Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Digging Up the Root of Bitterness

“Perhaps at other times in my life I wouldn’t have even noticed the offense.  I would have brushed it off, overlooked it, ignored it, maybe even laughed it off.  But not when I’m laid low by sorrow.” - Nancy Guthrie

It started out with hurt feelings when others didn't weep with me when Wesley was born. People seemed to quickly forget to offer help as I struggled to get my boys to literally hundreds of doctor's appointments.  I noticed as those asking how Wesley was doing, how we were doing, slowed to a trickle.  Unlike other babies, who were often scooped out of their mother’s arms and cuddled by others, most people didn't hold Wesley and love on him.  It seemed as though those calling just to say hi or check in on our family became almost non-existant.

“If these offenses don’t reach the level of sin against me, why am I so hurt by them?... When someone who should have been there for us didn’t show up, when someone who should be for us has turned against us, it hurts.  Deeply.  Unspeakably.”  - Nancy Guthrie

It then grew to anger.  I judged those around me harshly.  I assumed that we had been forgotten, that others had chosen not to carry our burdens with us.

As the years passed, I became bitter.  I could barely keep my head above water, and pursuing friendships was not something I was capable of doing.  As others made new friends, I felt more and more isolated, and I held this against them.

“Taking a hard look at my own failures and blindness helped me extend grace to those around me who were as oblivious as I had once been.  I stopped expecting that people around me should get it and instead reminded myself, They haven’t been here.  They can’t know what this is like.  My heart broke as I wondered, How many people have I hurt over the years by being unwilling to enter into their sorrow with them?”  - Nancy Guthrie

Envy crept in.  As I harbored bitterness against those around me, I was also unhappy with the blessings and fortune they enjoyed.

I resented others, bitterness simmering at the whole perceived injustice of it all.

And then, malice showed it's ugly face, bringing with it dreams that envisioned their ruin. Perhaps they would one day get what they deserved.  When trials came their way and everyone forsook them, then I could just give a satisfied chuckle.

These sins took root in my life.  Instead of urgently attacking and putting them to death, I allowed them to eat away at my soul, slowly and painfully killing me.  As a result, they left much carnage in their wake.  I don't trust those around me.  There is dissension.  My envy has torn me apart from dear friends.  My anger has been corrosive to genuine fellowship.  My bitterness has made friendship impossible.

“As we look inside ourselves, we begin to see our own resentment as the real issue in our lives – the sin we are responsible for.  We start to recognize that it’s not what another person has said or done that robs us of our joy but our own grudges that we’ve coddled and kindled.  And we decide to stop throwing logs onto that fire.”  - Nancy Guthrie

So where do I go from here?  How do I start to untangle this pervasive sin that has taken root in my heart?

I am so thankful that I do not fight my sin in my own strength.  For if I did, I would surely lose.  This sin has a tight hold on my life, with roots four years deep.

“How can we forgive when that person doesn’t deserve it and hasn’t even acknowledged what he or she did wrong?  We’re afraid that if we forgive, it’s like saying that what that person said or did doesn’t really matter – that it is excusable or not a big deal.  But forgiveness isn’t minimizing what someone has done.  Real forgiveness is far more costly than that.  It says, “You hurt me deeply, but I’m not going to make you pay.  I will pay.  You don’t owe me anymore – not even an apology.”  Forgiveness is choosing to absorb the pain and pay the debt yourself that you are rightfully owed, asking God to do a work of grace and quench the fiery anger in your heart.”  - Nancy Guthrie

So I start by remembering Jesus.  I remember what he has done for me.  He has paid for my sins, canceling my debt, and making me his holy, spotless, forgiven, and loved child.  I do not deserve this, but yet, it is mine.  God sees the blackness of my heart, but still, He welcomes me as His holy child because my sins have been paid in full.  He blots out my transgressions for His own sake, and He will not remember my sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

I repent.  I choose to turn from the sin which is leading me to death, turning instead to God who gives me life.  I am very aware that these sins will come back to haunt me again and again.  I will judge others again, grow angry at them, and be hurt by them.  I must keep repenting of my sin or envy and bitterness and malice will again enter to destroy my life.  And I cling to the promise in 1 John 1:9, which says "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

So I confess my sin, and I ask God to help me not just lock it up in a closet, where it will eventually creep back out and attack me again at a later time, but kill it.  And keep killing it every time it shows its face.

I don't want to indulge hurt feelings.  I don't want to be angry at those around me.  Or bitter. Or envious.

“We stop constructing plans to get revenge and instead nurture thoughts of how we might bless those people.  Instead of being happy when they hurt, we allow ourselves to be sad with them.  We figure out what it would look like to express love in a meaningful way, and then we do it without fanfare.  We refuse to keep dwelling on the injustice of what happened and choose instead to trust God to execute justice, believing that he will settle accounts for us far more justly than we can.  We repent of the pride and superiority that cause us to think to ourselves, or perhaps even say out loud, I would never do that!”  - Nancy Guthrie

From now on, by God's grace, I pray that my love for those around me will be genuine.  I pray that I will abhor what is evil, holding fast to what is good.  I am asking God to help me love others with brotherly affection and seek to show them hospitality.  I want to rejoice with those around me when they rejoice and also weep with them when they weep.  I pray that from here on out, I will live in harmony with others.  I don't want to repay evil for evil (or even perceived evil).  Instead I pray that I will do what is honorable in the sight of all.  So far as it depends on me, I ask that God would help me to live peaceably with all.  (Romans 12:9-21)

I have borrowed some thoughts from this blog post by Joe Rigney at Desiring God ministries, which the Lord used to convict me and see how these sins were destroying my life.

Quotes by Nancy Guthrie are from her book, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jesus Is Enough

The past few months, I have been slowly making my way through Nancy Guthrie’s book, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow.  Nancy and her husband have experienced much sorrow and grief in this life as they have watched two of their children die in the first year of their lives.  In this book, she shares questions she has wrestled with since their deaths and the comfort and hope Jesus offers to us in the midst of our grief.  As I have read though her book, I have often nodded whole-heartedly as I have found what she says to be true in my own life.  I am so grateful for how she has beautifully articulated how Jesus comforts brokenhearted people and offers us life and hope.

Below is an excerpt from her book:

When Jesus says that his grace is sufficient, he’s not talking only about the grace that extends pardon for what we’ve done in the past.  He’s talking about grace that is a present power.  This grace Jesus gives us is the power to go on when we think we can’t make it one more day.  It is the power to believe when doubts and questions are crowding into our conscious thoughts.  Grace gives us what we need to take hold of God’s Word and rest in it amid the voices around us and inside us that tell us God cannot be trusted.

We like to think that the way God can get the most glory is by doing the miracle we’ve put on order.  We’d much rather have Jesus display his power in our lives in the form of healing and wholeness, success and accomplishment, rather than dependence and weakness.  We want escape from weakness, not power in weakness.

I suppose this presents a real test for us.  It forces us to ask ourselves, Do I want to experience and receive more of the grace of Jesus so I can put it on display in my life?  Or do I just want him to give me what I ask for, what I think I need, so I won’t have to hurt so much anymore?  Can I find satisfaction when God does not fix the difficulties in my life but instead gives me the grace to endure them without complaining, without being resentful, without turning my back on him?  Can I move from desperately seeking relief to diligently seeking to glorify God as I treasure him more than my own health or comfort?

Do you think it’s possible to find pleasure in the place of your deepest pain?  It seems incomprehensible, even ridiculous, doesn’t it?  That’s because we don’t really think the grace Jesus has promised us is all that good.  We don’t think it will be enough – not enough to fill our emptiness, not enough to meet our needs.

The truth is, we’re often more interested in getting what God’s got, not getting more of God.  We’ve put in our order for a miracle of healing or relief, and the miracle of his presence seems to us like the consolation prize.

The grace God provides is enough to generate joy in the midst of your great sorrow.  It’s enough to enable you to endure the loneliness and the reminders of loss everywhere you turn.  It’s enough to keep you believing that God is good and that he loves you.

“My grace is enough for you today and for everything you will face in the days to come.  It will be enough – I will be enough – for whatever I allow in your life.”

Saturday, June 1, 2013


If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.  When I thought, "My foot slips," your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.  Psalm 94:17-19

These were the words that I read this morning, parked in front of an abandoned baseball field, with the audio for the Chronicles of Narnia blaring through the back speakers of the van to entertain my boys for a few minutes.  As boys complained and great battles were fought behind me, I asked the Lord to still my heart, even if only for a moment.

And in that moment, as the past year flashed before my eyes, I saw again that it is only because of the Lord that my soul does not live in the land of silence.  If the Lord had not been my help, I most certainly would have given up.  It is only because of the Lord’s steadfast love holding me up that my foot has not slipped.  Countless times, as I have climbed the rocky terrain, carrying burdens that have weighed me down beyond anything I had thought humanly possible, I have looked ahead at the treacherous path and thought, “This is it.  I am not going to make it this time.”  But the Lord’s steadfast love has upheld me every single time.  Even when I have been faithless and lost heart, the Lord has remained faithful to me.  And yet, as I stand here today, the cares of my heart are still many.  The Lord has kept my foot from slipping and protected my soul time and time again, but I am still walking the same path.  The terrain is still rocky and treacherous. 

In the midst of that not-at-all peaceful moment in the car this morning, the words on the page brought comfort to my soul.  Even though the cares of my heart are many, the Lord’s consolations cheer my soul.  In my weary, burdened state, God comes to me and alleviates my grief and sorrow by comforting me.  He makes it easier for me to endure.  What a beautiful picture.  God consoles me.  My Heavenly Father comforts me.  This is the very reason that I cast my cares on Him – because He cares for me.

As I thought more about this verse, I thought that perhaps this gives us a picture of how we can help one another.  When others are walking through significant trials, there are not always tangible ways to reach out and help.  I know, for myself, when people ask how they can help, I often cannot offer them a specific thing that they can do.

One thing, though, that we can always do for those who are suffering, is be ministers of God’s consolation by walking alongside them and comforting them.  I am often comforted even when others acknowledge that the road I am walking is very hard.  Somehow, knowing that others realize and care makes it easier for me to endure.

Grieving with those who grieve is also a way to show consolation.  It may not immediately cheer someone’s soul, but it is a comfort.  Someone who loves and shows that love by grieving with those who grieve is a welcome companion.

Faithfully reaching out to a friend, letting them know that we care and that they are on our hearts is a consolation.  What a comfort it is to receive a text, email, or phone call from someone who not only thought of you, but took the time and effort to let you know.

Comfort can also come in the form of encouraging those around us with the promise that the Lord is their help and He loves them with a steadfast love.  He is their refuge and their salvation.  As we gently and compassionately offer these words of hope, we are holding out to them the consolations of the Lord.

Offering consolation to those around us who are suffering allows them to see that they are not alone.  That in itself is often a comfort to their souls.  And as we care for them, let us pray that the Lord would use our feeble attempts and turn them into consolations that cheer their souls.