I haven’t written for awhile, but have been working on some thoughts… So many that I am actually going to break out things into my next three blog postings as it would be too big to leave as one post. So here it goes…
Bitterness. Lately I feel like I have been surrounded by bitterness. I feel like I am watching people around me, who are close to me, people who I care about, battling a full on attack of bitterness. It has been hard to watch, hard to witness. What is bitterness? I would describe bitterness as anger put into a crock pot. Crock pots are great ways to cook things We throw a bunch of stuff into the pot and then we let it simmer on low heat all day. Lots of times we throw in bones with meat still hanging on. However by the end of the day, the crock pot strips all the meat and flesh off and leaves just the bones behind. Doing that, it provides quite the flavor when its all said and done. Plus its easy to do. If we don’t attend to our anger properly, it is like the bones with the meat still on, it sits in that crock pot and simmers on low heat, this process converts that anger into bitterness, by cooking it slowly over time – it traps in all the flavor and doesn’t let anything out.
What makes bitterness so difficult is that it comes on in disguise, We don’t recognize that it has us in its grasp. The smell though, just as the crock pot does, permeates the entire house. Everything is covered in bitterness. But because it happens on a low simmer, we aren’t even aware of what just happened. We become the frog that is killed in the water that has the temperature slowly raised over time. The frog adapts and adjusts to the small increases in temperature until its too late and the frog dies. Bitterness is similar, it clouds our thoughts, our thinking, it even allows us to change history, by allowing us to revise our own version of what happened to fit its new evil plan. We know that we are right and everyone else is wrong, we believe in the bitterness, because its pits us against the world. A world that has wronged us, thus we have the right to be mad, to be angry. All of our actions, no matter how evil, become justified. Now anger in itself is not bad, its a natural emotion. We are made to feel anger. But at the same time we are instructed to let it go. Even Jesus got angry. Read Matthew 21 – 12:13. Jesus flips over the tables of the money changers as they are cheating people by using rigged systems. He gets flat out angry about what they are doing. Yes anger is OK. Bitterness is not just borne out of anger, but born from us hanging onto it and then letting it simmer over time. I think bitterness can come from being angry based upon people’s actions towards us – mainly negative actions towards us and it also can come from being angry about things that we have no control over. In one case we take a hurt that was inflicted on us and allow it to slowly take over our thoughts. We allow that trespass to consume our thoughts and actions. In another case we feel that someone or something has to pay for the injustice that we received. Its like being mad at the weather for ruining our plans. Yet we can’t control the weather.
One of my first posts that I ever made was regarding my faith (Its titled “Faith” and was written 11/19/11). And how my faith was forged on a mountain, when I was praying that my Dad would be healed from cancer. The answer that I received was not what I wanted. I wanted a story of a miracle, the story of redemption and healing. But the answer I got was that my Dad was going to die. My prayer was not going to be granted. The opposite of my wish was going to come true. I was angry and upset. I was upset as I thought that there are still things that my Dad needed to teach me. The response I received was that he had already taught me everything that I needed to know. That he had nothing else to teach me. So now, when I am perplexed by life, I find myself stopping and asking, “Ok, what did my Dad teach me about this?” Recently, I found myself asking that about bitterness. What did my Dad teach me about how to deal with bitterness?
As I thought about it, I realized that he taught me two important lessons while he was alive. The first occurred when I was in high school and revolved around his relationship with his Dad, my grandfather. The second was how he handled his diagnosis with terminal cancer. Which I find a little bit ironic as I have now been faced with that same difficult reality.
My grandfather was an alcoholic. This was actually something that growing up, I had no idea about. You see during my time as a child, he was sober. When we were around him, he was a wonderful Grandfather, care, fun and loving. My Grandfather was an inventive and creative person, he would collect pieces of driftwood, shells and other items and then turn them into amazing pieces of art. It was always fun to look through his most recent creations of characters, each with their own theme. He was a creator, which is important to note as it is much harder to create than destroy. I know that well from building Legos with my boys. I can spend hours building something only to see it ruined in about 5 seconds. Creation is challenging and requires hard work and sacrifice, where as destruction is easy and works even if someone is lazy. But that is my memory of my Grandfather as a kid. He was unique in his own way, but he was a creator. He was a builder.
When I was in high School, one night my Dad got a call from my Grandmother. My Grandfather was drinking again and he was out of control and she wanted help. My Dad grabbed me and told me that I was going with him. We got in the car and headed to Shoreline. My Dad provided me with some background during the drive. The revelation that my Grandfather was an alcoholic was now known to me.
He prepped me on what I was going to see. He provided some insight to growing up with an alcoholic Dad. When we got there, the pep talk did not prepare me for what I saw. I saw a person that I did not recognize. I did not know that person whose actions I witnessed that night. This was not the person whom I knew that was an amazing creator. This was not the person who I knew as a child. He was not the Grandfather that I knew growing up. He was someone consumed by bitterness. He cursed the world, he cursed everything for putting him in the life that he led. Bitterness clouded his thoughts, his judgement, his words, his actions. I didn’t know that person. Bitterness had reduced him to a shell of his true self and the alcohol was the vise that fanned that flame. The alcohol became the release valve on that crock pot filled with anger.
The reality of the fact set in, my Dad had lived through that growing up. He had witnessed that battle with bitterness many times before. To me it was new, but not to him. I am pretty sure that lesson that he hoped I would learn was the harm and damage that alcohol could do. That lesson hit home, loud and clear. I actually still have my Grandfather’s AA certificate of completion as a reminder of the destruction that alcohol can cause and I keep it as a reminder of the Grandfather that I knew – the creator, not the person consumed with bitterness. Not the person who allowed alcohol to control him. The other lesson I learned that night was about bitterness. I think that my Dad should have been extremely bitter towards his father. He had every right to be bitter about growing up dealing with the alcoholism. It was about six months after that night, my Grandfather would commit suicide.
Yes I think that my Dad should have been bitter. Most people would have, most would have been filled with bitterness and resentment. But my Dad wasn’t. He never said anything bad about his Dad. He obviously wished that alcohol hadn’t consumed him, but he never spoke poorly about him. He still loved him, despite his flaws and shortcomings. He made the choice not to be bitter. He chose to break that cycle. He chose not to let that same bitterness gain a foothold in his life. That was the main lesson I learned from that night.
The second lesson on bitterness I learned through watching him deal with a terminal diagnosis. Sure he was angry, mad and afraid about being diagnosed with cancer. Truth be told, I can’t compare my diagnosis to his as his was far, far worse than what I have. But he did not let the bitterness enter. He kept his head high and fought the good fight. When he was diagnosed, the doctors gave him one year to live. He didn’t quite make that one year before he died. He did everything that you could ask someone to do in order to fight. And during that time, he was not bitter about the whole thing.
The greatest moment I spent with my Dad before he died actually occurred only a few days before he died. He had crashed and was basically brought back from the dead. He had regained consciousness after being out of it for awhile. It was the middle of the night, I was sitting by his side, I had been on his case ever since he was diagnosed that he needed to workout and keep fit. He looked at me and asked me to help him with his exercises. We sat there, I worked with him through his workout routine, consisting of exercises using surgical tubing. He pushed through the complete routine as best as he could. He knew the end was near, but he wasn’t bitter, he wasn’t angry. To me I have always viewed that moment as his way of saying goodbye. Not bitter, not angry, but holding his head high and doing what he set out to do. Pushing through, working hard.
Honestly when I look around I see people filled with bitterness, It breaks my heart. Truthfully, I think, if there is anyone who should be bitter and angry in this world, that person should be me. After the last two years of my life and the cards I have been dealt, you would think that I should be a little bit bitter. But then I think of the lessons I learned from my Dad and I think to myself: actually he is the person who should have been bitter. He is the person who was dealt the bad hand. But the truth is that he chose not to be bitter. He chose not to be consumed by things that he could not control. I learn from his lesson and thus I choose not to be bitter, not to be consumed with anger, not bitter about things I can’t control nor about the things that have been done to me by others. No I will not be bitter. And I would encourage you not to be bitter either. All we have to control is how we handle what life throws at us. How we react is our choice. And as for me, I know what I don’t choose, and that is bitterness.