5 Seeds of Bitterness that Need to be Uprooted

Two tiny leaves popped through the newly thawed soil. Stretching toward the sun, they began to grow, each extra bit of sunlight and water fueling them to become the exact imprint of the seed that had been planted months before. Laid dormant through the harsh winter, it was finally time for this new life to break forth into the world.

I watched with delight as the seedling burst forth. I hadn’t lived long in this place, and certainly didn’t know what may have been planted. In the beginning, the tiny leaves were indistinguishable from one another, so I waited with baited breath while I imagined what beautiful things had been sown in this place. I watched carefully, at first, but as they continued to grow I lost track and checked in less often. Until, one day, I rounded the corner to find that the innocent tiny duo of leaves had somehow transformed overnight into a gnarly tangle of thorny foliage.

A weed. In fact an army of weeds, had invaded my yard as I stood there watching. I didn’t have the time to wrestle with it that day, so I left it and went about my business, sure that it would be there to face another day.

Sure enough, when I came back, it was there. Nearly as tall as I am, with a thick stalk and strange alien defenses, the weed defiantly stared me down. Inch long thorns drew blood and precariously fragile fluffy seed pods drifted defiantly in the air around me.

In the cool of the day, as I yanked out the deep roots of this intruder, I began to think of how similar my heart is when infested with unexpected bitterness.

Bitterness Holly HawesBitterness has never been something I saw coming. Instead, it always appears as an unexpected invader. As a seed dormant for a long time, promising new growth, all hiding and disguised bitterness. Death that masqueraded as life until it was so deeply entrenched that tearing it out tore me up in the process.

The seeds of bitterness are tricky, because the same experiences can lead us to different places, depending on how we respond. One way leads to death, and the other to life and peace.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6

Here are some unexpected seeds of bitterness to watch out for:

Pain

Pain becomes bitterness when we don’t allow God to heal us. The source of the pain doesn’t really make a difference. Loss, betrayal, physical anguish, and the things that make our heart hurt can either push us away from one another and from God, or pull us closer.

When we face pain points in our lives we need to watch carefully. Guard against bitterness towards God by meditating on and wrestling with the truth of his goodness, faithfulness, and power despite the current situation. Guard against bitterness towards others by not expecting them to fix it, or say exactly the right thing.

Avoidance

Relationships become filled with bitterness when we don’t bring up hurts or offenses. We try to get past problems without facing them, and in the process drift away. Soon we realize we haven’t seen the person in months, and it would be quite uncomfortable to encounter them. A gnarly bitterness has grown where there needed to be a simple conversation. In confronting hurts rather than avoiding, we guard our friendships and relationships. The initial plucking out is far less destructive than what we could allow to grow.

Control

Control produces bitterness when we discover that control is a mirage. Whether it is a cancer diagnosis, or a person you’d rather act a different way, any effort to control things can quickly turn into bitterness.

Longings

Holly Hawes BitternessWe all long for something, but if we make our happiness contingent on the fulfillment of our longings, we will discover that none of our longings truly satisfy. That specific person’s approval. The next step in your career. A child. To be included. It isn’t as if these desires are for “bad” things, but the overwhelming nature of the longing can easily elevate it beyond what these good things were meant to fulfill. Long-term lack of the very thing you feel entitled to moves quickly from disappointment to bitterness.

Expectations

How can bitterness grow in the solitary mind? Unspoken expectations can quickly pile up, until our thoughts become centered on how “He never______ ” or “She always____.” This is especially true of roommates, or family members. The people we share close physical proximity with have ample opportunities to fail to meet unspoken expectations. Instead of letting expectations morph into bitterness, have a conversation.

This year, I am facing spring head on. Trowel in hand, I am heading into the mud to root up the seedlings that I have seen turn into painfully-spiky alien invaders. And as I dig, I am examining my heart once again. What have I let grow that God would ask me to dig out? What at first glance looked like innocent leaves, but is beginning to grow into bitterness? Are the things in my life full of the Spirit? Life and Peace? These must be answered if I want true life to flourish.


holly-squareHolly is a wife of 6 years as well as mom to a teenager (by adoption) and a child she’ll meet in heaven. She’s been foster mom to 10 kids in the last 3 years, and works part time as a church bookkeeper. She loves interacting with people who are hungry for change and ready to see God at work in their lives. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She writes to tell the stories of what God has done, especially through her experiences of infertility, foster care, and adoption. These days you’ll find her catching up on housework while listening to a podcast, trying not to have dinner be a Pinterest fail,  and sipping coffee while teaching her daughter to drive.
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Seeds of Joy

Earlier this year when the leaves first began to turn, my family moved for the 4th(and hopefully last) time in 2 years. As this summer approaches I am seeing life I did not work for spring up. I’ve been exploring the bounty someone else planned, invested in, and hoped for in my small corner of earth.  Whoever the woman was, she loved gardening. I’ve eagerly anticipated finding out what would appear as the days grew warmer, and longer. Tulips, Crocus, Peony, Roses.  SO.MANY. ROSES.

The corner of my yard became a thorny jungle and I realized 15 rose bushes would be too much to maintain for a novice like me. I offered several bushes to anyone who wanted to come dig them up. As we chatted and dug, I realized three of the bushes I thought were roses were actually producing blueberries. Like I said, I’m a novice. Since I didn’t even know they should be producing fruit the plants had little support. I had done nothing to help them winter over, add nutrients, or even prune the dead branches. However, they were made to produce blueberries, and they automatically brought forth fruit when the season was right.

That is how fruit works. At the right time, for no reason other than the creative intent of God who fashioned them, my bushes were dripping with berries.

The natural process challenged me to think about the fruit of my life. Much of what God has called fruit, I have over time turned into striving. The biggest culprit: Joy. While it is true that joy is a trademark of the Christian life, somewhere along the way my mind had adopted a caricature of “joy” far from the truth.

Always happy. Fairly cheesy. Dependable, hard working, always excited. She doesn’t get upset, or at least doesn’t show it. The perfect friend, a listener, this woman won’t let you down. Even though she comes off as inauthentic at times, you know that she truly loves others, and loves God. She must have figured it all out. Her life runs smoothly, with plenty of time and energy to pour into everyone around her. If she faces a rare bad day, she has a perfect platitude ready and waiting. She signs up for every team, every need. When life is hard, she is happy anyway. She keeps striving.

Striving is the worst.

The very things that should be natural outpourings of being a child of God and listening to the Holy Spirit instead became a checklist—a measure to attain. In the end, it wasn’t joy at all, but a facade of cheerfulness smothered in good intentions, but without true power.

I am exhausted. Are you?

Is anyone else walking around acting like they have joy figured out, because it’s what Christians are supposed to look like?

I have good news. Joy isn’t in the circumstances, something we must scramble to obtain, or the varsity Christian team mantra.

A little digging, and I discovered that the word for joy in Greek is tied to grace. I’m no scholar, I took one class that gave me enough understanding to use the biblehub.com Greek interlinear and a concordance to study word meanings. Joy (chara) and grace (charis) are so close that if we read Greek today we’d see these cousin-words and immediately feel the connection. Deeper into definitions I determined this: joy is the ability to see God’s grace.

Did you get that? The root of joy is seeing God’s grace at work in your life. There is no joy you can produce, it is caused by noticing God’s gifts. His love. His favor. On the darkest day, as long as His grace remains, so can your joy.

Though happiness and circumstances do not induce joy, neither does working and striving. My false picture of “joy” had a lot more in common with people pleasing or attempting to earn God’s favor, than living life as an outpouring of the acceptance already found in Jesus. Joy isn’t a goal to put on a list and something to “work on” improving. It’s a fruit of the spirit; the natural product that comes forth from the Holy Spirit, not from us.

Joy growing from the seed of grace is the reason we can experience deep joy in the midst of sorrow. I look back at every season of suffering and difficulty, the times when I felt that Joy had left me forever, and I see that God had actually generously sprinkled them with seeds of grace. They did produce joy, I just didn’t realize that is what it was because I thought I needed to work to find it.

The friend who texted they’d been thinking of me and asked how to pray, when they didn’t know. He has not forgotten me.

A slice of red velvet cake, my wedding cake, that showed up on my desk on a day marriage was hard. He’s got this, do not fear.

The way that even when I could not make myself pick up my Bible, he put something in front of me that I needed. On Facebook, through a friend, the song stuck in my head. He is still working.

The magnolias blooming in the rain, when loss and grief were close and tears were never far. He is making all things beautiful in his time.

~~~

Readers, No matter what season you are in, can you see seeds of grace? How has God given you joy?

Holly is a wife, mother of one, and foster mother to many. She seeks to glorify God in all she does, for all her life. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She welcomes people into her life, into her heart, and into her home with hopes of offering encouragement. You can find more from Holly here at Anchored Voices or at her blog Called to Restore.

Hope for Gardening

I sat, kneeled, and squatted until my muscles ached and burned from fatigue. My nails, even when covered with gloves, became encrusted with earth. The sun beat on my back. Sweat trickled down my neck. I, the greenthumb’s daughter, was gardening for the second weekend in a row. Let’s be real: I never voluntarily garden.

What overcame and motivated me the previous Saturday remains a mystery. As I labored through the repetition of digging, shaking off excess dirt, and throwing weeds into the wheelbarrow, I began to slowly enjoy the process. I started at one end of the raised bed, infested with weeds, and painstakingly worked my way to the other end.

The first weekend I spent close to 4 hours weeding—figuring out what process worked the most efficiently and fastest. It was arduous work. About two hours into the job, I hit a groove. I began to see the clearing of the pesky growth. It motivated me further. I didn’t seem to care how long it was going to take me to clear the whole bed, by golly, I was going to do it. And at last, after 4 hours, I finished. The bed was cleared of that which hindered true growth.

The following weekend, I again engaged the task and tackled the second raised bed. This time the process came with ease. To my surprise, I was gardening, and I liked it.

When I visited my beautifully cleared beds this past weekend, God whispered into my heart and reminded me of the passage of Scripture in Matthew 13:3-8 that shares about sowing.

 

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The ground in my family’s garden had been choked up. It took a gardener’s concerned and dutiful hands to clean up the mess and produce good soil. After tending to the beds, the apple trees began to blossom. They had desperately needed help in order to bloom and flourish.

God, much like a gardener, tends to the mess choking our hearts. He lovingly and painstakingly will weed away the sin, even the sin that is deeply rooted. He will continually do so each and every time we come to Him and ask. No questions asked. He meets us with His spirit and gets to work pulling out the sin and junk that hinders us. He cleanses the deep rooted lies, beliefs, and sins so that we may display His beauty. We stand eyes fixed upon Him and we thrive. Instead of being drained by entangling sin, life begins to flow in us, and from us as we serve Him and His people.

Let’s be real: We need to come to God with our messy hearts and rubbish. He is the one who can do the work of cleaning up our lives. Will we be willing to let Him take His time in doing so?

Readers, What might God be trying to remove from your life right now, so that you may grow?

Sarah believes God has called her to this space to bring joy and encouragement through words to friends and family, near and far. You can find more from Sarah at her blog, and you can find her stories for Anchored Voices under the tag Sarah.