This essay was originally called “Roots of Bitterness, Explosions of Shame,” and it would have been somewhat satisfying, I suppose, to tell it from only one perspective—mine. But after writing it initially to process my horror at this scenario, I decided to look at it from the viewpoint of any of us when we don’t understand grace. Because when we don’t understand or practice grace, or even when we don’t have it for ourselves, bitterness rises up like a vine climbing that tall oak in the backyard. And then all of a sudden, it chokes us, or something sets it aflame. I wrote this to look for the lessons in it. Where can I do better? Where do I get caught up in similar unnecessary anger? Where can I “step out of the ring,” so to speak.
A while back, in a very public setting, I had someone approach me very angrily when a boundary was drawn for her. It was someone I had known, marginally, for years. I’m guessing, based on the irrational and very scary level of her rage, she has trained most people in her life to never draw boundaries that she has to observe. Then she met me, and unfortunately, I’m a hyper-boundary-draw-er. And while I didn’t walk in that afternoon with any angry feelings toward her, she must have thought that I did, or clearly she wouldn’t have spent her week wasting her time planning to ambush me. She’s no different than so many of us, except she let it get to a boiling point.
Really, if we’re honest, how many times do we all waste time with stressed-out, one-sided, furious, imaginary conversations in our heads when we think there’s a major issue—but there really isn’t one?
Seeing how ramped-up she was, there was no good reason to engage in conversation at that moment other than to shut it down before it escalated. Nothing good would be accomplished by me letting her vent like that. She needed to calm down and find a better way to approach me. Then I would have listened. I hope I can show honor and respect toward others even when I disagree with them; I hope I always give them a chance. After I managed to get out to an area where there were more people, she continued to get in my face and insist on setting me straight. I offered to leave if that would be helpful in stopping the toxic rant. After a while, in front of several others, she backed down. Phew!
The entire thing shook me to the core. So I had to dig deep and ask myself:
What about me incites such wrath?
What the issue was? Minor and irrelevant.
Isn’t it always the dumb, insignificant things that set off sparks between people, that light the flame?
What freaked me out in this experience? That this woman unleashed four years of hatred, misunderstanding, insecurities, and self-justification onto me in just a few minutes over something so incredibly minor. She had built up so many wrong assumptions about me based on gossip, without fact-checking.
But she is not alone.
Really, if we think about it: How many of us do that daily? If I’m honest, I do it at times. And it struck me not only in terms of searching my own soul as to what about me provoked such emotion, but it also forced me to reflect:
Where am I holding on tightly to dislike of and bitterness toward someone else?
Despite how very hard it was to climb over the wall of self-pride, I made myself pray and asked God to show me the two sides of the coin. I spent many a night waking at 2 AM wondering how someone could hold on to that much hatred, only to spew it, without any warning, like Mount Vesuvius?
While I still think this woman was unfair and inappropriate in how she handled this situation, it caused me to look for where I was being equally unfair to anyone in my life on my “Do Not Like At All” list. We all have one.
Where are we being a “root of bitterness”? Where might God be offering us correction by perhaps allowing things to come against us that we need to make sure we are not guilty of ourselves?
I’m also learning that just because people want to fight/argue, it doesn’t mean we have to get in the ring. Some folks are always going to want to fight for the thrill of it; they have no intention of getting to resolution because they already have another ring reserved for a different day.
I’m all for honest conflict resolution, but one of the best growth points for me this year has been to walk past the ring and say, “No, thanks. Choosing to walk over to the peace bench. Feel free to join me there, but if not, this is where I’ll be if you need me.”
The two verses in Hebrews 12:14-15 pretty much sum it up for me:
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
Do you find you are being drawn into a ring in your own life, one that isn’t productive and somehow keeps scheduling a fight?
Or do you find yourself wanting more ring time than necessary, constantly looking for someone to battle?
How can we “make every effort to live in peace,” setting healthy boundaries, not only to model how we would like to be treated but also to take a personal stand in grace to anything trying to steal our joy, thieve our energy, discourage our hearts?
The ring is a choice most of the time. I am going to strive to only enter it when the stakes are huge and justice needs an advocate. Otherwise, I hope to live almost entirely outside that ring.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many [emphasis mine].
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