Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

January 26, 2004

A Root of Bitterness

This morning I've been thinking about my friend, R. She's come through a major trial lately, and now that the worst is over, she has allowed herself to dwell on the many injustices that have been done to her. She has been wronged often, and she knows it. And it galls her heart.

How to tell her--or even if it's my place to tell her--that she is only setting herself up for worse still. What does Hebrews 12:14 say? "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully . . . lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."

We are deeply interested in the injustices done against us, and desire that the wrongs be righted. We measure each one with precision, and dream that our enemy may one day pay an equal price. This is the bitter dream of the victim. A justice that is not beautiful and peace-making, but that engenders strife, resentment and lasting malice. A justice motivated by the thirst for revenge. Justice of this kind only nourishes the root of bitterness.

Worse, when we fail to achieve our vengeful goal, when society does not restore what we'd lost, then we turn bitter, envious and cynical. Our life becomes one long belabored complaint. Everyone must know that we have been wronged. Our friends begin to disappear, and the old wounds fester.

Through it all we justify ourselves by reminding everyone that we were innocent from the start, merely a victim. We congratulate ourselves for being realistic--for bravely facing up to the bitter truth of things--but the fruit of all this bitterness will taint every relationship, every person we love, and our final condition will be worse than when we began. We have done ourselves more harm than ever our enemy could have done, and we have only ourselves to blame.

I looked over at Henri Nouwen's meditation for today, and found it incredibly appropriate to all this. Here it is in full: "To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, 'I no longer hold your offense against you.' But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the offended one. As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God."

Father, I lift up R. to You. Take her into Your arms and remind her that You love her. Cleanse her of all bitterness, pulling it up by the very root. Make her satisfied only in You. Come, Holy Spirit, and blow a fresh wind through her life. Amen.


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