If you sat me down and asked me to tell you about all the people I’ve struggled with bitterness against, we’d be there for hours and hours. I seem to have accumulated quite the collection of perpetrators in my 19 years of life. This time last year, my struggle with bitterness was at its highest. But fortunately for me (and I mean incredibly fortunately for me), I have found myself in a community that welcomed my struggle and patiently helped me navigate through it.
Bitterness is interesting. Its relation to anger is undeniable. At least, as I speak for myself, I have found it undeniable. Bitterness is borne from initial anger that has gone unresolved. Bitterness is anger gone stale. I found that once the initial rage subsided, a quiet, gripping feeling grew around my heart. I felt cold. Apathetic towards both person and situation.
Someone planted a seed through their actions towards me, and that seed was watered by my tears and anguish as I tried to cling to what stability I could. The soil around it was solidified and packed in by the pressure of my knees on the ground as I begged for understanding. For comprehension as to why I had been chosen for such a weight. The soil was nourished by the blood from my hands as I cut them, trying in my own strength to piece myself back together. Then the roots dug deep, wrapping around my heart in tight constriction. And there was birthed bitterness.
Bitterness is tricky because in a lot of cases, and most certainly mine, the anger was justified. The wrongs done were evident, not only to myself, but to the people around me. I was reminded over and over again that anger is not a sin, that I should be angry at what happened because it was wrong. The trick with that is that it so easily spills over into bitterness. And when it does, it stains like wine on a white dress. It taints everything surrounding it. The apathy that often accompanies bitterness extends into every part of life. That bitterness—aimed like daggers at the people sprinkled throughout my life who broke me in one way or another—shifted to God.
Whether I was willing to speak it aloud or not, I was angry at God. I was angry about what had happened. I was angry that He knew what happened. I was angry that those who had done it had not been punished. I was angry at those who stood by and watched as I, in all my defenselessness, was broken. I was angry at the burden of shame on my shoulders that I shouldn’t have had to carry. But mostly, I was angry because I felt ashamed. I blamed myself and I lamented the fact that I carried that shame when in the presence of the Lord. I was terrified that it changed how He saw me. I had taken that shame and weaponized it. Because it’s so much easier to be angry than it is to feel the weight of shame, my friend. It’s so much easier to let that anger subside into a steady flow of bitterness than it is to admit how much pain you’re in.
Though I’m thankful for the godly counsel I have received in navigating this, the ultimate turning point had to come when I sought the Lord with it. Over the course of many months, I have grown in my prayer life. I am more comfortable in prayer. I am more confident in prayer. I am bolder and more honest in my prayers with God. So, I told Him all of it. I told Him, with a cloud of grief looming heavily, that I was angry at Him. That I didn’t want to be, but that I simply didn’t understand. I was quiet and still. Whispering as though it lessened the weight of what I was admitting. I didn’t want to tell Him that I felt alone or that I felt like He had seemingly dissipated in the moments I needed Him most. I didn’t want to tell Him of the lies and doubts I was having. But I did.
I realized something. I can’t point to a specific moment of revelation, but instead a slow unfolding of comprehension over a long period of time (A growth that has not stopped and will not any time soon).
You see, He met me there.
He caught my tears in His hands as they mingled with His—because our God is grieved by the consequences of sin.
He knelt beside me in the dirt and showed me His own bloody hands.
He sat with me in my shame, the Man of sorrows. Jesus—scoffed at, betrayed, hurt by those closest to Him. Jesus—far from a stranger to suffering and shame. He reminded me of His broken body, of His tears, of His shame. Because we do not have a Savior unable to sympathize with our pain. He took on our pain. And slowly He has raised me up.
I stumble and fall and get frustrated by how often it seems to occur. But every single time—every single time—He raises me back up. He helps me as I seek to rip up the roots of bitterness. It’s a long, grueling process. Because they are deep and have had years to weave their way into the ground. But He reminds me that the roots of His grace reach so much farther than the roots of my shame. He reminds me that no matter how strong I think those roots will cling to my soul, His love clings so much stronger. While the roots of bitterness seek to invade and poison, the roots of His mercy seek to surround me with peace and trust.
Tonight, as I write this at 2AM—unable to sleep—I read and reread my very own words and pray that my heart finds a way to trust in them. To trust that He can reach farther than my expansive pain. To trust that He sees me and is not unmoved by my suffering. That He saw the darkest, cruelest moments, and He stood by me through it all. I take a deep breath and say a prayer. The tension in my body remains, and the knots in my stomach barely loosen. Despite my most eloquent prayer, my heart still aches. Mostly though, at this time of night, I’m too exhausted for eloquent prayers. My prayers are whispers. Single words. A general cry for help, sent out into the seemingly endless night surrounding me. But it is not without hope. Because my hope isn’t here. It never was. My hope is in the One who holds my bloody hands in His and sits with me in the dirt that so often resembles my life and the memories that encircle it.
Slowly, the roots of bitterness are being uprooted.
Slowly, the roots of redemption grow stronger, and from them grow small buds of hope. Small, green, delicate buds of hope.