The use of the word 'paralysed' is so important in the above sentence. It indicates the effect that bitterness can have on one’s life, so much so that it affects every part of it. Once it becomes a natural reaction, it can easily infiltrate relationships, work, perceptions and spirituality.
Trust is hard to come by, and once trust is breached, it is very difficult to repair. This is often the core to bitterness. It could be that a person’s trust was broken by another, or even that they no longer trust in God. The disappointment, resentment, frustration, anger, and contempt that comes from this often results in bitterness when we don’t know how to deal with it.
Do as Christ has done for us
When approaching a friend on something that needs correction, it is important to question where your intent lies – make sure that your willingness to help comes from a place of love. It’s difficult to see a friend suffering because they do not actually (practically) know how much God loves them. So much so, that He made the great exchange for them – His Son for our lives.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” Eph 4:31-32. This illustrates how much grace and mercy we have been shown by our Father, that He does not give us what we deserve. That is the greatest act of forgiveness, and it helps to be reminded of this from time to time. It may not come naturally to us, but we need to practice it.
Pruning roots of bitterness
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Gal 5:22-23. We have the Spirit within us, and therefore, the fruit as well.
When you think about the way in which nature works, trees do not have to labour to bear fruit. Their fruit comes naturally to them once they are mature enough. Our fruit should also come naturally to us – on condition that we are mature. We are a constant work-in-progress, but we have to be progressing none-the-less. We have to keep working on our walk with Christ and assess our maturational process. This includes pruning what is unnecessary, or contradictory, to growth, such as bitterness.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled,” Heb 12:15. This illustrates the effect that bitterness can have. The Bible speaks of it as a root, suggesting that bitterness can lay a foundation and root in one’s heart, and grow from there. Before this root anchors itself further, pray and speak with your friend. Often times we do not know what to say to people in need, and it is okay to not always know, because we already have Someone who is omniscient, so we are never alone in difficult situations. Acknowledge this, and be confident in His promise that “He will never leave nor forsake you.” Deut 31:6.
Surrendering all to Christ
Your friend will need you to support them and to challenge their thoughts and ideas (with love). Help them to smooth out unresolved conflicts and offenses. We have a tendency to rationalise and justify why we are bitter, and our explanations make sense! However, just because they make sense doesn’t make it right. This makes it difficult to notice, and different perspectives are always necessary. It does good to be reminded of Romans 8:28, and to know that this is not a promise that everything will feel good, but that all will work for our good. This is where trust is necessary, placing trust in God and surrendering to His will in our lives. This means taking the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we sing “I surrender all”, let it not really mean “I surrender all...almost”.
BÉNÉ KATABUA is an Educational Psychologist and part-time lecturer at the ICP. For counselling or enquiries about studies in Christian Psychology call 011 827 7611.