Seven Signs Bitterness Has Become Boss

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The people I admire most don’t return anger with anger.

I recently watched a friend come under horrific false accusations. They calmly and respectfully laid down healthy boundaries, but they refused to retaliate in anger. The attacks continued for a long period of time and even increased in vitriol. Remarkably, my friend persisted in prayer for his attacker, refused to speak negatively about them, and successfully defeated bitterness.

The Bible is clear about how Christians are to handle bitterness. We’re to refuse to let it have power in our lives. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to know when it has a stranglehold on our hearts.

 

  1. We talk negatively about the other person. We may try to hide our attitude with a false agenda, but people can see bitterness, even when we’re blind to it. We get annoyed just thinking something positive about the other person. We like it when other people make snide or critical remarks about people we hold bitterness toward. Take the time to be honest with yourself. You’re not hiding anything from God.
  2. We constantly compare ourselves to the other person and get jealous. We see what other people have or how other people are treated and we think, “Hey, I deserve that!”
  3. We avoid “them.” You know what I’m talking about. Moving to the other side of the church. Dodging down another aisle at the store. Not talking to that relative any more. Not going to that group any more. We find ourselves enjoying people less and less.
  4. We’re annoyed when something good happens to “them.” Something inside us wants them to suffer because we think they’ve gotten something we deserve.
  5. We take things personally that aren’t about us. We make assumptions about things without facts. People are against us. People are talking about us. Things aren’t fair. Someone is trying to irritate us.
  6. We complain a LOT about the same things and overgeneralize perceived or actual negative experiences. We develop “tunnel vision” about a person and can only see them from our single, bitter perspective. We hold on to negative perceptions because we’ve rationalized away the positives.
  7. We think the person (or the world) owes us. We feel like we’ve been wronged, we’re owed an apology, and life is unfair.

 

So what’s the answer to bitterness?

Hopefully, we will have the honesty and integrity to see when we’ve given in to sin, repent, and take action to change our heart. Sometimes we may need prompting from the Word or from a loving, brave friend. But left ignored, bitterness will destroy us from the inside out.

Jesus gives the simple (NOT easy) solution for bitterness.

1 Peter 2:23: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Jesus didn’t see himself responsible for responding to abuse and attacks. The word revile is a strong word that literally means to “lambaste” in the manner of attacking and abusing someone. Jesus chose to trust God to make things right. He remained silent.

In the face of abuse, Jesus chose to react with peace, verbally and physically, while trusting God to judge.

Easy? Absolutely not.

Possible? Absolutely, through the power of the Holy Spirit and our conscious choice to lay down what we falsely believe are our so-called “rights.”

He left vengeance in God’s hands. He did not become bitter. He prayed for his enemies’ repentance and best interests (Luke 23:34).

 

“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.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

How to Cope When We Feel Ripped Off

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When’s the last time you felt ripped off?

Ten minutes ago? Yesterday? Last week?

Sometimes that surge of frustration comes in small doses. And sometimes feeling ripped off produces a tsunami of emotions that carry the power to decimate everyone in our path.

It may have been as you sat in a miles-long traffic jam on the interstate and cars flew past you so they could cut into the front of the line.

Or it may have been when your kid sat the bench again and wouldn’t see playing time for the seventh consecutive game.

Or was it when your sister who lives out-of-state said your mom certainly didt have dementia so she wasn’t going to waste her money by helping you with expenses for your mother’s caregiving. If you believed Mom had dementia, the cost of paying for her care was your responsibility.

The question is never if we will feel ripped off by life, but how often, how much, and how we cope with the hurt.

It’s normal to feel upset when people act unjustly. It hurts when people take advantage of us, disregard, and disrespect us. But the truth is that everyone lives from a self-centered core. That includes me and you. We choose friends who agree with us and our lifestyle choices. We believe our opinions are right. We spend most of our energy trying to make sure we get our way.

When someone rips us off, treats us unfairly, or acts unjustly, our response is usually a mix of emotions:

  • ANGERWe’ve all felt this familiar rush. I know I did the other day as I waited in line at a medical clinic for more than twenty minutes, leaning heavily on my cane for support as my legs cramped and throbbed. I finally gained the first position in line. My legs were burning, so I slipped into a chair near me to rest for a moment. Moments later the receptionist called “Next!” and the young man who’d been standing behind me raced to the counter. I instantly thought of bopping him over the head with my cane. He’d watched me stand in front of him since he’d walked in the door a few minutes after me. He’d seen me finally  sit down out of weariness and knew I was next in line. He simply didn’t care. And I wanted to smack him for his rudeness. Or at least give him a piece of my mind.
  • SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESSI immediately started an internal monologue about how disrespectfully people can act.   I would certainly never have done such a thing. I pumped up my feelings of righteous superiority, although I was blind to it that just then. I thought I was just observing the truth about someone who needed to learn how to respect others. But I failed to recognize that I was excusing MY disrespectful attitude just because I allowed someone to hurt my feelings.
  • ENTITLEMENT. I felt entitled to feel angry toward someone who treated me rudely. But truth should never be measured by our emotions–especially in moments of anger. Bug when we feel hurt, our default is to tell ourselves we’re entitled to have people treat us well. Jesus tells us to expect to be treated unjustly (Matt. 5:10-12; 2 Cor. 4:7-11; Jn. 15:18-21). As followers of Jesus, we lay down our lives and our rights. “I am crucified with Christ…” (Gal. 2:20).
  • DESIRE FOR REVENGE. I was once with a friend who was searching for a parking spot. After circling the parking lot for twenty minutes, he finally spotted someone pulling out just a few spaces ahead of us. But as the gentleman pulled out, another car driven by a young woman raced into the space behind him. My friend circled the lot one more time as the young lady entered the store. Then he returned to the car and deflated the tires on her car. Certainly not an action I recommend, but one I think we all have related to at one time or another.
  • BITTERNESS. Bitterness is resentment that bears poisonous fruit. (Deut. 29:18) Bitterness comes from walking in the stubbornness of our hearts (Deut. 29:19), refusing to change, or holding on to our anger. “…the one who… blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ In other words, in spite of what the Word of God says, we continue to think, speak, and act in a manner that justifies our anger.
  • VALIDATION. We try to garner support for our position and draw people into our “camp.” If you’ve ever lived through a church split, you’re familiar with this emotion. We long for other to see how right we are (and how wrong they are). We lose sight of the double-love command to love God with our heart, soul, and, mind and to love others the way we want to be loved.

Wow do we cope when we feel ripped off? 

  • Acknowledge emotions. God created us with emotions. It’s healthy to acknowledge them and unhealthy to stuff them. If an employee embezzles from you, it’s natural to feel angry. Acknowledge your anger and deal with it appropriately, but don’t let it rule your life, your tongue, and your choices. We can’t allow anger to take root in our hearts and tend and feed it like a pet petunia.
  • Heighten your awareness of your self-talk. Shut down negative dialogue and replace it with statements of gratitude. “Yes, I lost thousands of dollars, Lord, but I still have my wife and children.” Negative self-talk plays a major role in anger and bitterness, and it’s important for us to take control and stop the cycle.
  • Choose to focus on the positives in your life. If you don’t think there are any, create some. Look for someone who needs a friend. Volunteer at a hospital, school, or nursing home. Tutor. Teach a skill at a homeless shelter. Write letters. Break the cycle of victim thinking.
  • Spend time with GodThe more time we spend with God and the more intimately we know Him, the more our gratitude grows. The more our gratitude grows, the more we love others. The more we love others, the more we’re able to deal with emotions when we’re angry.
  • Pray for a humble heart. We’re all sinners saved by the Grace of God. Self righteousness and pride have no place in a believer’s heart. If you’re looking at people in terms of “them,” something’s wrong.
  • Commit to living an “altared” life. As Jesus disciples and God’s children, we’ve relinquished our rights. We live  to glorify God. Every moment is an act of sacrifice–including our responses to others’ mistreatment.
  • Pray for the other person. Nothing can change our hearts like praying for someone we don’t like. God uses prayer to change our hearts and our perspective, so prepare to be transformed. Ask God to help you see that person’s story, their wounds, their needs, and their heart.
  • Be still. Stop communicating with others about the issue. Be still. Read the Word. Listen to God. Let the Spirit of God work and trust Him to work in ways you cannot see. Then rest in the peace He will give you. We are responsible for bringing justice to every situation in the world. Our attempts often complicate matters further. We can trust a God who always works for our God and who does all things well.

When have you felt ripped off? How did you handle it? What advice would you offer to others?

Tips for Resolving Conflict

broken-mirror001Ever had a really tough year?

Lost a loved one? Received a dreaded diagnosis? Been betrayed?

I feel your pain. 2015 was challenging for me in many ways.

One of my most painful experiences last year was interpersonal. You know something isn’t right when you begin thinking in terms of that person or those people. Or when you find yourself obsessing about what you should have said or will say the next time you meet, talk, or communicate with that person or those people in cyberspace.

You know what I’m talking about. It happens at work. In churches. In families. In friendships.

Misunderstanding. Differing opinions. Well-intentioned (or not) advice. Hurt. Division. Separation.

In short, everything God hates and Jesus came to obliterate through his death. He came so we could be reconciled both to God and one another.

And this is the life God requires of us: that we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light and have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). 

 

God doesn’t suggest that we love and forgive those we disagree with and even our enemies. He expects it of us. He even tells us that He forgives us to the same measure that we forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). He also tells us that if we claim to love Him and don’t love others in word and actions, we’re liars (1 John 4:20).  I don’t know about you, but this concept tends to annoy my highly refined sense of self-righteousness. You see, over the years, I’ve been able to convince myself that I can “love” others and still be ticked off at them and mutter about them to myself or a few select friends.

You see, I tend to justify my actions. I try to live a life pleasing to God, but I’m so good at justifying self-talk that I can easily deceive myself.

But conflict between people really boils down to one central point: everyone involved needs to take responsibility for the hurt they caused. This takes honest self-examination.  Bottom line: I discovered that long-time close friends were frustrated (and perhaps even angry) with me. The details are irrelevant.

My actions/words hurt my friends. Taking responsibility for my part is the only thing that counts. 

I’m responsible for making that right as best I can. My instincts are to protect my image. To defend my “side”. I know God is on my side. But I know He is on the side of reconciliation, peace, and unity. He for “us,” not “me.”

You’ve been hurt, too. How can you respond in a way that will promote healing and unity?

  1. Pray for God to show you how to love those who have hurt you (James 2:8). You may want to start by praying selected Scripture verses, such as Psalms 139:23-24. Ask God to give you insight about how your actions and words may have wounded others. For instance, try to place yourself in their shoes and image what they would say if they were asked why they were upset with you. What would a loving response from you looks like to them? How could you take a step in that direction?
  2. Ask God to shine a light on your heart. Come to God in a spirit of humility, confession, and repentance. Ask Him to expose your secrets, your agendas, your hidden motives. Write down what He reveals to you. They pray and ask Him to show you what you need to do to change.
  3. Deconstruct your defenses. Conflict isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. The most important thing in the kingdom of God is relationships. Deal with your compulsion to be “right” and to blame other people. Let it go and shift your focus back to the relationship.
  4. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you God’s love for this person/s. We can’t muster up true love for people when we feel violated or hurt. This kind of love comes from God. Ask Him to fill you with compassion, insight, and love for the person who wounded you. What wounds have they experienced in life that have shaped their perspective? Ask for special insight that will motivate your heart.
  5. Refuse to treat reconciliation lightly. Don’t try to slip by with a quick phone call or note to get you off the hook. Take responsibility for your sin. Dig deep, Examine it. Own it. Repent. Face the broken you. I don’t know about you, but I hate doing this. I don’t like looking at my ugly. I’d rather pretend it’s not there–the mucky, messed up part of me. But the only way to reconciliation is to own my brokenness and love others in spite of theirs because we’re all sinners saved by grace. Refuse superficiality and putting on a mask. Do it right–from the heart
  6. Refuse to think/talk disrespectfully of those who’ve wronged you. Reject the us/them mentality.”If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie (1 John 1:6). God esteems relationships so highly that He became one of us (Thaddeus Barnum). Don’t fall into the popular trap of trash talking people behind their backs that’s as common in churches as on a TV reality show.

 

Our goal, as imperfect as we may be:  “And by this we know that we are in Him; the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” — 1 John 2:5-6

Have you ever tried the steps given above? What was your experience?