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Posts tagged ‘suffering injustice’

Understanding The Bitter Heart

SOURCE:  Julie Ganschow/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Bitterness is unresolved, unforgiven anger and resentment. It is the result of anger changing from an experience to a belief. Bitterness is seething and constant. Bitter people carry the same burdens as angry people, but to a greater extent.

Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.  Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)

Bitterness does not affect only you, dear counselee; it affects everyone with whom you come into contact.

In the book of Ruth we read about Naomi (which means pleasant), the wife of Elimelech. Elimelech took his wife and two sons down from Bethlehem to the country of Moab because there was a famine in the land. While living in Moab, the sons took wives named Ruth and Orpah from among the native people. Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab and left Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah to fend for themselves.

When news came that the famine in the land of Judah had lifted, Naomi decided to return home to her own people. The three women set out together, but on the way, Naomi gave the young women the freedom to return home to their own people.

“No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.” But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has caused me to suffer.”  Ruth 1:10-14 (NLT)

Orpah did turn back, but Ruth was committed to Naomi and to her God.

So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was stirred by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Instead, call me Mara, [meaning bitter] for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the  LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”  Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT) 

What do you suppose it was that caused the whole town to stir? Could it have been Naomi’s appearance? Do you wonder if they could see the changes that had taken place inside her heart or on her face? Note the things Naomi says in verses 19-21:

“Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has caused me to suffer.” And “. . . call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”

Naomi blamed God for making her life bitter and empty. All she could see was that she no longer had what she loved. Her bitterness reflected a heart of unbelief in the justice and sovereignty of God. She held on to the anger for what had been done to her and stood in judgment over God. In the entire text, we see nothing of Naomi’s quest to understand the purpose of God in her suffering. We only read that she was angry and bitter for what she had lost.

Perhaps you struggle with the same type of bitterness. Sometimes women and men who have lost children to illness or accident blame God for their loss. “God, how could you take my beloved child  from me? Don’t You know how much I loved him? How could You do this to  me?” An abandoned spouse may become bitter as they wonder: “God, don’t You see how much I am struggling to raise these kids while he is out living the high life?How can you let him get away with this? I am the one who was faithful, and now I am  he one who is miserable while he has it made! Don’t you care about me? Why aren’t you punishing him?”

The honest businessman sees a crooked businessman prospering while he flounders. “God, how can You stand by and let this happen? I am an honest businessman, and  my business is failing! How can You let him get way with such thievery? I have a wife and kids to feed, God; why are you doing this to me?”

The childless couple is bitter when they see families with several children and they cannot seem to have even one. “God, why don’t You let us have even one child when these other people have so many! It isn’t fair that we can’t have even one child to love while so many are being aborted and abandoned! God, why are You doing this to us?”

You become bitter out of a belief that God will not punish the people who hurt you, that God does not hear your plea, or that He does not care about your plight. Since God is apparently not going to intervene in your circumstances,  you stand in as judge, jury, and executioner in the lives of other people.

It becomes a circular pattern. The more you dwell on what has been done to you, the injustice you have suffered, or the loss you have incurred, the deeper goes the root of bitterness. You already know that carrying around a load of bitterness is exhausting.

Bitterness hardens your heart on the inside and your features on the outside. It also defiles those around you because it is contagious.

Curing The Bitter Heart

Do you want the cure for bitterness? You must understand that the only cure for bitterness and anger is forgiveness.

Bitterness is focused on what has been done to you. To break up bitterness, you must also be willing to look at what you have done to others. Your task is to admit what your responsibility is in the matter and go to those you have hurt, confess your sin, and first seek their forgiveness. You must be willing to get the log out of your own eye prior to examining your neighbor’s eye.

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.  Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT) 

The examination process begins right here at home. Start with yourself and seek God’s help in revealing the contents of your heart in relation to how you have sinned against others.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT) 

There needs to be a willingness on your part to forsake your sin of bitterness.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,  even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT) 

Confession of your own sin and repentance for that sin must take place in your heart first. Then you must seek for other relationships to be healed and restored. You may want to pray a prayer similar to this one:

Gracious Heavenly Father, I realize now that I have a root of bitterness in my heart. Thank You that You have chosen this time in my life to reveal it to me. I ask for Your help, dear Lord, to see the areas of my heart and life where bitterness has grown. I trust the Holy Spirit will reveal to me my sin and I confess to you the sin of bitterness regarding the following circumstances in my life : __________

Thank You, dear Lord, for revealing to me the areas of my life over which I am bitter. Please help me to overcome this sin that defiles many and begin to put on the fruit of forgiveness in my life. Please help me to restore and repair the relationships that I have wounded and destroyed by my bitterness. Thank You for Your great gift of grace to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Forgiving others is not an option for the Christian; it’s required, and it is step number one in removing bitterness.

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:12-13 (NLT)

In forgiving others, it is important to remember a few important rules: When I forgive, I resolve never to bring this circumstance or situation up again to the one I forgave, to anyone else, or even to myself. It is a closed book. If you are going to pattern your forgiveness after that of the Lord, then you will choose to remember no more the sin committed against you.

But what if you are bitter toward God? What if it is God who has hurt you and caused you pain? My dear friend, please take hold of this truth: God is the sovereign God of the entire universe. It is His, and He does with it what He wishes, and it is always good. In fact, it is always very good!

To believe you must forgive God for what you perceive He has done against you insinuates that God has sinned, and this cannot be. God is a loving, holy, and perfect, sinless God who does not make mistakes.

Naomi, as recorded in the book of Ruth, may have believed for a time that God somehow made a mistake in taking her husband and sons from her, for she said He “brought me back empty.” It was no mistake, however. God was purposely unfolding His divine plan for humanity in Naomi’s life and in the death of her loved ones. Take note, dear one, that if Naomi’s son would have lived, Ruth would have remained his wife. Without the death of her husband, Ruth would not have been free to meet and marry Boaz, who became her kinsman redeemer. Ruth would not have given birth to their son, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who is the father of David, from whose lineage comes the Christ.

Acceptance of hard things at the hand of a loving God is not easy. I encourage you to seek God in your circumstances and to trust that He is unfolding a divine plan that you cannot see right now, just as He did in the case of Naomi and Ruth. God’s sovereignty is always balanced by His love, and He promises to bring good out of every tragedy and heartache.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters.  Romans 8:28-29 (NLT) 

Q&A: Boundaries and Consequences

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question:  I am unsure how to set up boundaries and consequences with my alcoholic, pot-smoking husband.  He thinks neither should be a concern of mine.  He says it doesn’t affect me.  When he has too much to drink, his verbal cocky language, insinuations, and controlling attitude are horrible.

He thinks nothing of drinking 6-10 beers at one time.  He is bi-polar but doesn’t think it is an issue anymore.  He was on lithium years ago for this.  I am so tired of this relationship with him.  I want to do what God wants me to do.  I know that with God He can handle this marital issue.  I just need to release it totally to Him.

Please give me guidance on setting up specific boundaries and consequences.  I have read your book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, but I need more specific advice in my particular situation.  Thank you.

Answer:  In my book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong I introduced the idea of the Gift of Consequences as a loving gesture to help wake a spouse up to behaviors or attitudes that were affecting (or destroying) the marriage.  (This particular gift of love often does not feel loving to the one receiving it at the time)

In past blogs and in my other books on destructive relationships and marriage I give many more reasons and examples how not to enable destructive behavior to continue unchallenged by mitigating or removing negative consequences from the destructive person’s life.

Specifically in your situation you need to ask yourself the question how does his behaviors affect you?  For starters you indicate that when he’s drunk or high, he treats you differently.  He’s controlling, cocky and makes remarks that offend you and hurt your feelings.  What would be a natural consequence for someone who treats you that way?

Most healthy people wouldn’t put up with it.  They’d leave the room, leave the conversation, or exit the house for an hour or even for the night.   In other words, one consequence is that your husband looses the pleasure of your presence or company when he’s drinking or high because you don’t like the way he treats you when he’s that way.

Now, the problem for you when you implement this consequence is that perhaps it has no impact on him. In fact, he may prefer you to leave him alone.  This is where it gets tricky.  The consequence we implement we want to also have impact.

So what other consequences might you implement that may get his attention?

Stop cleaning up his messes – cans, ashes, dirty glasses, vomit.  (But you have to live there too so it impacts you too)

Separate your family money if he’s spending large quantities of money on his drinking and drugs and it’s affecting your ability to pay your bills.

Refuse to drive with him if he’s been drinking or smoking pot/ not allowing the children to drive with him

Refuse to lie to the children about his behaviors when they observe him drunk or high.

Refuse to bail him out of jail if he gets pulled over by the police.

Refuse to buy him alcohol or other supplies for his habit.

Refuse to lie or cover up for him to others (work, family, neighbors) for his foolish behavior while drunk or high.

Separate from him until he gets help and stops his abusive behavior.

Plan an intervention with family members to help him see how his problem impacts everyone (he says it doesn’t affect anyone).

Sometimes boundaries and consequences look rather similar.  The boundary you may set ahead of time – such as I am no longer willing to drive with you because I’m afraid when you’re driving and drinking.

A consequence might be, last night you scared me to death the way you were weaving in and out of cars. We almost had an accident. From now on I refuse to drive with you when you’ve been drinking (or smoking).

But bottom line – what keeps you stuck in this relationship is something you can work on. You can’t change him but you can, with God’s help, change you.  You say you want to do what God wants you to do but I do not believe God calls you to sacrifice yourself and your children so that your husband can stay steeped in his foolish behaviors.  So if you lovingly implement consequences – not to scold, shame or punish, but to wake him up, it can be part of God’s plan for his life.

Doing what God wants you to do means that you will also do what you need to do to stay healthy and get wise. It may mean attending Al Anon or Celebrate Recovery or some other support group for people who live with addicts.  It means that you will protect your children from his abusive behavior when he’s intoxicated and if it’s frequent, you may need to consider separating from him until he gets help for his problem.

I think we often think God wants us to always be nice and minimize the ugliness of sin.  We’re not to judge sin because all of us are sinners – you are not less a sinner than your husband is, but when we cover it up or minimize it or think it makes no negative impact on other people, we are deceiving ourselves and not living in the truth.

Your words to your husband – or consequences and boundaries may be hard but need not be harsh.  Do the work you need to so that when you take this step, you do it in love.

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