Bitter Women

Some women get accused of bitterness unjustly. I’ve spoken in the past about the inappropriate conclusions some draw from the curse of Genesis 3:16 and the ways that gets projected onto women. But today I want to deal with the fact that some women ARE truly bitter (men too, but honestly I haven’t experienced it with men the way I have with women, so someone else can deal with men.) And that true bitterness that I’ve witnessed with friends and family that I love does indeed spoil everything it touches, just as Scripture predicts.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled

Bitterness in this context is resentful or cynical antagonism or hostility toward someone. I haven’t personally struggled with bitterness as a besetting issue (which is not to say I have never been bitter and had to repent of it). However, my sister has struggled with it deeply. I have mentioned before that my biological sister is also my spiritual sister. She and I have talked a great deal about this issue, and she has shared much hard-earned wisdom with me on the topic. I have asked her to write a series for this blog, but life has not yet given her the time and place to do that. Until then, I want to share some things we have learned walking this together.

We all have hours or days we struggle with bitterness. But Scripture also talks of a root of bitterness that springs up. It’s a bitterness that sits so long in a heart that it starts to take root, sprout, grow, and take over, and when that level of bitterness becomes ingrown in your heart, you get into a whole new level of problem. It may have started in its early years aimed at one person, but ingrown bitterness sprouts and branches out so that it colors our reactions to more and more people until it consumes us and our reactions to others in every aspect of our lives.

After years of struggling with bitterness, my sister’s clarifying moment came when she had 3 different people in a few short days each tell her off – and all 3 people were from completely different places in her life. None knew each other. She couldn’t pretend they were aspiring together against her, because they didn’t have anything in common or even know each other to talk to each other. It was clear that SHE had the problem. It was the last straw, and she fell on her face before God, crying out, “Help me!” Beth Moore’s Breaking Free Bible study was especially helpful to her (which is one reason you won’t hear me criticizing Beth Moore on this blog though I don’t resonate personally with her other studies the way some have). I appreciated Breaking Free, which explores the Christ-less coping mechanisms we have all learned that actually bind us to rather than free us from the very things we are trying to overcome.

Do you have multiple people from different aspects of your life (family, church, work) with whom you are angry? Do you keep one person in your favor to have conversations about these various other people? In my experience, bitter people try to keep one or two people in their good graces. They talk with them about the people with whom they are angry – they need a place to vent the anger that wells up in them continually. Bitter people also don’t respond well to apologies. The apologizer didn’t word it correctly, didn’t seem sorry enough, or maybe actually tried to explain something they felt you misunderstood. Though they tried to apologize, in the bitter person’s mind, it was not enough.

If you have ingrown bitterness, a lot of people don’t like you right now. And you don’t like even more people than don’t like you. And it is MISERABLE for you. If any of this sounds familiar, as someone who has loved bitter people and seen the joy of watching them freed from it, I implore you to face the truth of your bitterness head on.

When my sister finally cried out to God for help, she says she had to open her hands and physically let go of her right to anger and bitterness. At least half the people with whom she was angry actually HAD sinned against her. Yet, even so, her anger and bitterness toward them was defiling HER. It bothered them. But it tainted, polluted, and debased her. When she opened her hands and let go of her right to anger and retribution, it FREED her. She tells me of the weight off her back. She literally felt like she could stand up straight again.

In Christ, you too have the key to unlock the chains that bind your actions and reactions to others.

Luke 4
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

You are a prisoner, a puppet on a string constantly controlled by others. Perhaps you didn’t like feeling like they yanked your chain, but your Christ-less coping mechanisms for dealing with that pain have actually bound you even more tightly to what they say. In fact, you likely have arguments with them in the mirror at home when no one else is around. They control you that much because your bitterness and anger hasn’t FREED you from them, it’s only bound you tighter. Christ has come to give sight to the blind, to proclaim freedom to prisoners, and to set the oppressed free. Bitter friend, you are oppressed and imprisoned! But you CAN be free. And it’s an incredible, profoundly satisfying freedom. I can’t describe the joy of watching my sister’s transformation, fully by Christ alone, from bitter woman to beautiful adopted daughter of God–FREE to breath deeply, return love for scorn, and minister grace to the next person. She has become my go-to person for spiritual counsel and encouragement, a trophy of God’s awesome grace in every sense of that phrase.

Hebrews 12 sets the root of bitterness in contrast with the grace of God. It’s not the goodness of others that will free you from bitterness. Because they aren’t that good. I acknowledge that many of the things that make you bitter reflect thoughtless or even outright malicious actions against you. No, only the grace of GOD will free you from the coping mechanism you’ve adopted to deal with people’s sins and failures. And hear me when I say the coping mechanisms you are using right now are not working! They are making things worse. They are hurting you. And they are hurting others around you.

If this resonates with you, I hope you will fall down before God, and ask Him to open your eyes to His grace toward you. Pray that you would recognize and press into the power at work in you (the same power that rose Christ from the dead according to Ephesians 1) and that it would equip you to put off your old ways of dealing with annoyances, slights, and even outright maliciousness and put on new ways of letting go of your rights and loving the unlovely as Christ has modeled for you. He has come to bring freedom to the oppressed! If you are oppressed by bitterness, dear sister, Christ’s death on the cross has purchased your freedom. Wrestle with Him now over how this breaks into your very struggles this day.

9 Responses to Bitter Women

  1. Kellie November 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    Great thoughts, Wendy! Thank you for your clear articulation of a struggle that we have all faced in our lives. I know that I have personally struggled with bitterness and have also realized the great freedom that comes with forgiveness. When struggling with forgiveness, I love to meditate on the parable given by Jesus in Matthew 18:21-35 realizing that I am the servant who has been forgiven this insurmountable debt by the King. The trials in my life that are inflicted by others become very small compared to the grace that has been extended to me by my benevolent King.

  2. Bethany November 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    Thank you for the encouragement here. A few years ago, I found a book that helped me immensely – it is “How to Be Free From Bitterness” by Jim Wilson – and the sad thing is that I had picked it up for someone else in my life. As I was reading it, I was convicted by Scripture that I was bitter at someone who was being bitter. It was a huge “plank in the eye” moment for me! God used that book to show me how big His grace is and how I cannot withhold His grace from one of His children by withholding forgiveness.
    That said, I still struggle with bitterness, especially at moments when I feel like I “deserve” an apology from someone. But then, there I go missing God's grace all over again. I'm not sure who I think I am that I can exact an apology from someone by withholding love and kindness from them. God doesn't even treat us that way!

  3. Karina November 29, 2010 at 2:35 am #

    I have been prisoner for almost 4 years, I know I can't go on like this, tried so hard to change, cryed out to God, nothing changed, I have hope. Sometimes I wish I was not here anymore to bother people (and my little kids) with my anger and bitterness. Thank you for sharing the article.

  4. Wendy November 29, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    Karina, thank you for sharing that. I am praying for you tonight. God bless you as you wrestle with Him through this issue.

  5. LivewithFlair November 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    I read this morning in Ephesians about getting rid of all bitterness. I know I can't do this on my own. I'm so hurt by my family, and I know only God's Holy Spirit can offer me freedom. No self-effort here, just God's mercy. Thank you!

  6. Karen47 December 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I am so befuddled by this struggle that I actually hardly know up from down. Are all my hurt feelings from the past bitterness? Why, as I confess them over and over, do I somehow grab them back up? I want to do this God's way. I know it's the only way that's good. I want to honor and please Him. I am tripped over and over.

    Thank you for sharing… I do so often feel alone in this struggle. Perhaps my friends haven't wrestled with it? but I do feel so alone and powerless to do what God wants me to do. I give it to Him because I cannot bear it, but some word or task brings it rushing back.

  7. Wendy December 16, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    Karen, thanks for sharing that. I'm praying for you tonight. May God give you clarity on how the gospel shines on this darkness particularly in your daily situations.

  8. Ginger June 25, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    There is a way out. There are practical skills we can learn and practice to open our hearts to forgiveness–letting go of our bitterness. I am writing a Sunday School course on compassion, gratitude, forgiveness and quiet listening. I am using the work of Fred Luskin from the Stanford Forgiveness Project for the unit on forgiveness. He does not present his work from a bible-centered context because he is speaking to people from many faiths and also to people who do not belong to a religion. That being said, I see no conflict between the things he teaches and what we learn from Christ-centered study of God's word. The book is called, “Forgive for Good.” It is the most practical, simplest and most effective book I have seen on this subject.

    I am a survivor of multiple violent incidents that began when I was about 4 and ended when I was 19. Praying for my attackers has opened my heart to God’s healing grace and transformed my understanding of those who hurt me. I used to see them as hell-bound monsters. I spent months praying for them every day. I prayed that God’s mercy and grace would be poured upon them like a flowing stream. Not an easy prayer. However, after months of this, I came to understand and deeply believe that those who abused me are beloveds of God. That doesn’t make what they did right. It doesn’t make it go away, but it sets me free. Working with a good counselor helped as well. When I was ready, using the book, “Forgive for Good,” also was of great help.

  9. Wendy June 25, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    Thank you for sharing, Ginger. I praise God for your wisdom in the aftermath of such abuse.