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May 4, 2009

"I Didn’t Deserve That!"
Part 3

So! Suppose we have decided we ARE going to have a “garden” with the “Plant of Contentment.” We begin to evaluate the place for the garden, that is, our hearts. The more we look, the more clutter we see.

Take a deep breath, and let’s roll up our sleeves! Dig it up. Break up the hard clods. Take out the roots.

Now Paul says to get rid of all bitterness and to be kind and compassionate one to another, BUT before the bitterness can be removed, we need to recognize it and yank it up by the roots!

It’s fairly easy to see when other people are bitter. You can see it in their eyes and in the lines of their face. You can see it in their mouth when they’re smiling or laughing. You can even hear it when they protest that they are not bitter. The last person to recognize that he is bitter is the person himself.

Guilt is what we feel when we sin.  Bitterness is what we feel when others sin against us. My friend, Jim Wilson*, has said that a good rule of thumb is this – bitterness remembers details. You have had thousands of conversations in your life, most of which you have forgotten. But this one took place 5 years ago, and you can remember every single word, and the inflection in their voice. You can remember what they were wearing. You know exactly what happened – which means, you are probably bitter.

You say, “No, I just have a very good and accurate memory!” Memory is helped by REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW! Usually we don’t mull over the wonderful things as much as those things which hurt us. We generally think about how right we are and how wrong they are. This starts up a cycle of hurts, which leads to being critical and putting up walls to protect ourselves. The cycle is one of resisting and trying to change the other person, or withdrawing.

Let me tell you about my own bitterness.

I married into a wonderful family, a missionary family very committed to serving the Lord. When Mama and Papa retired -- in their 70's -- they returned to the States and came to be near us. Nothing could have pleased us more! I was longing for my children to be near grandparents, and I hardly knew Joe’s parents because they had been away all those years in Europe. I wanted to be a wonderful daughter-in-law, and besides, I missed my own parents greatly. It was May, and all the flowers in Moorestown seemed to welcome them “home.” Our home would be their home until they found their own place.

Papa wanted to be in charge. My best kitchen knife was found in the garage where he used it for cutting up cardboard boxes. My largest spoons were measuring out fertilizers. These irritations turned quickly into hurts. And he had no intention of moving to his own place. We had definitely succeeded in making them comfortable!

Picture a child’s toy which nests one block into another. When I would experience the “Hurts” I would feel sorry for myself and start nesting it into a larger block called “Self-pity,” and that block slipped easily into a larger block called “Anger.”

One day Papa opened our mail, flashing the phone bill in front of me and saying, “You’re going to put my son into the poor house!” My hurt, self-pity and anger slipped easily into a bigger block called “Bitterness.” Every so often I would “play” blocks by taking them all apart in my mind and building large towers. Before long, I didn’t like having Papa around. Could “Hatred?” be the next block? Surely not! But was that possible?? Now I had five different blocks to “build” and “play” with!

One day I drove into our driveway and I was astonished to see Papa teetering on the very top of the roof of our three-story home. He was brandishing a long black broom dripping with tar. He stopped long enough to wave to me with it. “I’m saving Joe money by tarring the roof! He doesn’t have to put a new one on!” he shouted jubilantly. He had also managed to line the gutters with plastic Sunbeam bread wrappers, tarring them down, so that we didn’t need new gutters either! Fortunately he was way up high, on top of that roof, and I didn’t need to see him for a while.

I calmed down enough, BUT it never occurred to me to consider MY reactions. I deserved to feel all the anger boiling up inside of me. When were they going to get their own home?! If he could scramble up onto the roof of a third-floor house, then surely he wasn’t too old to care for his own place! Besides, he could have fallen from there and killed himself! But it never occurred to me, even then, that I was getting dangerously close to murder in my own heart which would have been the SIXTH Block that I was playing with.

Not until one afternoon. I had recently finished decorating the entire house. The old steam radiators were painted discreetly to blend in with the color of the walls. I opened the front door, carrying my bundles, to be greeted by a beaming Papa! “I have been painting ALL the radiators shiny black so that the heat can radiate into the rooms!” I swept past him, put my packages down and headed up to my bedroom. I didn’t dare to shout at him, so I cried alone. Still I didn’t talk to God about it. I DID talk to Joe about it.  You never could have convinced me that MY attitude was wrong.

Somehow Joe soothed my feelings, and life went on. My hurts, self-pity, anger, bitterness, and my hatred were certainly not MY fault. Look at all we were doing for them! Strange that I didn’t talk to God about my own attitude. I cried out in self-pity to Him, but never dreamed that I was as culpable as Papa because now I could say I hated having him around. Jesus would say that I hated him

I played my gracious role on the outside, but the despair and resentment had to spill out somewhere. It took 4 years for God to sort us all out. Keep on your old jeans and rolled up sleeves because there IS going to be a garden with the “plant of contentment!”  Do not grow weary.

“Therefore lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:12, 13.

* How to Be Free From Bitterness by Jim Wilson, Community Christian Ministries, P.O. Box 9754, Moscow, ID 83843-0180

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