At the root of it all...

At the end of our driveway, grew some crepe myrtles.  Beautiful bushes.  Deep pink blooms through the summer and brilliant color all fall.  Gorgeous.  Really.

But they grew too large for that spot and, well, it was time for a change.  So we (I use the royal "we" was totally my husband!) cut them down, and dug up the roots.  On to the new landscape plan.  Except that those gorgeous crepe myrtles didn't want to leave us.  After we thought we had removed them, they grew back.  We dug up some more and, just to be on the safe side, got a professional tree cutter to dig them out for good.

Or so we thought. 

The following spring, those stubborn crepe myrtles reappeared. Ruining my planting plans at the end of the driveway.  Not gorgeous.  Tacky.

Try as we might, we couldn't seem to rid ourselves of those plants.  They had obviously established for themselves a vast root system.  We could chop off what we could see and even dig out til we thought we had it all, but those persistent roots kept producing fruit.  Fruit that we no longer wanted.


Driving past them today, I had a thought about another obstinate root that all too often grows in the lives of God's people.  Willful and ornery.  And, unlike those crepe myrtles, these roots produce no beauty.  Anywhere.


Do you know anyone who's bitter?  Have you ever felt those pangs yourself?  I can answer "yes" to both questions.  Bitterness is fairly easy to detect - in someone else, at least! An air of defensiveness.  A desire to "tell their story" over and over.  At least their side of it.  One sided perspective. An attitude that seems to think they deserve better.  An unwillingness to let goodness inside that hard shell in spite of a desperate desire to embrace it.
 We tend to keep our distance from bitter people, just like we would spit out banana peels or coffee grounds to rid ourselves of that taste.  However, just like the initial taste of bitter chocolate or coffee  can become not only tolerable but eventually delicious after repeated exposure, so it is with bitterness that we allow to remain in our own lives.  Keeping it close makes it livable....then comfortable....then preferable.  But to those around us, that cloak of bitterness creates a hard shell of distrust and insensitivity to others - while being over sensitive about our own feelings -, a tension in the relationship, a spirit of ingratitude and rejection.

 Truly, that poisonous root grows up and brings trouble to its host and to all those around.

For Wednesday's Word today, we're going to take a look at what causes bitterness and how to overcome it.
Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Hebrews 12:15

 First, how does that root get in our hearts and grow in the first place?

 This verse teaches that it's from failing to receive the grace of God.  What does that mean?  Grace is God's favor that He bestows on us, the power to desire and to obey His will.  He makes it available to us if we humble ourselves before Him -  He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."  James 4:6

Since this passage is written to God's people, it is not referring to the time He grants us grace at the moment of salvation. (Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God ).  The passage in Hebrews and the passage in James are a reminder that, just as it is His grace that saves us, so it is His grace that enables us to live a life that pleases Him. (2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work )

God presents us opportunities to need His grace for those good works, about a zillion times a day.  Good works in the form of serving others without being appreciated...or even noticed.  Good works in the form of being content with what we have...instead of comparing our lives to someone else.  Good works in the form of not returning evil for evil....and giving a blessing instead.  Good works as in accepting personal responsibility for sin...instead of blaming your own failure on someone else's.  And especially the good work of forgiving others the debt they owe you...just as God in Christ has forgiven you.

So, how do we fail to receive the grace of God for these good works? 

See James 4:6 again.  And I Peter 5:5.

Yep, you guessed it.  Pride.  The attitude that thinks we deserve better than what we got.

Pride is what blocks our reception of grace.  Pride prevents our ability to receive what we need to live a life of joy and peace and  freedom and obedience.  Pride clings to a belief that we deserve better than we got.  Instead of hope, though, it's more an attitude of entitlement.  One that expects...demands...that life produce better circumstances or gifts or people for us.
But pride never delivers what it demands.

Pride spawns instead...a root of bitterness.

Some of the fruits that grow from this root are

depression (Proverbs 14:10)
cynicism (Hebrews 12:15)
critical, judgmental spirit (Matthew 7:2)
physical ailments (Psalm 32:3-5, Proverbs 14:30)
hypersensitivity of own feelings (Proverbs 26:22)
defensiveness (Matthew 7:5)
anger, envy, resentment, etc

All kinds of things that ruin the landscape plan that God has for our lives.....and those around us..... just like those unwanted crepe myrtles at the end of my driveway.
Unlike those crepe myrtles, though, there's not one thing pretty about bitterness.

So, then, how do we get rid of this poisonous root?

3 basic steps.  They sound simple, but I'll warn you, they are hard.  Digging out those roots is hard work.  And painful.
1.  Accept personal responsibility for the roots
Quit the blame game. Humble yourself. No matter what happens to us, we are in charge of our response.  Own it. Confess the sin to God....and anyone you've poisoned (even if they are the offender!)
2.  Forgive anyone you perceive as an offender  which includes anyone who didn't measure up to your expectations.
This doesn't mean you say "it's ok, no big deal".  Sometimes it's a mighty big deal indeed!  Forgiveness does NOT mean to dismiss the offense.  It means instead that you don't make the other person pay what they owe you. 
This is hard to do.  At least for me.  It takes a lot of work on my part - here's some stuff that helps me along ---
-  Ask God for help.  Tell Him what the other person did and why it hurts.  Then ask for His help in forgiving them
- Pray for the other person (no, not "God, get them and get them good!")  Pray for God's blessing in the life of your offender
- "Invest" in them by showing them love.  God will give you the ideas if you ask Him.
3 .Trust God when He says He is at work on your behalf, bringing good to those who love and obey Him.  See Him as the giver of good gifts.  Instead of blaming Him - and others - for what you perceive as "shortfall". And, ask Him if your expectations need adjustment........
Open your eyes to the good gifts and thank Him.  Then, thank Him even for the offenses.  (I Thessalonians 5:8 -- when it says "everything", it means "EVERY thing"!!)  Know that His ways are above our ways.  He is the ultimate alchemist...turning what others meant for evil, into our good.

Pulling out the root of bitterness.  Hard work.  Long hard work, sometimes.  Repeated efforts, sometimes.
But, just like those crepe myrtles needed to go before the plan of beauty I had in mind for my driveway could be developed, so it is with bitterness. Removal of bitterness makes room for beauty.
The very process of "bitterness removal" can accomplish what God had in mind in the first place...

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need   Hebrews 4:16

Next time you drive by my house, take a look to see if we've still got a few roots to eradicate.  Better yet, let's grant one another access to our hearts and help each other be ready for God's planting.  It's so much prettier than anything we can produce on our own!

P.S. - next time, I will share a very practical project that helps with the root-pulling!!