!”
And, even though I could literally feel God’s arms around me, holding me and comforting me in my sobs, the first seeds of what would later spring into bitterness had been planted. They lay dormant for a season, until later watered and nourished by other “why’s” of broken-hearted situations and unfulfilled expectations in my life.
I went to college, something I had not planned on doing. But it was my father’s legacy to my siblings and I, who were still in, or going to college. We received social security and veteran’s survivors benefits as long as we were going to school up until the age of 22. (That has changed since then, and 18/19 and high school is the cutoff now.) I didn’t want to waste that legacy, so to honor my father, at God’s direction I decided to go to Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) where my older brother was also attending.
Lots of great things happened in my life at Liberty and I grew a lot as a Christian. But there were also some heartbreaks. A relationship I thought was THE relationship. Friendships that ended in betrayal, or just didn’t pan out. College pressure. Financial and work struggles, since we still had to work to pay the balance of what the benefit money wouldn’t cover. Family struggles back home. (My mother was still drinking heavily.)
Big and little heartbreaks of life, and although on the surface, I was truly walking with God, there was a festering boil of bitterness growing underneath.
Around the age of 22, I don’t remember what made it come to a head, but it was something small. I remember it was small, because I recognized how silly I was being to be so mad and ‘snapping’ at God over something so small.
“I’m sorry God” I sincerely said, “What is wrong with me?”
“You are bitter” He answered without hesitation in my heart.
“Bitter… over what?” I questioned.
“Over your father’s death.”
It was true. 100%. I knew immediately. And God knew I knew. I instantly acknowledged it and confessed it asking God’s forgiveness and help. (1 John 1:9)
God gave me immediate release from any bitterness I was harboring, and He gave me peace over the real issue I was dealing with concerning my father’s death. The whereabouts of his eternal soul.
Now, I’d like to tell you that God gave me assurance that my father was a Christian, and that he was in Heaven at that moment. But God didn’t say one way or another where he was. What God told me in my heart of hearts was that my father had had every opportunity to trust Jesus as his savior. God had given him all of those opportunities throughout his life. What my father had done with those opportunities was his own decision. His own free will. I will find out for sure when I reach Heaven, and I hold out hope that even though all outward signs said no, somewhere in his heart of hearts he may have said “Yes” to Jesus.
I let go of bitterness and fell again into my Loving Father’s arms of Trust and Peace.
I believe bitterness is always ultimately directed at God whether the person who is bitter knows God or not. They are mad and angry at “God” for not doing or fixing things the way they want. They don’t see the bigger picture, or trust that there is a bigger picture. They don’t acknowledge that God knows so much better than we do how to fix things for our ultimate and eternal good.
That relationship in college that didn’t work out? THANK GOD! Because what He had in store for me was sooooo much better! What God had planned for me was so much more than I could have planned for myself! All the other things… mostly just small pittances of life. Only when heaped on top of the true cause of my bitter feelings, were they enlarged in my mind. In a flash, they were gone, once God removed their true source.
Back to today.
Why am I so prone to this silly attitude of bitterness at God? Well, actually, I don’t think I am. I have kept checking myself throughout the years since that first awareness of how bitterness can work. Secretly building, growing, festering, until it is full blown. Lying dormant under the surface until “watered” and nurtured by other seeds of doubt and discouragement unchecked.
But this time, I think I let my guard down. Let one question build upon another, watering them with doubt. Doubt in God’s love, God’s provision, God’s care and God’s faithfulness. I took my eyes off Jesus, and started looking at the waves. Satan shot his arrows and I forgot to raise my shield.
Its been a period of rapid change in mine and my husband’s lives over the last couple years. Both of us have lost our mother’s; but, both to Heaven 🙂 thank God! We have ongoing family struggles of different measure, and we have had some serious church strains in the past few years. Add to all that the tight financial struggle we have been in for the past year or so, (hospital bills, job changes, etc, making an already crisp budget brutally brittle!) I think I just let go of some lessons I thought I had under my belt.
My “why” lifted to God was a very bratty whiny one, and God has made me aware of that in not so subtle ways.
God has a way of pointing out the obvious though, and I am quicker to listen and be reminded of previous lessons learned, especially ones that were soooo loud and clear, I have never forgot the moment of learning.
I have taken my besetting sin before the throne of God, and acknowledged it. Its already been forgiven, but now things are restored too. Attitude-wise and relationship-wise. I can see and have always been able to see God’s provision and faithfulness in my life, when I remember to look!
God, you are so good to me!
So, I WILL trust you.
I WILL submit to you.
I may ask “why” and that is ok, but I WILL trust that even if you don’t answer me right away, you have a good and solid reason that is for my eternal good and your glory!
I will remember to praise you and trust in WHO you are, your Character and your Goodness and your Holiness. And for your All-Consuming Love.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen. (Psalm 23:6)
By the way, the night my father died, my Pastor at the time came to our house to comfort the family. That night, he led my 79 year old Grandmother to the Lord. That was, to me, a strong fulfilling of the promise of the verse God gave me, John 11:4. I still hope I find another one waiting for me in Heaven, but I am very aware of the choice being my father’s own free will decision, and God is ultimately glorified by that too. As an adult, looking back, I see many of my father’s life choices being instrumental in being stepping stones to my own faith. Whether he ever became a Christian or not. God is Good all the time, and all the time God is Good. 🙂
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