It’s so easy to be bitter, especially if your broken world was someone else’s fault.
A mate leaves. Someone you love betrays your trust. An angry irrational boss explodes and belittles you in front of everyone. A co-worker makes a mistake that causes management to demote your whole division.
When those things happen, it’s perfectly natural to be angry. We can get angry with the person that did it to us, and we can be angry with God for allowing it to happen. We can even be angry with ourselves. Sometimes I get the maddest at myself. “I can’t believe you did that. Why did you do that?” Anger is very natural. There’s nothing wrong with anger as long as it is carefully managed. The Bible says, “Be angry, but don’t sin[i].”
If you’re not careful, the anger will work its way down into you and become bitterness. When bitterness sets in, we miss God’s purpose for pain and turn our attention to retaliation rather than restoration.
Leslie Flynn tells the story of a fellow that was bitten by a rabid dog. He went to the doctor and the physician confirmed his fear, “Man, I’m sorry, but I have bad news. You do have hydrophobia and unfortunately, you’re going to die.” The guy says, “That’s terrible, Doc. Can I have a pen and some paper?” The doc says, “Yeah.” He handed the fellow a pen and some paper and the guy started writing furiously. The doctor thinks, “He must be writing a will or something.” After a few minutes, he finally asked the fellow, “What are you writing?” The guy looked up and said, “I’m making a list of all the people that I plan to bite.”[ii]
I hope you’re not that way. But I understand how easy it is to feel like that bitter man. When somebody hurts you, the knee-jerk reaction is to put that person on your “to be bitten list.” Bitterness takes root in your heart and anger turns to hate.
I have a counselor friend that gives a talk he calls, “The Hate Bus.” He said that we all have a hate bus. As we go through our lives, we tend to load all the people that hurt us onto our bus. My friend says the funny thing about the hate bus is most of the people on your hate bus don’t even know they’re on it. He said that some people even carry dead people on their hate bus. “The only one that you are hurting by driving around a hate bus,” my friend says, “is you. The people that are on it don’t even care.” My friend suggests that we all empty our hate buses and offer grace and forgiveness to those people that hurt us.
The hate bus is a powerful image of bitterness.
After my friend gave the “Hate Bus” talk to my church, several came to me and said, “I don’t have a hate bus; I have a hate tractor trailer.” One said hers was more like a “Hate freight train.”
Bitterness makes us load the hate bus and then it saps us of energy and joy as we haul them around. There are few things more self-destructive than bitterness. Dave Seaman’s said, “Brooding over the hurts and injustices or a broken marriage keeps us bound to the past, and robs us of the spiritual energy and clear thinking we desperately need to cope with the present.”[iii]
One man said, “Bitterness is the only weapon we wield by the blade.”
[i] Ephesians 4:26
[ii] Leslie Flynn, When the Saints Go Storming In
[iii] Dave Seaman’s Living With Your Dreams