BITTERNESS: MARITAL POISON


(Excerpted from “Role of Wife” Bible study; my home; Sept. 2011)

Before going any further in our study of marriage, it is crucial to remember that the basis for all our actions must be upon what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We are not attempting to bring about improvement for our own sake, although that’s a nice side effect, but because we love the Lord, we trust Him, and we want to obey Him. This is what it means to have the Lord “build the house.” When a wife (or a husband) obeys the Lord’s commands for their conduct within the marriage, those very commands become the bricks He uses to build your marriage. It will be Rock solid. (Pun intended.)

Sometimes, instead of a house, I like to compare marriage to a garden. A garden, with all of its associated aspects of soil, plants, fruits, flowers, weeds, needs for water, etc., functions well metaphorically in so many ways. If you have ever maintained a garden, you may have noticed that when you put too much emphasis on the weeds and associated chores, you almost always end-up missing the point of the garden -  - all the good plants, flowers, and shrubs that are growing there for your enjoyment. 

This principle is also true of marriage. When partners focus too intently on problems, they lose sight of the value in the union. This is partially why we having been working hard over the past few weeks to focus on enjoying the good things in our marriage. Yet, there is one problem weed in life, and particularly in marriage, that is so destructive, it cannot be ignored. Thus, if you will bear with me, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about the particularly invasive weed of bitterness. Bitterness is the opposite of the sweet “fruit” of joy, and it is the main “weed” God wants out of the garden of our marriage. He truly wants us to go after removing it with all of our vigor.

Eph. 4:31-5:2
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In these verses, the Lord God instructs us to get rid of all bitterness. Furthermore, He commands us to work at maintaining a "tender heart" because He knows that bitterness and tenderness are mutually exclusive. As an unknown wit once said, " Being bitter is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die." If you are a bitter woman, you will not be able to be a tender wife.

So, how could bitterness best be described? What does it look like? It certainly seems to be one of those things that is easier to spot in someone else, than in ourselves.

Definition:

When you sin, you feel guilt. When someone sins against you, you feel bitter. Bitterness is the residue of an initial emotion such as anger, hatred, hurt, or loss. You might argue, “I’m not bitter, I just get hurt (or angry) easily,” but the connection between the resentment a hurt causes and bitterness is very close. Bitterness is quite simply resentment put on hold.

Symptoms of Bitterness:

1. Bitterness remembers every word and detail of an offense. This is because the offended person has ruminated about the issue over and over again.

2. Bitterness can be rather enjoyable because there is a self-promoting pleasure in accusing someone else. A husband can certainly be a convenient and tempting target for a wife; and, of course, vise-versa is also true.

3. Hebrews 12:15
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defiles many.”
This verse describes bitterness as existing like a root -- unseen, underground, and undesirable. Like any other plant, it will produce fruit like itself, i.e., bitter fruit. In so many words, God compares bitterness to a weed, and He insists that we get rid of it.

4. Again in Hebrews 12, notice that bitterness is described as something that defiles many. Bitterness is a highly contagious emotion that will infect your husband, your friends, and your children, defiling them, too, as they begin to share and mirror your attitude. If you are a bitter mother, I guarantee you that your children are learning it from you right now, and that you are preparing them for future lives of certain bitterness. It rubs off onto others as easily as a quick brush against soot. 

5. Bitterness is insatiable. Expressing it will not get rid of it (i.e., “I’m so angry that you did/said XYZ!”). An apology from the offender will not get rid of it because mere words are never enough. There are known to have been occasions where even the death of the offender would not appease the bitterness of the offended. 

So, the question is, how can we get rid of the bitterness that is choking our joy and poisoning our married life? 

Amy Carmichael, an early missionary to India, said, “For a cup of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.” The “jolts” of our life are the disappointments, stresses, frustrations, and the failures of others. What spills out of us in response, is what is already inside.

Thus, since it's what's inside us that must be dealt with to eradicate bitterness, an effective remedy can be found through confessing to God that you are harboring a great and evil sin. Because if its infectious and defiling nature, bitterness is a great and evil sin. Ask the Lord to cleanse you of your bitterness through His ready forgiveness. This is the only lasting solution.

The hardest part in this process may be getting your eyes off of your husband’s sin against you. It is vital to recognize that bitterness is your sin, not the sin of the man who has wronged you (e.g., by not picking up his dirty socks 5,000 times in a row; or by making a hurtful crack; or by failing to understand your mood; etc).

When you focus on your own bitter response with the recognition that it is a very gross sin, and confess it to the Lord for cleansing forgiveness, your bitterness will begin to recede. In its place, sweetness will come to fill you, and you can respond with concern and understanding for your husband, as in, “He must be tired from working so hard, or getting sick, or feeling so disappointed," and so forth.

I will freely admit that it's hard, time-consuming work to keep off-loading bitterness onto God. Getting rid of it will take determined persistence because it’s a weed with a very penetrating root that feeds deeply upon the soil of our self-love. 

Take all the time necessary to address any bitterness with the Lord. You may even need to keep repeating your prayer of confession over and over until the bitterness is gone from your heart. Please understand:
1) You cannot be a bitter person and still feel or express joy. 
2) You cannot be a bitter wife and be a fit companion, a suitable helper, to your husband. 
3) You cannot be a bitter person and be able to apprehend God's blessings in your life.
Doing the work with the Lord to confess and be cleansed of bitterness is not a luxury; it is a life essential. 

God will meet your needs as you honor your commitment to root out bitterness. He may not change your husband (at least not until you learn to rely on God for those expectations you have of your mate), but He will change you. With bitter attitudes gone, the Lord will also remove the callous on your heart that prevents you from feeling joy. 

If bitterness is poison to joy (and really to all the good things in our marriage garden), gratitude turns out to be the greatest “fertilizer” for growing marital joy. But that’s a discussion for another day.

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