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Bitterness: A Hard Pill to Unswallow

Posted: 8/30/19 at 3:00pm. Column by Ed Jordan.

Bitterness is a hard pill to unswallow. It is so easy to fall into bitterness and so very difficult to remove bitterness from our lives once we’re saturated with it.

What images or facial expressions do you think of when you think of swallowing something sour or bitter? Is it puckered lips, a face full of disgust, facial wincing, and squinted eyes?

What foods come to mind when thinking of something bitterly sour? Lemons and limes would probably be at the top of the list, as well as green tea. Herbs in concentrated liquid form are often bitter to the taste.

When I was in college, a friend and I went fishing out in the hills of Nevada. We fished until dark and then headed back towards town. My friend took a shortcut, a dirt road, unaware that the river had flooded the valley, submerging the road. We came over a hill, and saw our lights reflected off water as far as the lights could go.

It is so easy to fall into bitterness and so very difficult to remove bitterness from our lives once we’re saturated with it.

Keeping up our momentum lest we get stuck in sand, we took off driving through the sand, pounding against sagebrush, trying to get back to our previous road before the shortcut. After about 30 minutes of meandering in the dark, we found the main road and headed to town. All this time I had my desert water bag on the front of his VW.

We got home late, and I had to work outside the next day. In the morning I poured the water out of the bag, refilled it, and went to work. At mid-morning, I became thirsty and took a big swig of my air-cooled water from my water bag.

I gagged, my throat closed off, and I spewed out the water. It was the bitterest water I had ever tasted; the water was undrinkable. Furthermore, the water bag was permanently permeated with the bitterness of sagebrush. I had to throw the bag away.

Bitterness permeates us very quickly. It is a little like a rattlesnake bite. It can be injected into our bloodstream and then carried throughout the body quickly. This is one reason why we need to avoid being injected with bitterness.

Sometimes we get injected with bitterness when a trusted friend betrays us, and our emotions and thoughts are then flooded with hurt, anger, and resentment. Psychologically, bitterness is a combination of anger, disappointment, hurt, perhaps jealousy, resentment, desperation, and despair.

The complexity of the emotions involved in bitterness is probably why treatment is difficult. The bitter person feels crushed, disabled, and embraces a sense of futility that nothing ever goes right for them. This mindset makes it difficult to get the person motivated to want to get rid of bitterness.

Some people are like my desert water bag; they were just hanging out, going with the flow, when forces beyond their control began to batter their lives with bitter experiences. Bitter experiences in life, if we are not very careful, can permeate into our inner world and turn us into bitter people.

During the Exodus event, for example, the people of Israel were following God through crisis after crisis in the desert. When they came to Marah (Marah means “bitter”) they found water but couldn’t drink it because it was bitter.  

The people complained and grumbled because the water was undrinkable. So Moses prayed to God. In Exodus 15:25 (CSB) we read: “So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable…”

God showed Moses a tree to put into the water that neutralized the bitterness and made the bitter water sweet. When we turn our bitter situation over to God, and trust him to give us what we need to neutralize bitterness, God will do so.

Interestingly, the next stop on the journey was an oasis with twelve springs of water, and 70 date palm trees. God had good things planned for them, right around the corner, but they gave in to bitterness instead of praying and trusting God to take care of them.

When you are tempted to turn bitter, don’t do it. Instead, turn to God, ask God to deal with the bitter situation, and trust God to do it. And don’t fall into despair. Right around the next turn in life’s journey, you just might find the oasis you have been longing to find.

Unswallowing a bitter pill is a hundred times harder than not swallowing it at all.

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.