You know those books that you read at the perfect time that completely change your life, your perspective and your practices? They have complete sections that you underline and you put stars and exclamation points in the margins and, when you pull that book off the shelf even years later, they immediately fall open to those oft-read passages…
Such was the case with Martha Peace’s fantastic (but punch-you-in-the-gut) book, The Excellent Wife: a Biblical Perspective”.
It not only revolutionized my marriage and the way I dealt with others, but as it came at a time in my life when I had never been so confused or conflicted, it was an absolute lifesaver…by the time I finished the book, I had received clarity and confidence on a situation that had turned my life upside-down.
One section in particular has been more useful to me than any other section of any other book that I have ever read and I have felt compelled for some time to share it, as many of you might have been like me at one time. Let me explain what I was like and see if you can identify…
Have you ever felt hurt? Betrayed? Have you ever said “How could they do that to me?” Have you laid in bed at night chewing on a situation, your stomach in knots, your mind unable to come to a conclusion, your heart unable to see past the pain?
I sure have. I think we all have.
And until I read Martha Peace’s book, I thought that was okay. That having “hurt feelings” was natural and necessary, and was “my right” as the one who had been hurt…
But as I said before, this book really punches you in the gut, because instead of giving you tips for how to move on after something bad happens to you or how to find a way out of your situation, it boldly suggests that maybe the key to living peacefully and contentedly lies in your heart, regardless of your situation.
I heard a lady once at Falls Creek say that when we run away from situations or avoid those we are in conflict with, it is like “jumping out of one hot frying pan and into another”. How so? Well, because it is kind of impossible to leave problems behind when much of the problem is in your own heart. You’re just taking it right with you – you might be surrounded by different friends, new colleagues, a new group of people at the ballgame, but guess what? That “hurt” and negativity and discontentment that you never took care of? It’s still inside of you, waiting to flare up again.
Martha Peace says that “Many of the wives I have counseled have told me they were not bitter, they were, however, “hurt”. Gently, I explain to them that the emotions of feeling “hurt” and “resentful” are usually how you feel when you are bitter.”
The Bible warns us of a “root of bitterness” that, once it is planted “defiles many” (Hebrews 12:15-17). I’m sure you’ve all seen it happen. One person gets hurt. They complain and grumble to another person – their husband, their wife, their best friend, their children. Soon, the person they have grumbled to starts to see things through their perspective. They feed off of each other and support each other, sometimes pulling others in as they discuss their “hurt”. The bitterness spreads, sometimes resulting in entire church splits, in divorce, in factions, in unhappiness, in entitlement and lack of gratitude ~ whatever the result, however, its not a good one, and it opposes the Biblical model of love and self-denial.
It is non-stop work keeping bitterness out of your heart, as we are all so used to nursing our hurt feelings. I am always aware that I might be leaning towards bitter feelings when I lose my tenderness toward someone and become flippant toward them in my thoughts…when I start being negative about even their generous actions…when I can’t stop thinking about a situation and allow it to send me into a pit of despair, ignoring the thousands of blessings that should be overshadowing it . And sometimes, even when I am aware that I am becoming bitter, I can’t seem to help myself…
Those are the times when I begin to ask God to heal me and to remove bitterness from my heart. As I continue fighting against that sin, God always answers and helps me, because it is His will that bitterness not take root in the heart of His children. Sometimes it takes a long time, but I inevitably look up one day and realize that my “hurt feelings” are gone and have been replaced by love and compassion.
Martha Peace gives 9 “common signs of bitterness” that are extremely helpful when examining your heart. I encourage you to take her advice and “as you read through the following list, ask yourself if you are manifesting any of these signs”. (Her list is in bold print, followed by Scripture that she provided. Then, I’ll sum up her thoughts on each point):
1. Gossip and Slander. Hebrews 12:15-17. This is how we “defile others”, harming their perspective by filling their ears with sinful talk. This is a very dangerous road. We have a couple in our church who are true people of prayer. After a meeting the other night, they were praying for our pastors and asked God to protect them and to not allow their families to harm their ministry. A cold chill ran over my entire body as I realized that was me they were talking about and I was reminded again that I have a great obligation to my husband to guard my words and my attitudes, lest I harm the work that God has called him to do. We can never relax in the fight against sin, even in our own homes, even in bed as we discuss the day’s events. Our words can either edify or defile the listener…what a grave responsibility.
2. Ungrateful and Complaining. Philippians 2:14. Bitterness causes us to lose our gratitude, which results in murmuring and complaining. This is just ugly stuff, a blatant disregard for the many blessings of God. If you find yourself being negative and complaining about even the silliest things, maybe it is time for a heart exam.
3. Judges Motives. I Corinthians 4:5. Whatever someone does for you or says to you becomes suspect and you assume they are looking out for their own interests. This happened to me once when I was in a conflict – I tried to win someone over with gifts and food and apologies, but because of bitterness, they would not believe me and thought I was trying to look good for others. It was so frustrating. Only God can judge the heart and we should always err on the side of forgiveness and gratitude.
4. Self-Centered. Philippians 2:4. Bitterness can easily set in when our focus is on ourselves, and our hurts, and what we deserve. A self-centered heart is not looking out for the interests of others OR the glory of God.
5. Excessive Sorrow. John 16:6. Mrs. Peace describes it this way: “Grief and hurt has crowded out any joy, peace, or love that she used to have. It has, in fact, filled up her heart. It may, at times, overwhelm her.”
6. Vengeful. Romans 12:17,19. We might be trying to pay back the hurt we feel by avoiding someone, pouting in their presence, giving them “the cold shoulder”…none of these reflect the attitude of Christ or bring about the glory of God.
7. Brooding. 1 Corinthians 13:5. Thinking often about your situation and “playing it over and over in your mind” rather than trusting God and finding things to praise Him for is a sign that you are growing bitter. These are usually the times when I cry out to God for help, because “chewing” on my hurt feels impossible to stop sometimes.
8. Loss of joy. Psalm 199:47. The author says “Because of her sin, instead of God’s peace and joy, she is experiencing intense emotional pain and misery.” I have been there. I thought I was just “hurt”…but I was bitter, grievously sinning against God and my husband, putting his ministry in jeopardy.
9. A Critical, Judgmental Attitude. Matthew 7:5. We might be focusing on all the things someone is doing wrong instead of what they might be doing right. You see this a lot in church when a root of bitterness has been planted – the list of complaints and negativity, however illogical, grows to such great heights that the bitter person can no longer bear to be in that congregation.
I would also like to add that, when you grow bitter about someone or something, your bitterness does not exclusively focus on that one person or thing – it spreads, changing your perspective and vision, coloring the way you see your entire life while blinding you to the blessings of God. As a result, you’re not just giving that person or those people “their due” for what they did to you – you’re harming your own heart and the hearts of your family and friends. Bitterness is a serious, but often unseen, enemy and will devour us if we don’t chop it down.
So…are you bitter toward someone or about a situation?
Confession: I never read this section without some level of conviction over the state of my heart. That’s why my book falls open to these pages, as I refer to them many times each year.
Martha Peace goes on to recommend that, no matter how small your percentage of guilt might be in the situation – for we are never without sin, even if it is in the way we are reacting to “hurt” – that you take 100% responsibility for your part. Matthew 7:5 says that “Before you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye, first take the beam out of your own.”
Start working today on your own sin and bitterness and see how God completely removes the hurt the has encompassed your mind and heart.
Martha also says that “Confessing bitterness, clearing your conscience, and giving blessings (she goes into detail about “going the second mile” for those who have hurt you) will go a long way, but in addition you must put off the bitterness by putting on kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving thoughts.”
In other words, replace those self-centered and bitter thoughts with Biblical ones. I will share more on this tomorrow, as I don’t want you to grow bitter toward me by the length and wordiness of this post.
Happy sanctification, everybody!