I have known people who have chronic physical pain, at least one with intense back and hip problems, who still smile and generally speak to neighbors and family with warmth. I know at least two people who have vicious relatives they have to interact with weekly and yet who still treat the offending family member with grace and relative cheer. They help to support and care for people who insult them and condescend them and gossip about them, and they, by and large, still live out their lives and help these family members with a measure of joy and optimism. I know a person who has been through almost constant financial hardships for at least the last fifteen years, and who still talks to strangers at the grocery store and his family at holiday meals about how his life is good and how he’s grateful to the Lord for getting him through some (often very long) difficult times. I knew happy kids at a Christian orphanage in Haiti, a place where no one had jobs or plumbing, and where none of the kids had parents or what we would think of as a home.
I know other people who start to remove joy from a room after a few sentences of conversation. Who view life as unfair (chiefly as it relates to them), and view themselves as having been subjected to a particularly, uniquely tragic existence. People who are offended very easily and who forgive with great difficulty. They overlook almost no wrong that is done to them, but their eyes somehow miss their own poisonous tongues and violent, heart-held grudges.
What’s the difference between these two groups of people? Why does the first set remain pleasant and hopeful through pain and the other become bitter or despairing?
Generally speaking, the answer doesn’t lie in the circumstances around them, but the kind of heart and attitude within them.
Now, I am often in that second group. I’m repenting of it and seeking Jesus’ grace for change in it, but I still often am. But I’m blessed in that two of the people closest to me are in the first group, and as I’ve watched them go through every bit the pain I have (and if I’m honest, more), I’ve been forced to acknowledge that the roots of my bitterness and anger are my own sinful motivations and idolatries and sense of entitlement.
The good part is that healing and forgiveness and change can happen when turning from my sin and believing in Jesus’ grace for me have occurred. Repentance and faith can lead to the Holy Spirit’s changing the darkest, angriest parts of my heart.
If you think you might be in that second group, I’ll exhort you with the same words I need to hear: Resist the temptation to blame your circumstances for your sin. Their may be legitimately difficult circumstances around you, you may truly be being harmed by others, but the heart is where sin comes from.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:9-10
There is no forgiveness without repentance, and almost as tragic is that there is no change, either. To continue to lay the blame for your anger, grudge holding, or gossip on the doorstep of your circumstances is chain yourself to that way of life indefinitely.
Bitterness, like all sin, kills. Kills relationships, kills the heart, and can even kill the body. And of course, in the end, after eating your earthly life from the inside out, kills your soul by sending you to Hell.
But praise be to God that Jesus gives life. Full-throated, self-spending, unimaginable life.
By grace through faith in Him alone, Jesus can work back the poison of the bitter person’s heart. Purer blood has never been bled, and it’s offered free of charge to every sinner who asks in faith.
Trade death for life.
It hurts, having that poison spilled from your veins, but a lot less than dying.
Plus the good part lasts forever.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.