Recently I was talking to a single woman. She is in her thirties and trying to overcome the break-up of her most recent relationship while struggling with her singleness. I tried to speak words of truth to this woman by telling her about God's supernatural peace that is available to all of us. Then I heard these words:
"I really hate it when married people say . . . " and she went on.
I didn't know how to respond. There was my flesh response that wasn't grace-filled or patient.
And then there was my Spirit response. I knew this woman was hurting and her words came from that hurt. Instead, I told her I understood and that I was sorry she hated to hear what I said.
However, the more I thought about our conversation the more I recognized a characteristic in myself when I was single and a characteristic I now see in other single women. I recognized bitterness taking root.
Bitterness is a hard quality to recognize because you can't see it very easily. It doesn't necessarily show itself like anger does. Instead it has the ability to hide out under the surface, or under the soil to think of it that way, and create a low-lying animosity. This is the reason Hebrews 12:12-15 tells us to watch out for bitterness that we may not know we have, but that springs up, causes trouble and defiles us. How does it defile us? It creates envy, malice, and greed.
So how do we know when there's a root of bitterness in us wanting to spring up?
First, let's look at where bitterness originates. We become bitter when we believe something we deserve was taken from us. All of my life I wanted to be a wife and mom. I wanted my career to be a homemaker. I was a good girl, a good student, I loved Jesus and followed the rules. So why did God not give me this desire, a God-given desire, in my twenties? Why did he make me was until I was almost middle-aged? If I allow myself, I can easily become bitter all over again.
Ask yourself, "Do you believe something you deserve was taken from you?" If you answer "yes", then you are fertile ground for bitterness to take root.
How do we not let a root of bitterness spring up?
We have to first confess to God that we recognize there is a root of bitterness in our hearts, and we must ask Him to forgive us and remove it.
In Exodus 15:22-27, after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea they were in the wilderness for three days without any water. Finally, they came to Marah, and there was water. But the water in Marah was bitter. "Marah" means "bitterness." The Israelites cried to Moses and asked him what they should drink. Moses, in turn, cried out to God, and God took him to a tree that He has thrown into the water to make the water sweet again. That tree represents Jesus who would come years later to take on all of our bitterness and suffering through His death and resurrection so that we in turn can be free from it.
We can be free from bitterness, but it is only Jesus who can free us.
Then, we need to replace our bitterness with thankfulness to God. We can probably all brainstorm things we think we deserve but were taken from us. What is the point of focusing on them, though? This is how bitterness takes root.
Instead of meditating on what you don't have, instead meditate on all you do have. It must make God so sad to hear us complain about all we think we deserve when He's already given us so much. Instead, think about the story that is yours and how God can use your life, especially the bad parts of it, for His glory. Be grateful for your story and the opportunity you have to help others in the same situation. "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called to one body. And be thankful" (Colossians 3:15).
How do you guard yourself from being bitter in singleness? Or in any stage of life?