Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Bitterness is like a boil that keeps on growing in size, breaks open, and spreads. Gross analogy, I know, but that's the whole point. When bitterness is left unchecked or continues to fester, it turns your heart sour and affects other people as well. Your interactions, speech, and behavior become poisoned by bitterness.
So how do we deal with bitterness? First, we have to understand where it comes from.
Where Does Bitterness Come From?
The definition of bitterness is:
"anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly; resentment."
It's typically when we expect something and we feel that not only were our expectations not met but that they were unfairly unmet.
I've had bitterness because I expected God to provide good things through specific opportunities I was planning for this year. Some might say that having this sense of expectation of God is like entitlement and is wrong or sinful.
There's a difference between entitlement and having expectations. Entitlement means "the fact of having a right to something." Expectation means "a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future." There's nothing wrong with having expectations, but our expectations need to be realistic and we need to learn how to let go or readjust them when they aren't met. Otherwise, we end up with a mixture of entitlement and rigid expectations that manifest into bitterness.
I had expectations regarding specific opportunities that I was hoping God would align for me this year. When they didn't happen at all as I had "planned," I felt like God was treating me unfairly. I would question God, metaphorically shaking my fist, baffled as to why I wasn't getting what I thought I so deserved. My expectations had progressed into some form of entitlement which is what lead to my resentment towards God.
God promises us that He will provide for us, take care of us, and give us heavenly rewards when we are obedient to Him. It is not wrong to expect these things from God, but when we become so fixated on the rewards, blessings, and fruitfulness over God, or when we think we know how and when these things will manifest, then we aren't really entrusting God with the task of fulfilling them, nor are we humbling ourselves like true servants of Christ (which is the exact position we need to be in order to receive them).
My plan for 2020 was what I confidently believed would provide me joy, peace, love, and more. I was putting more faith in my plan than God's plan and goodness. And when things didn't come to pass the way I had hoped and planned for this year, it lead to bitterness.
All these good things, - love, joy, peace, etc. - I believe, are essential, desirable, and even necessary for humans, and God is the provider and facilitator of these things. But we don't get to choose when and where, or how God will provide them. And we have to remember that this life on earth is short and only temporary... That eternal life in heaven is where our true rewards lie.
My father and I had a recent conversation about this idea of heavenly rewards; there are things that God promises his good, obedient servants when they reach heaven. There are rewards for your good works. When bitterness is present in our hearts, it takes us away from having a humble, serving-type mindset. We cannot properly serve God when we are allowing ourselves to be overcome with bitterness. And when we are unable to humble ourselves and serve, then we are far less likely to see heavenly rewards.
Not only is bitterness spiritually unhealthy, but at the very least it affects our lives emotionally and relationally. If we are bitter, the way we interact with others changes, and next thing you know nobody wants to be around you because of it. Bitterness is harmful in many ways. With that said, it's clear that bitterness has no place in our hearts... So how do we get rid of it?
Getting Rid of Bitterness
Once you've addressed where the bitterness is coming from, the biggest thing is letting go of your expectations. I find that it's easier to let go of your expectations entirely and just formulate new ones rather than pick apart the old failed ones. When forming new solid, reliable, and reasonable expectations, look to the Word of God and to heaven as your end goal. That kind of kingdom perspective makes for more successful expectations, although they often still have to be adjusted later on.
For me, I had an expectation this year that I was going to get a full-time job right when I graduated from college. I thought that was a reasonable expectation, considering I was finishing a four-year degree with what I thought was a pretty impressive resume. But then COVID hid, and jobs were really scarce in my line of work. I applied to a handful and didn't get any calls back. I was devastated, and even more so I was bitter. I blamed God for my lack of success.
What took me months to realize was that the source of my bitterness was because I was so dead set on "my plan" being the best plan. After accepting a part-time barista job and moving into my parent's basement, I was at peak bitterness. I found it was affecting my interactions at the coffee shop with my friendly coworkers, who didn't deserve to be treated the way they were by me. I knew then that I had to fix my bitter heart.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on my expectations, the purpose of life, and what impact that had on the way I lived my life. The truth was, I had fallen into a selfish, worldly mindset; I wanted things and I wanted them now, or on my own time, and I was trying to set my wordly life up for success the way I saw fit. All the while, God was trying to show me that A. my life here on earth is super fragile, short, and temporary (while my life in heaven is eternal) and B. my plan was nothing compared to God's greater plan, and honestly, would not serve me well in this life, or the next.
It's not a one and done struggle with bitterness; although I feel I've triumphed over it now with the help of God's revelations, I know that I will likely experience bitterness in the future. The thing is, we can counteract bitterness from having a place in our hearts when we fill ourselves with the Word of God and are set on His kingdom. With a heavenly mindset, we are more inclined to humble ourselves, with far more realistic - or just more adaptable - expectations, and we are in a better position to receive blessings and rewards from God that way.