Monday, December 27, 2010

Bitter Pill To Swallow

My grandmother had a simple fix for mouth sores. It's a pickling spice not often used for anything else called alum. Whenever I would develop a canker sore or the budding fever blister Grandma would gather a cotton swab, wet it slightly under the faucet and dip it into the alum powder. She would then touch the alum to my sore and tell me to close my mouth. Wow! Time to hold on! My mouth would begin salivating and there would be the stinging... But the worst was the incredible, beyond imagining bitter taste that ensued. Thinking of it still sends chills down my spine. It would take many minutes for the salivating and stinging to subside, but the bitter taste lingered on and on. I would spit and spit and spit, but unless I chose to put something else in my mouth, all my efforts to expel the nastiness were in vain. It was very effective for healing up the open wound, but definitely one of those "cure worse than the disease" choices that made me think before I acted.

I am lucky that I don't develop mouth sores often but when one recently popped up I was reminded of how invasive bitterness is in all aspects of our lives.

I have struggled mightily with the bitter pill over more than one instance in my life. I have been hurt, slighted, vilified, lied about, lied to and misunderstood. Most often I hold onto those issues in the form of bitterness. I relive the offenses and hurts and I refuse to let them go. Regretfully, it can go on for years! I can fume over the littlest things and once I allow it to continue into my heart, I can't seem to just "let it go."

Bitterness grows in your soul like a weed. Like a weed, it starts out much smaller than it eventually becomes. Like a weed, it can mimic the good and beautiful flowers we prize, slowly taking over the garden of our minds until it has given birth to other roots steeped in sin and hateful behavior. I tend to lull myself with promises to pull that nastiness out at a more convenient time. But soon the weed has taken deep roots and its stalk has grown tree-like. If I am honest with myself, I have come to love the bitter weed. It feeds a part of me that I might not in other lights admit I have. I am always the best at deceiving myself!

Realizing that I am the only one who is ever truly hurt by my bitterness is a revelation to me in ways that are comical on some levels and tragic on others. After all, there are only two entities on this earth who can see inside my bitter, hardened heart... Myself and God. So who is really affected by my choice to remain bitter? Myself and God. And who pays the ultimate price of separation from the Father? ME!

"When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence." (Ps 73:21-22) Yup, dumb ox... That would be me! So many times I was guilty of cutting my nose off to spite my face, just to make a point. And to whom was the point made? No one! I never communicated my disappointment and bitterness to the offending persons. I simply allowed the bitterness to take hold of ME.

When I am consumed by bitterness (or any other sinful behavior), I am the one affected and if I allow it to take over, I ultimately become separated from God. Isn't that just exactly where the enemy wants me? He wants me separated from my heavenly Father because once alone, I am vulnerable to his attacks. I am no longer that cord of unbreakable strength. I am vulnerable to his lies that tell me I am alone, I am unworthy, no one will ever love me. He tells me that only I am capable of taking revenge and making things right. The enemy tells me that I have a right to be upset... REALLY??

Although it isn't the popular or conventional approach, letting God handle my offenses has helped me realize that I can let go of the bitterness. Keeping my eyes on Him and allowing my bitterness to flow out of me like a spilt cup results in my coming closer to God, not being separated further from Him.

Bitterness is one of those reactions that I can definitely learn to live without. I am ready to put something else into my mouth, something sweet so that sweetness may also pour out of it... Are you with me?