Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Root of Bitterness

The Root of Bitterness

It's been a week and I'm already hoping I can survive this search for Value. In many ways I feel like I'm in rehab, learning my 12 steps to a full recovery from not really knowing who I am or what I'm about. This is going to be more than learning cute little lessons and then writing about them, I'm discovering. It becomes clear that as I ask God to teach me where my value truly lies, he surprises me by showing me where it is not, as I wrote last week. And this week, revealing the condition of my own heart in response to people who've hurt me, showing me my lack of response when someone does or says something which causes me pain.
I assumed that those behaviors; the calm acceptance of others rudeness, the silence with which I met comments that demoralized or humiliated me, the way in which I picked up everyone's image of me, especially the negative ones, and placed them squarely on myself, absorbing them totally, would eventually fade away or perhaps even be snapped away in an instant the moment I realized the origin of My Elusive Value. All I had to do was figure out the One Word answer to why I don't value myself and that would instantly solve these little annoyances.
However, it becomes evident as I proceed, even in these early stages, that while Christian doctrine would give a simple, decisive and cliche answer to that question; which is obviously, "you must find your identity in Christ!", the answer in my own life is more complicated than that and cannot be defined in one single word, even if that word is Jesus.

Quite possibly, the answer to this quandary shares characteristics with the quantum sciences in that it is many things at the same time, all equally possible yet wholly individual and happening simultaneously. And my responses to people who have hurt me are just one tiny facet in the gem of self evaluation. This is incredibly frustrating.
You see, I assumed that my answers would be found at the end of my search, packaged neatly and ready for printing by the end of the twelve months I've predestined for myself to finish this endeavor. As I said, it becomes clear to me that my answer, indeed my many answers, are going to be found within the journey itself, within the God who leads me through this maze, and will never be neat, tidy or even really ever 'finished'.

I watched my life carefully this week, waiting for another 'basement breakthrough' to occur so that I could quickly grasp it, write it, and add it to the file of research I find myself doing daily. The element that I didn't expect, perhaps stupidly, was that when examining my own life, I would find things that deeply hurt me. I assumed this project would be all about research, interviews with other women, mass amounts of reading. But apparently, the search for True Value is my own individual search and is between myself and my Creator, and has little or nothing to do with the experiences of anyone else. It is not comparable. This weeks lesson has been centered on the contents of my heart, something only He can advise me on.

I have always thought of myself as an outspoken person. But I don't think that's an accurate statement. I can be outspoken, but more often than not, I opt to just take people's rudeness or insult and say nothing. Again, this begs the question why? Perhaps the solution is not in whether or not I address their rudeness or criticism or insult, but in whether or not I accept it internally and what I do with it from there.
My habit has always been to take their words in, mull them over, allow them to sting and then to harbor a deep and perpetual dislike for that person forever after. I marry this reliable tactic with gossip, avoidance and withdrawal, which is really a form of assault as it's delivered with the same intention, which is to hurt.
I can guarantee with eerie certainty that I can remember every insult or bullying remark I've ever received. I cannot remember my responses, probably because there were none, at least outwardly, but the names of those who hurt me will be forever engraved on my heart. I carry them still, those old wounds, and they never fail to reinfect the other areas of my life, other relationships, with their poison.

If you had asked me a week ago if I was a bitter person, I would have given a resounding "NO!" in response. After all, it's not like I constantly think about those incidents or even really remember them unless I try. But bitterness is more than persistent emotion at remembered pain, it's all the ways we allow our life to be different, in ways it otherwise would not have been, ways that harm or otherwise inhibit us and take away our freedom, as a result of that pain. Under this new definition, I must look back and reexamine. Am I a bitter person? Yeah, I think I am.
I have considered that perhaps changing my response to people when they are critical or rude or judgmental and simply telling them off might be successful at deflecting what they're saying. If I could just snap back at them then I'd be good to go. Unfortunately, my hang up here is that when we're openly rude or critical or judgmental to others, we look really, really ugly. And I would rather be the one who says nothing in response to the person who looks so ugly rather than the sort of person who gets sucked in and responds in kind. But it still hurts and I still want to say mean things to them and you can bet, I can still remember everything they said to me years later. So I don't think my silence is really working for me.

How in the world does this interface with a search for Value? I asked myself that question as well and even questioned whether or not this was worth writing about. But after experiencing FIVE different people saying or doing openly rude or humiliating things just this last week alone, a record high even for me, I had ample opportunity to examine my responses and my heart. I was disappointed and surprised to find bitterness there.
It appears that cleaning up my life, sorting the garbage from the treasures, is going to be happening internally, too, not just in the basement. And it's going to have to start with forgiveness.
My value isn't expressed or honored when I choose to respond to someone's rudeness or insensitivity with rudeness of my own, even if that rudeness and pain are kept to myself. It's not just honored, but also radiated, when the only response my heart is capable of offering is one of love.
In Renovation of The Heart, Dallas Willard states that
"Actions are not impositions on who we are. They come out of our heart and the inner realities it supervises and interacts with."
What's he's saying here is that we behave exactly like the kind of people that we actually are. My responses to people are not accidental, they don't have excuses to justify them, they aren't just 'bad choices' as our culture is so fond of saying. We choose them because we are the kind of people that would choose them.

And my response to that is; uh oh.
And my prayer along with that is, Lord, change me. Make me the woman that you want me to be. Because I can't just magically stop being bitter and I certainly won't pretend that those feelings aren't there if they actually are. What good would that do me? My life would still express who I was in the choices I'd make, according to Willard. So the only solution is that God himself do the work required to transform my inner person into Christlikeness.
But I can be obedient. I can choose forgiveness. And, one memory, one hurt at a time, "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ." I can make the choice to love God and love others (and there's a reason that love for God comes FIRST here.) sincerely, from the depths of my heart and not just in shallow action occasionally.

So, I'll be spending some time this week making a list of those individuals who have wounded me in various ways. And then I'm going to choose to forgive them and let it go. I'll do this for as long as it takes until forgiveness moves in to the place where bitterness used to live because, apparently, finding value is more than introspection at what's already there, it is the willing participation in the change and growth from what's already there to what we will become as He changes us.

"I am confident of this; that He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ." Phil 1:6


jkroft said...

Thanks for all your hard work which seems to make my burden lighter.

melissa said...

If anything I say is of any help at all to you, J., I am deeply moved. Thank you for your kindness.

Melissa said...

At the risk of being provocative, I have to ask you a question. What is the value of forgiveness if it isn't sought by the one you forgive? I've wrestled with that and found my answer. I know it may not be the same as yours, but I think the question has to be asked before any answer will be satisfying.

melissa said...

I agree. I think the question must be asked before authentic forgiveness is even an approachable subject. For me, forgiving someone for a hurt they've inflicted is, in effect, releasing someone from the debt I THINK they owe me. It really has very little to do with that person, and everything to do with the condition of my own heart. Realistically, they don't feel my hurt or my anger or my perpetual bitterness. I don't 'punish' them with my rage. It just sits inside me, poisoning my other relationships and getting in the way of freedom. Forgiveness, for me, is turning the key in my own heart and releasing myself from a prison I've created and locked myself away in.
Unfortunately, easier said.

melissa said...

ps- great question. You've made me think.

Nancy said...


I love your message and I'd venture to say that "true" forgiveness is something that we all must analyze. Saying that we forgive and truly doing it is something that only we know. We know from our feelings when we talk to ourselves in our minds and re-live those negative moments over and over. We truly have not let go if we are still allowing them to hurt us. I discovered that this being such a personal endeavor it is beyond words. I can tell others or myself that I have forgiven but, have I really? So being super, mega analytical as I am I need to find words that help me make sense of things. I read something that hit me and allowed me to forgive. More importantly, it allowed me to not collect more baggage. I realized (from what I read, not some flash of sudden brilliance) that when people do things that are hurtful to me, unprovoked, it is SO not about me. It's about them. We all have our issues in life and some of us respond to those in different ways--some by hurting others. They may not even realize that they are reacting to something or even that they are hurting others in the process. They are so lost in their inner fight.

So here is what I read: "Nonreaction to the ego in others is one of the most effective ways not only of going beyond ego in yourself but also of dissolving the collective human ego. But you can only be in a state of nonreaction if you can recognize someone's behavior as coming from the ego, as being an expression of the collective human dysfunction. [meaning the great focus on "me, myself, and I] When you realize that it's not personal, there is no longer a compulsion to react as if it were....Nonreaction is not a weakness but a strength. Another word for nonreaction is forgiveness. To forgive is to overlook, or rather to look through." Remember how snappy and irritable and often times rude we get when we are giving birth? Tell me what could possibly be negative and the miracle of life?? Yet, our poor husbands see fire coming out of our eyes. Do we hate them? Of course not, so then why do we mop the floor with them during that special time? They are just the closest target. The pain is so intense that we lose control. See? What is a plain view, what is said, what is done is not always what "is."

That being said, as was my expierience recently, nonreaction sometimes is hard to do even if only reacting internally, but the process doesn't have to stop there! After I reacted, yelled back in defense of "my rights." I then analyzed the situation, separating from what was said to me (I separated from my ego) and immediately realized, "oh, wait, that wasn't about me, I just happened to be the closest target. I now understand where that came from." Thankfully, this bad incident was one thing I didn't have to add to my baggage. On the contrary, my most sincere prayers went out for that person, whom I love dearly. I pray for her to find the inner peace that whether she knows or not, she desperately seeks. I now pray that if it's in my hands to help her find that path, that God guide me in that direction. I have not made it "my" mission to help (that would be presumptious), but I've made myself available should God lead me there. Who knows, God may have someone else in mind to help. So I've let go, trusting fully that I will be lead in the path that is meant to be. All of this doesn't mean that it will always be someone else's fault, but it certainly means that we can sort out the ones that are truly not ours.

melissa said...


THANK YOU. I loved that and it certainly gave me a different perspective on unresponsiveness. In my experience, people are unresponsive for different reasons; the two main motivations being, A. Negative Passivity (unresponsiveness as a selfish act. We don't want them to judge us, don't want them to hate us, don't want to risk ourselves or be bothered with the trouble and expenditure of a clash. Or B., Positive Unresponsiveness in which we decline action on UNSELFISH grounds. We don't want to "hurt them back", embarrass them or respond to an unworthy situation which might needlessly risk the relationship. This is, as you said, seeing through them to the pain they must be in, and I believe, the response of LOVE. Our eyes are off of ourselves, our ego's, agenda's and images, and focused on the truth, which is that they are hurting. Honestly, I don't always respond like this. But as God seems to be stripping me of my encumbrances one at a time- perhaps (sometime before I die of old age) I will be able to say that the majority of the time, I do.