Don’t Let Bitterness Take Root (Part II)
Years ago there was a terrible outbreak of disease in a tiny village in a remote part of Africa. Both children and adults were getting sick and overcome with nausea. Several weeks passed, and the sickness became widespread, and people started dying. Word of the disease reached the main city in that area, and experts were dispatched to try to figure out what was causing the problem. They soon discovered that the water was contaminated. The village got its water supply from a mountain stream that was fed from a spring, so the experts decided to trek upstream and hopefully find the source of the pollution. They traveled for days and finally came to the mouth of the stream. But on the surface, they found nothing wrong. Puzzled, they decided to send some divers down to search as closely to the spring’s opening as possible.
What the divers discovered shocked the experts. A large mother pig and her baby piglets were wedged right at the opening of the spring. Evidently they had fallen, drowned, and somehow gotten stuck there. Now all that crystal clear, pure mountain spring water was being contaminated as it flowed past the decomposing remains of those dead pigs. In no time after the divers were able to extricate the dead pigs, the water began to flow clean and pure once again.
In our lives, something similar take place, we’re all had negative things happen to us. Maybe last week, last month, or ten years ago somebody hurt us. And too often, instead of letting it go and giving it to God, we’ve held on to it. We haven’t forgiven, and just as those pigs soured that crystal-clear water, our own lives have become contaminated. The root of bitterness has taken hold.
Worse yet, after a while, we accept it. We make room in our hearts for that bitterness; we learn to live with it. “Well, I’m just an angry person. That’s just my personality. I’m always like this. I’m always bitter. This is who I am.”
No, with all due respect, that’s not who you are. You need to get rid of the poison that is polluting your life. You were made to be a crystal-clear stream. God created you in his image. He wants you to be happy, healthy, and whole. God wants you to enjoy life to the full, not to live with bitterness and resentment, polluted and putrefied yourself and contaminating everyone else with whom you have influence.
Imagine yourself as a crystal-clear stream. It doesn’t matter how polluted the stream may be right now, or how muddy or murky the waters may look in your life today. If you’ll begin to forgive the people who have offended you, and release all those hurts and pains, that bitterness will leave and you’ll begin to see that crystal-clear water once again. You’ll begin to experience the joy, peace, and freedom God intended you to have.
Maybe that’s why David said, “Search my heart, oh God, and point out anything in me that makes you sad.” (Psalm 139, 23). We need to search our hearts and make sure we haven’t let any roots of bitterness take hold.
It may not be the big thing that is polluting your stream. Maybe your spouse is not spending as much time with you as you’d like, and you can feel yourself starting to get resentful. You’re short with your mate, sarcastic, cryptic, or unfriendly. You’re intentionally becoming harder to get along with.
Watch out! That root of bitterness is contaminating your life. Keep your stream pure. Don’t let your heart get polluted. The Bible talks about being quick to forgive, and the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be. The longer we hold on to resentment, the deeper that root of bitterness grows.
Sometimes, instead of forgiving quickly, letting go of the hurts and pains of the past, we quietly bury them deep down inside our hearts and minds. We don’t want to talk about the issue. We don’t want to think about it. We want to ignore it and hope that it will go away.
It won’t. Just like those pigs trapped beneath the water, one day that contamination will show up in your life, and it will be a mess. It will cause you even more pain and sorrow, and if you refuse to deal with it, that bitterness could kill you.
A few decades ago, several American companies authorized by the U.S. government attempted to bury toxic waste products underground. They filled large metal containers with chemical waste and other life-threatening products, sealed the drums tightly, and buried them deep down below the top soil. They thought that was the end of it. Within a short time, however, many of the containers began to leak and the toxic waste started seeping to the surface, causing all sorts of problems. In some locations, it killed off the vegetation and ruined the water supply. People had to move out of their homes. In one section near Niagara Falls, known as the Love Canal, an inordinate number of people began dying of cancer and other debilitating diseases. Many communities are still suffering the effects of toxic-waste burials to this day.
What went wrong? They tried to bury something that was too toxic. It couldn’t be contained. They thought they could bury it, and be rid of it once and for all. But they didn’t realize that the materials they were attempting to bury were so powerful. They were too toxic for the containers to hold. They never dreamed that one day these contaminants would resurface, and they would have to eliminate them all over again. But this time, the toxic materials would be dispersed, and much more difficult to deal with. Had they disposed of them properly in the first place, they wouldn’t have had this terrible problem.
It’s the same with us. When somebody hurts us, somebody does us wrong, instead of letting it go and trusting God to make it up to us, we bury it deep down on the inside. We attempt to cram unforgiveness, resentment, anger, and other destructive responses into our “leak-proof” containers. We seal those lids tightly. Then we put them aside and say, “Good. I’m not going to have to deal with that. I’m rid of it once and for all.”
But unfortunately, just as that toxic waste tends to resurface, one day the things you have tamped into your subconscious or buried deeply in the recesses of your heart will rise to the surface and begin to contaminate your life. We can’t live with poison inside us and not expect it to eventually do us harm.
Face it. You are not strong enough to contain the toxicity in your life. You need help from someone bigger and stronger than yourself. That’s why you need to give that bitterness, resentment, and other contaminants to God. Forgiveness is the key to being free from toxic bitterness. Forgive the people who hurt you. Forgive the boss who did you mistreated you when you were younger. Get rid of all that poison. Don’t let the root of bitterness grow deeper and continue to contaminate your life.
What does this toxic waste look like in our lives? For some people, it seeps out as anger. In other people it smells like depression. For others, it reeks of low self-esteem. It can show up in many different ways, sometimes doing damage before we even realize it has reappeared.
The famous boxer James “Light-Out” Toney was known for his aggressiveness in the ring. He fought like a man possessed. He wielded a powerful punch, and for many years, he was the middleweight champion of the world. One day after one of his victories, a reporter asked him, “James, what makes you so good? Why do you fight such tremendous aggression and passion in the ring? “
The reporter expected the standard answer. Something like, “Well, you know, I’m just competitive. That’s who I am. I love to box.”
But that’s not what Toney said. “Do you really want to know why I fight with such anger and aggression?” asked the boxer. “It’s because my dad abandoned me when I was a child. He left me and my brothers and sisters alone, fatherless, to be raised by my mother all by herself. And now when I step into the ring I picture my dad’s face on my opponent’s. And I have so much hatred, so much anger toward him, I just explode.”
Toney was driven by his anger. He had let that root of bitterness get a deep hold on him, and it was poisoning and contaminating his life. Yes, he was winning the applause of the crowd, the acclaim of the sports world, but he was miserable on the inside. You can have success on the outside, but if you’re bitter on the inside, it’s going to spoil and taint every victory. You must deal with the inside first. You must get to the root of the problem, and then you can really be happy. Then you can experience true, untainted, unalloyed victory in your life.
You may be thinking, Thế, I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I just can’t forgive. They hurt me too badly.
Wait a minute! You are not forgiving for their sake; you are forgiving for your sake. You are forgiving so that poison doesn’t continue to contaminate your life. If somebody has done you a great wrong, don’t allow them to continue to hurt you by hanging on to it. You’re not hurting them at all. You’re only hurting yourself.
I remember one time, my dad and I were going to lunch with a man. He was driving, and we noticed he wasn’t taking the shortest route to the restaurant. My dad politely and innocently said, “You know, there’s a quicker way.”
The man driving the car responded, “Oh, no. We don’t go that way. Years ago somebody that lives on that street did our family wrong, and now we don’t drive by their house anymore.”
I didn’t say anything, I wanted to ask him, “Do you really think you’re hurting that man? Do you really think that he’s standing there by the window, looking outside, getting depressed because you’re not coming by?”
Who are we kidding? When we hold on to poison from the past, we’re only hurting ourselves. We’re not hurting anybody else. We need to forgive so we can be free. Forgive so you can be made whole.