Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Thing About Bitterness

I remember being in 6th grade when we were learning about the 5 senses and we sat outside focusing on the sense of taste. Our teacher pulled out pieces of chocolate and gave us each one. Perhaps you don't know this, but you taste different things with different parts of your tongue. Our teacher told us to hold the chocolate and wait, not to take a bite, but only to lick it with the tip of our tongue. The tip of the tongue tastes "salty and sweet" but when I licked the chocolate I tasted nothing.

There is always at least one person in a group who can't follow directions, and even in the group there was a child who wasn't satisfied with their tasteless lick of the enticing chocolate we'd been given, and sure enough, one of the kids popped the whole piece into his mouth and bit down. When the chocolate touched the back of his tongue, the reaction was swift, and violent. He spat the chocolate out and began to cough and gag. We'd been fooled, because this wasn't Hershey's we'd been given but rather bakers' chocolate, which is unsweetened and bitter. Have you ever bitten into something bitter? It gags you. Your whole body recoils, fighting to expel what has offended it.

This morning I woke up depressed. My heart literally felt heavy in my chest. By no other explanation than revelation of the Holy Spirit, I can tell you, I knew exactly what was wrong with me. I could not deny it. As I was driving my kids to school and they were chattering in the backseat, I was having a private conversation with the Lord in my mind. "God," I said, "I'm bitter." There was no mistaking the "taste" in my soul.

As the kids kept talking, I was quietly praying and lamenting to the Lord. I recognized immediately that there is a root running deep inside that is strangling the life out of me. As much as I want to be free of the bitterness, I can't seem to free myself of it. A psalm of lament began to form in my heart to the Lord. (You can read it on my creative writing blog by clicking here.)

When I got to school I found a message in my phone from a newer friend. She sent me a link that spoke right to the prayer I was struggling through with the God. She had no way of knowing my thoughts, my battle, or of the depression I was fighting this morning, but God chose her as a vessel to pour His love and encouragement into my life. God had impressed it upon her to share something with me, and there was no coincidence to it, it was without question a God-incidence. As much as I would like to just move past this battle with bitterness, the word of encouragement was quite simply, that now is the hard part. Recognizing the need for the break in relationship was difficult, breaking relationship was really hard, but it's now, the healing and restoration of "after" that is hardest of all.

Until this past October, we had a very large tree in our front yard. I remember when my father planted it when I was just a little girl. It was so thin and weak it had to be tied to a post to withstand the Santa Ana winds. But by the time Neal and I bought the house from my parents, it was very large. Over the next 20 years, it became Neal's nemesis. It got too big for the space that contained it, and it began to wreak havoc on our home. It lifted our driveway, and killed all the grass in the small yard around it (you can click here to see pictures in an old unrelated post.) Neal has been pushing for years for the removal of the tree and this past fall, we finally did it. Neal was overjoyed.

The process was unnerving, huge dangerous chunks of lumber coming crashing down as the tree was dismantled piece by piece. Finally, it was leveled down just above the ground when the "tree guy" told us to go into the house while he ground away the stump. From inside we listened and he battled to level it to the ground. Big chunks of wood battering the front of our house. When he knocked on the door he assured us he's gotten the job done. We looked at the yard covered in wood shavings, and laughed about how it looked like we should have our own pumpkin patch, and thanked the man as we sent him with our money on his way.

It was over the next few days and weeks as the shavings were slowly cleaned away that the reality was revealed. As much as the man had promised us that it was as if the tree had never been there, it wasn't the case at all. The tree was gone, but the root system was very much intact. From out in the street you see a huge difference in our yard- the house no longer obscured by the giant tree, but when you step around the hedge, it's obvious, the yard itself is still far from restored. I snapped this picture as I left to take the kids to school, the living metaphor of this tree not at all lost on me.

My husband and younger son have now spent months trying to deal with this eyesore. Day after day the two of them are outside hacking away at this root system with an ax. On a Sunday morning in December we discovered a leak and had to spend several thousand dollars on rerouting our pipe system, because even after the tree was gone, the roots had busted through our pipes. When I got our water bill a few days ago, I discovered that it was nearly three times what it had been in the previous billing cycle. I have no idea how long the slow leak had been going on, but clearly removing the tree alone was not the solution to our problem.

Likewise break in relationship has not been sufficient in solving the problem of hurt and offense in my soul. Even upon removing the "eyesore," the root system has to be dealt with. And the process is not going to be near as "easy" as dismantling the tree. the root system of offense and bitterness in my soul runs and tangles in places I cannot see, nor can I fully comprehend. And like my husband who grows weary hacking away at the ground tree trunk with an ax, I too am weary at the bitterness that lingers just above the surface of my life.

It's important that it is said, I do not wish to hold on to the bitterness I am battling. Constantly I am striving against my flesh that, like the ground around our tree, tries to hold and hide the roots so they will remain untouched, still powerful, still wreaking havoc. I feel stuck, and I am begging the Lord to hack away and pull up the roots that are leaking the life out of me. But it is not a simple process.

Thankfully, unlike my poor husband and son, God can see the pattern of my root of bitterness and I am actually quite confident that He knows exactly what He's doing in the removal process. Ad unlike Neal's surprise when he discovered the leak, God is fully aware of the "damage" we are contending with. I am also confident of this, God does not just yank the root out because that too could be damaging. The removal needs to be careful and precise, and so in His mercy, the process is slow, albeit it painful and difficult. And unlike the tree roots which may never be fully dealt with, I believe with God's help, my hurt and bitterness can.

If nothing else, I am learning the importance of being careful about what I plant in my heart in the future. If my parents had known what destruction the tree would eventually cause, I am certain they never would have planted it. Likewise, I would have dealt with hurts and offenses much differently as they were happening if I had realized what a bitter root was being sown. There were times I tried to handle things in a biblical manner, but to no avail. But there was more that could have been done in me and I never would the enemy have been given such a foothold in my life. I know this, I will be far more careful as I move forward into my future.

"If you stay free from offense you will stay in God's will. If you become offended you will be taken captive by the enemy to fulfill his own purpose and will. Take your pick. It is much more beneficial to stay free from offense. We must remember that nothing can come against us without the Lord's knowledge of it before it happens. If the devil could destroy us at will, he would have wiped us out a long time ago because he hates man with a passion."
- John Bevere
The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled...
Hebrews 12:14-15

Sunday, February 5, 2012

100 Verses - Week 22

From my phone, been a traveling weekend, but here are the verses:

Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will support you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

Casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you.
1 Peter 5:7