*Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.
Have you ever had someone in your life that left a bad taste in your mouth? It’s like going to bed without brushing your teeth. Sure that salmon with garlic butter sauce and side greek salad had a pleasurable flavor when you first ate it, but it’s quite offensive the next morning, having festered on your tongue all night. Such is true of relationships gone sour.
I had a friend, Jamie*, that called me quite often to vent about a particularly challenging interpersonal conflict she was having. After we exchanged pleasantries about the day, I could almost predict what Jamie would say and the grievances she’d air. Much of it is quite valid and some of it is debatable, but in any event I kept my stoicism and let my friend release that frustration.
Over time, I watched as the level of Jamie’s emotional upset graduated from angst and discomfort to deep frustration to outrage. I would listen for awhile as she ranted on and on about the insults she felt she was enduring. I would try to help her see the aggressor as ignorant instead of arrogant, but she interpreted the other person’s every gesture as ill-intentioned. It was like she would go out of the way to find something negative to say about the perceived offender, even if we were talking about something else. It was like product placement, except the product was her ought against this person.
Then it hit me – perhaps my friend was invested in her negative perception of the other person. Jamie had made up in her mind who that person was and that she was actively being disrespected. That is, by my definition, bitterness. Based on her accounts, there are absolutely places where the other person was out of line. But there are also places where the benefit of the doubt could be had – or better yet, she was in the wrong. (Note – I have not seen the accusations play out first hand. I can only judge the accounts as told by my friend, so I do not aim to dismiss or disregard her claims.) The latter scenario is where I draw the circle around bitterness.
Don’t Chew The Bay leaf
Jamie was “chewing the bay leaf.” If you’ve ever cooked with a bay leaf, you’ve probably noticed this herb has a very fragrant aroma. You don’t need a lot of it to pack a flavorful punch. Typically, you drop a whole leaf or two in a sauce or soup and simmer. And whatever you do, DON’T chew it. Not only is the texture unsavory, that leaf is pungent and bitter by itself.
Now, you’re probably wondering what bay leaves have to do with having a tiff with someone. Just like a bay leaf adds flavor to your sauce, conflicts with others (or navigating them) can add to your wisdom, grow your faith, and teach you a great deal about yourself – if you let. But the idea is to complete your dish and REMOVE the leaf – mature and end the conflict one way or another. You will continue to be hurt and drained if you choose to hold on to the bitter taste left in your mouth by those that offend you.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe a person when they show you who they are, or let them treat you any kind of way. I am saying that if you really want move forward, stop meditating on the negativity. Don’t let your hurt consume your every thought. Be fair – you don’t need to waste your energy sleuthing for the underlying insult in every action. (Trust, if they really suck that bad, there will be plenty of evidence of their disdain for you.) Don’t ignore the fight in front of you, but don’t be the dog looking for the fight that isn’t there yet. You will drive yourself bonkers! Let your anger be productive. Let it drive you to heal the rift or go in peace. Bitterness at the core is not merely a reflection of our situation, it’s a condition of the heart, and it is not a becoming accessory. Taste and see that the Lord is good (even when people are not), and let it go.
Have you ever had to overcome bitterness in your life? How did it hold you back? How did you beat it? Share your tips in the comments below!