by Matthew Raley Bitterness is a conviction that your life is filled with unfairness. It is one of the most common spiritual conditions I come across, and it is debilitating. Here are some characteristics of bitterness that I've noticed in myself and others.
1. Bitterness is a story.
When someone expresses his bitterness, it has characters and plot. "First they took my lunch money. Then they stole my invention -- which would've made me rich. Then they cut off my unemployment. And now you want a tip! This always happens to me!"
Here is Jacob's response when his oldest son Reuben needs to take the youngest son to Egypt to buy food during a famine (Genesis 42.36): "You [Reuben] have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me." Jacob has been telling himself a story about Reuben.
A good start at dispelling bitterness is to notice the stories you tell yourself.
2. The bitter story is deceitful.
The story usually lumps disparate people into one category. They stole my lunch money, my invention, and my unemployment benefits. You want a tip. Ergo, you belong with them. Time to challenge the composition of they.
Also, the story interprets actions as if they are about "me." Life is unfair because people are always against me, stealing from me, dissing me. But, reality is, no one thinks about me as much as I do.
Jacob's story leads him to blame Reuben for events that were not Reuben's fault. But it makes total sense to Jacob because deception wears a cloak of plausibility.
Another way to dispel bitterness is to challenge your own assumptions.
3. Bitterness ignores God's story.
Because I am the center of the bitter story, and my point of view dominates, I can edit the parts that confuse the plot. The part where, for instance, someone gave me a sandwich after my lunch money went missing. The part where my invention that was going to make me billions didn't actually work. Or the part where I started a new job after my unemployment ran out. These scenes mess up the story, so out they go.
In Genesis 42, Jacob doesn't know yet that Joseph is alive, that it was Joseph who arrested Simeon in Egypt, and that it is Joseph who will save the family from starvation and bring reconciliation. And Jacob has conveniently forgotten how God protected and provided for him before.
God is busy working his agenda for our lives, and he is not going to adjust it to our preferences. Nor should he: his agenda is good. So, in addition to forgiveness, the most helpful single way to dispel bitterness is hour-to-hour gratitude, which prevents the bitter story in the first place.