Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Hidden Bitterness

~~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

“Mom,” Cole began, “I have a new friend. His name is Luke Williams.”

I was somewhat surprised. Something inside of me jumped at the name. And it wasn’t a leap of joy.

“What’s his dad’s name?” I asked inquisitively.

“I don’t know. Why? Do you know him?” Cole asked.

Having lived in this area most of my life, my kids have grown accustomed to me knowing the parents of their friends. They have frequently remarked that I know more people at their activities than they do.

“Is his name Larry?” I asked.

“Maybe. Why?” he asked again.

I knew that I couldn’t keep the truth in about this revelation. Yes, I sensed that I had once met this new friend’s dad…

Over twenty years ago, I was a student at Oklahoma Baptist University. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I had made the one hour drive home from Shawnee for a quick afternoon with family. About 4:00 pm, I began the drive back to school. I had commitments that evening.

It was rush hour on the two-lane highway leading away from my home. I knew that my dad would soon cross my path headed the opposite direction, and I was watching the cars carefully for his carpool.

I pulled up to County Line Road. There was a car waiting for a break in the traffic so he could turn left across the traffic. I came to a stop as I waited for the car to make the turn. I reached down to turn off my radio so that I could spend the drive praying.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of tires screeching. I glanced in my rear-view mirror just in time to see an orange and white truck careening toward me.

I remember the impact. I remember a spinning sensation. Then, everything went black.

As I regained consciousness, I was surrounded by tanned construction workers directing the traffic around my car. Somehow, I was facing the opposite direction from where I had been going. I tried to get out of my car, but the construction workers made me stay still for fear of a neck or back injury.

I turned around to look at the back of my car. What I saw left me shaking, anxious. The lid of my trunk was resting against the back of my driver’s seat. My back window was shattered and glass littered my car. The back end of my car was non-existent.

It was about this time that a west-bound car began to slow down as it approached the accident scene. Before the car stopped, my dad jumped out of the back seat. There was a look of sheer terror on his face as he ran to me, embraced me. To this day, I can’t think about that moment without the tears stinging my eyes.

In the days that followed, we learned that the 16 year old driver who hit me was named Larry Williams (not his real name). He had been speeding in a construction zone, far exceeding the posted 35 mph speed limit. He also had no insurance which meant that I would never see a dime for my totaled car. I was left to start over.

In the 20 years since that accident, I have suffered severe, debilitating headaches. I suffer from neck pain caused by the damage to my discs. Even as I type these words, I am having one of those days where I just want to take a muscle relaxer and go to bed, hoping that I can sleep off the pain. The damage done in that instant has caused a lasting impact on my day-to-day life. I will never be 100% again.

And now, my son is telling me that his new friend is the son of the man who is responsible for my pain.

I would like to say that this revelation was a non-issue for me. Although I verbalized to Cole that his friendship with this boy was fine, there has been tremendous turmoil in my heart and spirit. In the days since, I’ve found myself reliving those moments repeatedly. I have come to realize that forgiveness has not truly taken root in my heart; instead, there is a root of bitterness that has been allowed to grow for 20 years.

And it’s time for that root to be ripped out permanently.

Isn’t it amazing how God brings those things to light that are deeply buried, knowing that we have to completely purge ourselves of anger and bitterness? I would have never realized that this experience was still negatively impacting my spiritual life if God hadn’t brought it to light. But here I sit, facing the reality of my heart.
So, how do we get rid of anger and bitterness? How do we rip that root of bitterness away?

I forgave “the other woman” out of obedience to God. It was God’s love and forgiveness that flowed through me. The only thing I did was act in obedience. I can truly say it was a one-time forgiveness, a one-time choice to put the past behind me.

Forgiving my ex-husband has not been as easy. There are on-going insults and hurts. Forgiving him becomes a daily decision, a choice to not allow bitterness and anger to eat away at me. Some days are easier than others.

Some of the lessons I have learned about forgiveness come from the journey to forgiving my ex-husband. I try to look at him as Christ does, through eyes of compassion. I try to remember that he, too, is a chosen child of God, loved and valued. I remember that when Christ washed the disciples’ feet, he also washed Judas’ feet. He knew Judas would soon betray him, and yet he served him anyway. Would I be willing to wash my ex-husband’s feet?
And recently, I began wondering about heaven. When I encounter these people who have hurt me deeply in heaven, how will I respond? Will the bitterness still be eating at me? I want to get rid of the anger since I will be with them in eternity.

And so, today I take these lessons I have learned over the years, and I must put them into practice with yet someone else. I am trying to remember that the 40 year old man who is the father of this boy is not the same irresponsible 16 year old who caused my hurt all those years ago. I am trying to remember that we all make mistakes, that we all do stupid things at some point. I am trying to look at this man with eyes of compassion.

I am choosing forgiveness over bitterness each and every day. Not only is my son now friends with his son, but my daughter is now friends with his daughter. I have met his wife. I have allowed my son to go to his house. I have yet to encounter him personally, but I am preparing myself for that day. Perhaps it will surprise me.

To keep the anger and bitterness away, I make it a point to pray blessings over this man. I pray that God has and will continue to work in his heart. I pray that God would pour out blessings over him. I pray that God would do a work in his life as he has done in my life.

Finally, I remember that God has forgiven me much. If I am not willing to forgive others the offenses against me, I am taking for granted the forgiveness that Christ has lavished on me.
May kindness color all of my actions toward others.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31:32

In the irony of all ironies, I began writing this post last week. I’ve attempted to finish several times, but I’ve been interrupted. My plans were to come home from work yesterday, finish writing, and post. But instead, I was in a wreck. A lady pulled out of a parking lot, taking out the entire passenger side of my car. After an hour with the police and two hours at the emergency room, I didn’t get home until after 8:00 pm. I was tired, hurting, and unable to think clearly. So here I sit today, sore and fighting a headache. Now I have yet another person to forgive.