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How to prevent a root of bitterness

root of bitterness

Ever wonder why you just can’t forgive that person? That one. That group. You know who comes to mind. The one who caused such pain. Hurt. Deep, searing wounds.

You think you’ve forgiven them. You think you’ve moved on. But the trigger is so easily tripped and you face plant.

It’s right there. Just beneath the surface of a put-together life. Outwardly religious, inwardly rebellious.

Because somewhere buried in our subconscious, we think the rules don’t apply to us. The pain we know doesn’t fit the requirements of forgiveness. Not us. Not that person. Not our situation. Not this time.

But the wound you carry holds a power far beyond the hurt. It holds the power to grow a thick, gnarly root of bitterness in the fertile soil of our heart. And we tend and nurture that bitter root every time we withhold forgiveness, carry a grudge, gossip, stereotype, exclude others, and seek our own way.

Especially at the expense of another.

This root is so powerful that we can lash out at others who have nothing to do with our pain. They may simply remind us of something we fear. Something we know. Something we despise in ourselves.

We all know these people. We’ve all been in relationship with these people. We have all been…these people.

Every circumstance and trial in our lives gives us the opportunity to choose: Will we grow and become better through the trials of life, or will we allow them to make us bitter?

Resentful. Angry. Unforgiving. Cold.

Will we press into relationship or withdraw and isolate? Will we plant seeds of life or seeds of a bitter, critical spirit?

It’s human nature to bristle when we come face to face with an old wound. The thing I struggle most with the Bible is living it out in my daily life. The how-to. Because scripture doesn’t give us a how-to when it comes to the specific day-in and day-out of relationship. It doesn’t help us know the words to say when we run into the one who has caused us pain. What to do when we trip over ourselves and our selfishness. When we honestly just don’t know how to take a single step forward in a relationship that has dead-ended.

We don’t have a how-to.

But we do have this: love. Love one another. For love covers over a multitude of sins.

And I know that sounds trite and naive because I, too, have relationships that have stalled. Flatlined. Ones where there is no earthly way of moving forward. Where I just don’t know which way to go. But we must deliberately choose against bitterness. Fight. Against bitterness.

If we claim to have any faith at all, we must choose love, and that doesn’t mean relationship.

Love doesn’t mean we walk back in. It doesn’t mean we forget. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and we aren’t thankful that the journey brought us out. It means we continue to love, even from a distance if we must. We choose the best for them, for us, for this time. We refuse bitterness. We refuse to keep stirring. We become aware of our pain and we seek and find healing so we don’t throw our garbage on someone else. That in our honest pursuit of freedom and holiness, we don’t leave a wake of destruction in our path.

Because we’re prone to acts of emotional violence. The words we speak carry heavy weight. They have the power to destroy a spirit. A hope. A life. So many eyes are watching our moves, listening to our voice, and surveying the rhythm of our life.

root of love

I want to leave a legacy of love. Kindness, gentleness, and peace. Not one that lays down, because that is not love. Love is strong. It is powerful. Love sets healthy boundaries and grows exponentially the more you practice. It radiates light.

Let us be a people of love. A community of loving well. Offering grace when none is deserved, because undeserved grace is the truest and rarest grace of all. And we receive it each and every day of our lives.

Let love fill your cup. Let it run over into the relationships around you. Be the light you are so drawn to in others. When you don’t know how to move forward, choose love. When there seems to be no earthly way of moving on, choose love.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Belinda May 17, 2013, 2:24 pm

    Hi Tammy,

    I just signed up a few days ago to receive your blog and I really enjoy reading them. Thank you for sharing God’s word a priority.


    • Tammy May 25, 2013, 3:55 pm

      thank you belinda! so happy to have you here!

  • C May 17, 2013, 2:30 pm

    Just heard a great sermon online from Mars Hill church. It was about Naomi wanting to be called Mara because of all the bitterness she felt inside after her husband and then sons died. She was shown love in action from her son’s wife and her faith restored instead of gossip and slander tearing her spirit. You are right, love and forgiveness are key to any situation.

    • Tammy May 25, 2013, 3:56 pm

      and you are right, that gossip and slander tear our spirits. we think it’s a way to intimacy but it’s false. thank you for sharing this C!

  • Krista May 17, 2013, 9:10 pm

    Outwardly religious, inwardly rebellious. So so good. The answer is always love, isn’t it? We hunt around searching for something different, but we don’t find it, b/c the answer is found in the open, not hiding. It’s the place we must begin and end. It’s the choosing it, then, that is hard. And it’s choosing it even when we don’t feel like it. There’s the challenge. And there is the higher calling. Great, great post T.

    • Rychelle May 18, 2013, 5:49 pm

      “Found in the open, not hiding..” A good word Krista.

    • Tammy May 25, 2013, 3:58 pm

      searching for something different…because truth is hard. truth scares us. but it’s always the easiest option in the end. because untruth creates bigger barriers, walls, wounds and brokenness than existed in the first place. {sigh}

      • Rychelle May 26, 2013, 4:24 am

        Well said.. Well said… How true it is that the truth scares us… What in us creates this illusion that we can find a better way…? What is it that makes us lie to ourselves or believe a lie so passionately that we are willing to risk our lives to make the untrue true? Oh how often I have found myself down this road… Back in the garden next to the tree… the only tree God commands me not to eat … yet, i go. I would have been Eve: active. deceived. And yet i see myself as Adam.. present. Aware. passive. Willfully Seduced. I have both taken the fruit And been handed the fruit. It is an interesting reality to have their DNA, yet spiritually carry within my BLOOD the faith of Abraham. May I not yield to my flesh. My insecurities. My self protective pride, but yield to that which is holy.. “Yeild to The ONLY thing in me that is holy… The Holy Spirit of God.” (Mama Beth)

        • Tammy May 26, 2013, 6:50 pm

          the act of yielding. oh mama beth, we love her. stunning imagery here, my friend. such vulnerability and truth. each of us an eve. so thankful to walk life’s road with you. shameless truth teller. lover of souls. xoox

  • Rychelle May 18, 2013, 6:01 pm

    “Forgive whatever grievances you may have toward one another. Forgive as The Lord has forgiven you…” man, this is a place of humbling… to see that the cost of our own sin toward God is no less of a grievance as the sin others have committed against us…I think this is one of the hardest things for man to do… mmm… Lord continue to humble us so we might see the graveness of our own depravity and walk in light of your stunning majesty… in light of your unmerited grace and forgiveness… and throw off that which hinders… so we might appropriately be clothed in unity and love. for your sake. for your glory. for our good. our health. our families and those we encounter.

    on a side note… you’ve got me thinking… Colossians 3 has got me thinking… If we look at the gospel of Jesus Christ and examine what it is that he “did” on the cross for us our only response is that of forgiveness…it has to be or we don’t understand the gospel. (not to say the outworking of this in our lives isn’t treacherous or a straight up fight.. nor am I making light of anyones pain or hurt…we are talking about real people dealing with real debilitating pain caused by others…so please hear my heart) the work on the cross is less about what he ‘did’, and more about “who he is”… his very character was displayed on the cross… he is love. and when we live this out in our own lives… forgiving and loving despite our grievances, we take hold of our identity as image bearers and we become more like him… the son… the father… we become more empowered by the spirit to be free…to receive more of his love….and give his love away… naturally the consequences of such a ‘living out’ is: we become less like our rebellion. less like our old nature… less like the spirit of this world. what a great consequence! What greater testimony is there?! beautiful… I heard a sermon the other day by Matt Chandler… at the end he said this… it was so profound I wrote it out….he said this:
    “There is nothing that He (God) cannot heal, if you are hell bent (literally) to hold on to anger & bitterness then you will receive the fruit of that Poison, But if you let it go and trust God: what I mean by that is this: either the same grace that has been afforded to you will be afforded to the perpetrator Or the wrath that was due you will be placed upon the perpetrator then you have no need for vengeance because vengeance is the Lords…so You’re free.” free to love. free to live. amen! Tammy, my beloved friend, thanks for always provoking the spirit within me and making me think deeply about such things…i love you so…

    • Tammy May 25, 2013, 4:08 pm

      mmmmm….rychelle. so much goodness here. ‘His very character was displayed on the cross…’ humbling, isn’t it? we’re such selfish, petty beings when contrasted with his unfailing, unflinching love. in loving we become more empowered by the spirit to be free….love this. LOVE this. love you!

  • K May 20, 2013, 4:33 am

    Decided to get on tonight to look up an old post so I could re-read it and gain perspective. As I sit here tonight once again being kicked in my heart I’m feel alone and at a loss for words. I’m angry, hurt, and just mad…..I know choosing kindness and love is the way but what if your heart feels like it just doesn’t know how anymore? How can you over look one more offending hurtful gesture especially when your kids are involved and other “friends”. Not sure I know anymore but I am sure glad that I can get on and read old and new post to help slowly get back up and find words of inspiration

    • Rychelle May 24, 2013, 6:14 am

      K, I read your post last night at about 1am.. My phone had 1% battery life and there was no charger in sight… I finished reading your post and my heart just ached for you… I just laid there talking to the Lord about you and begging him to pour into you sweetly. tenderly. to give you dreams of him and release some of this turmoil inside. Literally all night I kept waking up praying for your heart.mind.soul… The deeply hurt places that seem to be battered over and over on a very personal level. Beloved I don’t know you, nor do I know your story or what you are going through but know that someone out there is feverishly praying for you! I put a disclaimer in my post above noting that I recognize there are people out there who are deeply hurting and that my hearts intent was not to dismiss them in light of what i was professing through the lens of theology. Studying God and his ways is a beautiful thing but it must be tempered with a personal relationship… guided by practical practice of his truth over and over… I know in the midst of my “stuff”, though different than yours, I found much hope in a community of a few… People who prayed for me. Encouraged me. Held me up when I had no strength of my own. People who held the cup of Gods word to my lips and lifted the cup so I might live. I needed him so desperately and them just as desperately. I pray that you have this or that you have the courage to seek this… I read something today that brought you to mind yet again… It’s found in Brene Brown’s book, a book I borrowed from Tammy called The Gift of Imperfection… She was talking about “practicing courage” which she says is a habit… Something we must do over and over and over in our lives daily. Hourly.. and perhaps a Moment at a time. Depending on your day. You posed the statement/ question: “I know choosing kindness and love is the way but what if your heart feels like it just doesn’t know how anymore? How can you over look one more offending hurtful gesture especially when your kids are involved and other “friends”. Not sure I know anymore..” To that I say… One moment at a time… Choose love. One moment at a time. Choose kindness. One moment at a time… Doing these things don’t let the people off the hook… It doesn’t always feel right… Nor is it going to be the most natural thing for any of us… It typically isn’t. Choosing these things allows US to be free from the hook of bondage of being utterly consumed by these things and in our place casts them over to God (who is soverign and for us and good) so he can bare our/your burdens… Its stepping from “knowing” he is in control and holds the place of judgement to “releasing” this control and these people, moment by moment as circumstances arise..practicing this over time help us to be free in the moment. Does this make sense? It’s knowing he will take care of it/ them regardless if we see it. It’s the seat if faith we must take in order for us to be healthy… So we don’t drink the toxic waste that comes from others participating in this… Which makes us sick. Often when Jesus called people to him, his disciples would look at the person being summonsed and would say “take heart…have courage he is calling you..” So I say the same to you precious one, have courage… Practice courage… Go to him… He is calling you… He knows. He is there. Find hope in his eyes on you and find someone who mimicks his love and tenderness in friendship so you might be encouraged and lifted up when you have no strength of your own. let this person be near you. pray for you. &encourage your heart… One of my favorite verses that I lean on often is found in psalms 62:5-8 it says “5 Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
      for my hope is in him.
      6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.
      7 My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. (This next verse is one of my favorites)
      8 O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.” (NLT) pour out your heart… Tell on them to God… Get it out… Vent… Then practice again each day… This courage to love … then Vent to him… Seek encouragement from others… Keep practicing courage and I guarantee even if your circumstances don’t change… Your heavy heart will. I pray I haven’t overstepped any boundaries with you… My only desire is to encourage you and pray for you as The Lord brings you to mind. Know you have been heard. Seen. Loved… I am so happy you posted and sought encouragement from Tammy’s words… She is a dear soul with such depth… A soul that has faithfully lifted Gods cup to my mouth.. someone who desires to live unhindered and has helped encourage me to do the same… She is truly, grace uncommon. Blessings to you dear woman. May his presence be all over you and give you peace this night… With love, Rychelle

      • K May 25, 2013, 9:07 pm

        Beautiful words and trust me sweet girl I’ve read and re-read them until a little sank in. I so appreciate your time, your prayers, and your kindness. I so feel blessed to be able to get on to such an incredible blog with women who lift each other up! Turn your face towards the sunshine and breath in love and kindness! Xoxo

        • Rychelle July 21, 2014, 3:33 am

          K, revisiting this incredible blog tonight and read through all of these words as for the first time. Praying Gods peace and love over you this night! Hope you are well!

          • Tammy July 21, 2014, 4:26 am

            mmmmmm…..I love that you were here. Sweet, sweet, sweet to my soul. xoxo

      • Priscilla March 5, 2015, 2:32 pm

        Your reply for K really comforted me. I am going through a very difficult time with family. Family that has lied and betrayed me and my elderly mother. There are days that my heart is so heavy that all I do is cry. On days when I force myself to have courage and take one step, one minute at a time that load is lifted. My family is destroyed because of how our father betrayed and left our mother after 62 years of marriage. Her dementia has driven away her children. My heart breaks for her because of everything she has sacrificed for us ALL. I know that God is still in control but the hurt is so great. Your words were encouraging to me and I am grateful.

        • Tammy March 26, 2015, 10:57 pm

          I’m so humbled by your message Priscilla. Lifting you in prayer – and your whole family. Praying that He meets you in your pain and gives you His peace. xo

    • Tammy May 25, 2013, 4:10 pm

      one day at a time, one difficult step at a time. rest on us, your friends, who love you deeper still. rychelle – thank you for reaching out to my friend! this is what i love…a community of women holding one another up in our time of need. broken vessels, healing broken hearts. i love you both. xoxo

      • Miette June 2, 2013, 7:41 am

        All I can say after reading this thread is that tears are running down my face. wow.

        • Tammy June 4, 2013, 11:25 pm

          i know, right miette?! amazing community. it’s happening: women coming together and sharing the journey. broken vessels helping to heal broken hearts. i love that you’re a part of it. xoxo

      • Rychelle July 21, 2014, 3:35 am

        You are grace uncommon.

        • Tammy July 21, 2014, 4:18 am

          As are you my friend. I love you so. xoxoxo

  • Ellen Hoffman July 21, 2014, 10:41 pm

    Need this reminder to be constantly before my eyes and on my mind!
    Love and grace are the key to a healthy life! Thanks!

  • Tracy July 24, 2014, 8:49 pm

    It’s hard. Hard to move forward when you feel that your life has been turned upside down with no just cause, by the choice someone else made.
    When I think of the one who hurt me, it is hard to find love and forgiveness. But who am I not to offer those things that God has consistently offered me?
    I have learned a lot through the pain and continue to learn and grow. I know that God is working all things for my good.
    I have a long way to go. I am thankful for places like this that encourage me along my journey. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth July 31, 2014, 6:10 pm

    Thank you for your encouragement, this journey of forgiveness have been full of trials and a Father willing to forgive me daily!

  • Sabrina December 30, 2014, 10:40 pm

    i just want to say thank you so much. It is truly divine intervention for me. This is exactly where I am at in my life with someone in my family who hurt us all almost thirty years ago. I gave myself more credit than I should have in the forgiveness catagory. She came to stay with my family at Christmas and it brought a host of emotions back. It has knocked me out of my socks. Probably more so because God is telling me I should truly forgive just as I am forgiven. God Bless!

    • Tammy December 31, 2014, 9:29 am

      Blessings to you Sabrina. It’s amazing how those old wounds can be tripped, isn’t it? Prayers for forgiveness for you, your family and the one who hurt you so deeply. Forgiveness truly is a gift we give ourselves. xo

  • Chrissy September 1, 2015, 12:39 pm

    Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. Thank You. I needed to hear that. Thank You!

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