A sharpness in taste

Maybe you have heard the story of the mother who ran into the bedroom when she heard her 7-year-old son scream.

She found his 2-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl's grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn't mean it. She doesn't know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgment, and she left the room.

As she started down the hall, the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?"

The little boy replied, "She knows now."

Or maybe you have heard about the elderly, single woman who pre-planned her funeral. The director was intrigued by the fact she chose six female pallbearers. "Are you sure you want all women to carry your casket to the grave?" he asked. "I'm positive," she responded. "If those bozo men wouldn't take me out when I was alive, I'm sure not going to let them take me out when I'm dead."

These tongue-in-cheek stories present a universal truth; sometimes it is not easy to let go of offensives others have committed against us.

You may know exactly what it is like to experience a slap in the face and the inner turmoil that it creates. It may be that your spouse left you for another without any warning. The pain is great and all you want to do is somehow strike back. Perhaps your years of loyalty at a business was rewarded with a permanent layoff with a tiny severance package. You lay awake at night thinking of ways to level revenge. Maybe it is just the little things like getting cut off on the roadways or the experience of dealing with a rude clerk at a store. It might be that you feel hostility toward God. Whatever it might be, these violations raise your blood pressure and cause you to smolder inside, and the result is growing bitterness.

Bitterness is something that has a harsh or disagreeable taste and is the opposite of sweetness. Individuals can become harsh or disagreeable and give off "a sharpness in taste." The bitter person is one who keeps scores of wrongs and looks for an opportune time to get back. The one who is bitter is like a work-site cement truck turning that cement over and over again.

The Bible offers some practical advice in this brief verse found in Hebrew 12:15: "See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." God has a different path for our lives; essentially, it is the grace path over the bitter path.

Let's take the second part of that verse first: "See to it ... that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Bitterness is likened to a root. Roots are slow to grow and may not initially be apparent. These caustic feelings can be below the surface or disguised for a while. And the truth be told, many have become professionals at grinding their teeth on the inside without exposing the deep-seated resentfulness that is within.  

With the bitter root, it is just a matter of time and its fruit will appear. It is inevitable. The fruits of bitterness are sarcasm, impatience, hate, revenge, spitefulness and many others. When bitter roots take over one's life, compassion, kindness and generosity are lost. Love takes a back seat. Bitterness not dealt with "causes trouble and defiles many." It is like rust that rots from the inside out unless dealt with.

Most times in the Bible, when we are prohibited from doing something, as in the verse above -- "see to it ... that no bitter root grows up ... " -- it is followed by what we should do. So here it is, "See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God." Grace is favor that is undeserved. With bitterness, you hold on and harbor the offense. With grace, you relax a little and let go. Now this doesn't mean that the one pursuing grace neglects justice or holds back confrontation. No, but the dispensing of justice done in the right way without vengeance and confrontation is handled with dignity, love and gentleness.

If the grace path is truly followed, it will bring about forgiveness. The antidote for the affliction called bitterness is forgiveness. Let me point out a couple of things about forgiveness. It is not excusing the offensive behavior. It is not restoration. A relationship can only be restored when a person repents of the wrong he has done. Forgiveness means letting go and trusting God's justice.  

What should you do if you are bitter? Pull out the roots! Here is how you do it.

First of all, admit it -- "I am bitter, and it is ruining me and my life."

Second, come clean with God about it. Confess it to him and he will forgive you.

Third, ask God to reveal to you what you should do.

Last, courageously do whatever God leads you to do.
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