Tag Archives: Grudge

Bitter Roots

Bitter Roots (CaD Heb 12) Wayfarer

See to it…that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)

Many years ago I was the target of a malicious individual, once my friend, who acted deceptively and created all manner of trouble for me. The person disappeared for a time then later surfaced in a way that I regularly had to be around them.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews, now in the home stretch of his letter, shifts to encouraging his fellow believers with all sorts of exhortations. There are so many good and memorable words of encouragement in this chapter that the one about not letting “the roots of bitterness grow” is, in my experience, almost universally ignored.

The problem with bitter roots such as anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, and long-held grudges is that they will germinate in my soul, they will spring up in ways I don’t expect (and to which I may be blind). Like weeds in my lawn, they will spread quickly if left unchecked. Their bitter fruit will infect my thoughts, my words, my behavior, and my relationships with others. The result, as the author of Hebrews points out, is to “cause trouble” for many. It has a ripple effect through my circles of influence.

Which brought my deceptive friend to mind. As I look back over the years and look at things with 20-20 hindsight, I believe that what prompted the trouble was the fruit of bitter roots in my friend’s soul which came from their own wounds and brokenness. If I had allowed bitterness from the troubles they caused me to take root in me, then the infection only grows, bearing even more fruit and infecting others as it reaches outward into more and more relationships.

In the verse before the one I quoted this morning, the author writes “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone.” Jesus said that if there’s bitterness between me and someone else, I should deal with it before I show up to worship. Paul wrote the believers in Rome, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The “as far as it depends on you” part is me digging out the roots of bitterness, addressing them, processing them, working through the hurt to reach the point of forgiveness where I can let them go.

In a few weeks, my dormant yard will spring back to life. I will begin the process of looking for weeds taking root so I can root them out before they spread. It’s just grass. Even more important is the need to look in my heart and life for the signs of bitterness taking root so I can deal with it before it infects my life, and the lives of those around me.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Victim of My Own Poison

So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai.
Esther 7:10 (NIV)

I once had a person who told me they were angry with me. I had done something to offend, and the person confessed that they knew I had no idea what I had done to hurt them so deeply. I asked what I had done and sought to reconcile, but they chose to not to tell me. Sometime later, I made another appeal and asked the person to share with me what I had done. Again, they chose not to do so.

Two cannot be reconciled if one is unwilling to do so.

Along my life journey, I have encountered many individuals who hold on to their anger, their grudges, their hatred, and their judgments of others. Typically, I find that underneath it all lies a spiritual, relational, and/or emotional wound. The wound often remains carefully hidden beneath all the bitterness and rage. If the wound is not addressed the destructive emotions remain.

I have observed that anger, hatred, grudges, and vengeance are spiritually dangerous things. It has been said that harboring them is like drinking a cup of poison yourself and expecting that it will somehow kill your enemy.

In today’s chapter, the plot twist is downright Shakespearean. Haman’s plot to kill Mordecai and all of the Hebrews is uncovered. Ironically, Haman is impaled on the very pike he had erected for the impaling of his enemy, Mordecai. He allowed himself to drink from the poisonous cup of anger, resentment, bitterness, and rage for so long that he became its victim.

This morning I find myself praying for the person I mentioned at the beginning of this post, as I do whenever that person comes to mind. Perhaps someday the time will be right and they will be ready to talk things out. I hope so. I also find myself taking an internal inventory of my own wounds and examining my own levels of anger, resentment, bitterness and the like. I don’t want to harbor such things lest I find myself the victim of my own internal poison.

The Enduring Power of a Simple Story

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’”
Matthew 18:32-33 (NIV)

I have been training groups and individuals in the art of Customer Service for almost a quarter century. Along that journey I’ve learned that students rarely remember all of the bullet points and service principles I teach them. They remember the stories. Just a year or so ago a woman came up to me prior to one of my classes. She had been in my class before and I asked her if she thought the content was beneficial.

Oh yeah, it was good,” she said dismissively. “But just make sure to keep telling all the stories. You tell the best stories!

She reminded me of a couple of front-line supervisors from another client who regularly showed up at the new hire service training class I did at their company each quarter. I asked them why they kept coming back. “We just want to hear you tell those stories again,” they would say with a laugh. “They never get old.”

If you haven’t noticed it, our culture has been recapturing the power of story in recent years. There are books, conferences, and entire consulting practices around story. This isn’t new. It’s eternal. The power of story is woven into the fabric of life. We were created in the image of The Great Story Teller. Story, metaphor, and word pictures communicate concepts in profound and emotional ways.

This is why Jesus told parables. They are powerful in their simplicity, profound in their impact.

In today’s chapter, Jesus tells an amazingly simple parable. A servant begs his master to forgive his deep indebtedness, which the master does. The servant then immediately goes out and rakes his own servant over the coals for some small debt. I have read this parable countless times, and it still resonates with each reading. How many times have I confessed my many failings and shortcomings to God and begged His forgiveness. How great a debt God has graciously forgiven. How then can I refuse to choose to forgive the injuries, slights, betrayals, insults, and inconsiderations of others?

This morning I’m doing a Google search of my heart, mind, life and relationships for anyone I’m holding something against, or anything I’ve refused to forgive.

All because of a simple story I read again.



Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 8

Magnetic compass.

And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.
Hebrews 8:12 (NLT)

When I embrace a subtle misunderstanding of a core spiritual truth, my compass moves a degree or two off True North. It may not matter as I’m standing in place or for short distances, but over life’s journey it can result in me being completely off course.

I have observed in myself and in others a subtle misunderstanding of God’s teaching on forgiveness that makes a huge difference in the course of our spiritual trajectory. Without noticing it, we reject, misunderstand and ignore God’s truth about forgiveness.

God’s Message makes it clear that Jesus died once for all in sacrificial payment for our sins. In doing so He freely offers forgiveness for our sins past, present and future. As stated in today’s chapter, God remembers our sins no more. However, rather than embrace this forgiveness which was dearly bought and freely offered, we often choose to cling to the deep feelings of shame and guilt which have woven themselves into our thoughts, words and actions. We shackle ourselves to the shame of our wrongs past and present. We live under the dark cloud it spreads over our souls.

Having quietly rejected the gift of forgiveness Jesus paid for and offers, still living under the cloud of guilt and shame,  we set about to do something about it ourselves. We do good deeds, we clean ourselves up, we do nice things for others, and we give a little money to a good cause. We even go to church. The motivation for all of these altruistic actions, however, are not gratitude at what Jesus did in forgiving us (past tense) but in the subtle hope that they might eventually earn His forgiveness (it’s therefore not what Jesus did, but we are doing that makes forgiveness possible). I’m not motivated out of gratitude of what has been done for me but by hope that what I’m doing might pay off in the end. Any actor worth his salt knows that the motivation behind the action makes all the difference in the world.

We are now quietly going about to try to be good and earn our forgiveness on a set of internal scales we’ve created for ourselves. On these scales we weigh our sins and wrong doing against all of the good things we’ve been trying to do. This, in turn, affects how we deal with forgiving others who’ve wronged us. If my sins are freely and completely forgiven by Jesus and He is not holding any of my wrongs against me, how can I in good conscience turn and refuse to forgive another person for perpetrating an injury of some kind on me? I can’t. If, however, I am daily operating under the notion that I am working hard to be good and earn God’s forgiveness then the rules for how I treat others completely change. Now I can look at the perpetrator and weigh them out on the same scale I’m using for myself. I know that I’m working hard at being good and making God happy, but the only thing I see in them is that they have done bad and injured me. The scale is clearly tipped in my favor. I’m doing good and they have done bad. My resolute anger, my seething hatred, and my deep-set grudge are all perfectly justified when weighed out on my own internal scale of justice.

I refused to embrace the truth that I am truly and completely forgiven by God, not because of what I’ve done but because of what Jesus did for me. I’ve continued to try to overcome my feelings of guilt and shame with an endless stream of good deeds in the mistaken notion that I can somehow earn some kind of spiritual Eagle Scout badge and receive the accompanying reward of forgiveness. I’ve leveraged this false spiritual economy into justifying my own anger, hatred and grudges toward others.

How quickly being a degree or two off in my understanding of forgiveness can lead me far afield from where I should be in my relationship with God, myself and others.

Today, I’m embracing God’s forgiveness and giving up my mistaken notion that it has anything to do with what I have done, am doing, or will do. I’m re-evaluating my relationships with others and choosing to give up my self-righteous internal scales of justice… and forgive.


Chapter-a-Day Judges 15

Sibling squabble. Three companies of men from Judah went down to the cave at Etam Rock and said to Samson, "Don't you realize that the Philistines already bully and lord it over us? So what's going on with you, making things even worse?" He said, "It was tit for tat. I only did to them what they did to me." Judges 15:11 (MSG)

As a child, there were plenty of conflicts between me and my siblings. My sister was my closest sibling and, therefore, the one with whom I fought most of the time. We would cycle into periods of conflict when all we did was fight with each other. There was always a past hurt or misdeed she or I could point to justify our current attack. "She did that to me," I would argue, "so I don't feel the least bit guilty about doing this to her." And so, the pattern of perpetual conflict continued. Fortunately, our sibling grudges faded with time and maturity.

Nevertheless, I have seen the same patterns of conflict between married couples, friends, neighbors, and nations. There is no end to conflict when each party perpetuates and justifies it by pointing to a host of past wrongs. We see the same cycle at work in Samson's continuous acts of violence and retaliation.

Today, I'm thinking about conflicts in my own life and contemplating the ways I may be contributing its' ongoing cycle. The holidays are approaching and I'm mindful that God chose not to hold my sins against me, but to sacrificially reconcile me to himself. I think it's my job to be engaged in the act of sacrifice and reconciliation rather than perpetuating conflict.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and KenWilcox