At the beginning of this summer I prayed a dangerous prayer. It was words you don’t say unless you are looking for God to completely wreck your world, in a good way, but in a way that hurts. It can better be defined as God refining you through the flame. You can’t expect to be placed in fire, endure change, and not experience a little pain along the way. That’s what my summer has been like so far. God has been refining me. A lot. And he started at the root of everything.
It is not a good friend. It only lets you think it is your friend. It is your greatest companion when it comes to telling you the words you want to hear, and then pairing up with pride and insecurity, making everything more difficult than it needs to be. It gives you a sense of entitlement, making you think you deserve recognition, an apology, or gives you a strong desire to see that particular person humiliate themselves by confessing how you were right and they were always wrong. It feels good for a little bit, but eventually it eats you up. It hardens your heart and makes it impossible for you to love. In other words, you can not practice compassion when you have resentment. Bitterness is harboring a grudge of unforgiveness. And the Bible says that when you can’t forgive others, neither will the Lord forgive you. For who are we to deny someone forgiveness when we ourselves are imperfect beings?
I’m sure everyone reading this can attest to being burned over the years. You’ve been abandoned by a family member or a friend, or someone you loved hurt you deeply. Maybe you had a moment when you promised yourself that you’d never let anyone hurt you like that again, that no one would make you feel like you were the ground they walked on, and in turn, without realizing it, you hurt yourself more by making yourself numb to any feeling at all. Maybe you’ve been verbally, or physically abused to the point that you’ve lost faith in the goodness of humanity. You’ve lost hope that there is anyone in this world that truly knows how to love, and in the process you’ve forgotten how to love at all. Or maybe you never feel appreciated. You do so much for others, and put your everything into all you do, but you don’t get a second glance. Or perhaps you also always get stuck with all the work, because no one else will step up and help. So something that should be a team effort becomes a solo effort. But a lot of times that’s our own fault, because we’re too prideful to give other people part of the responsibilities because we can do it better. And so our blame game, really ends with us a lot of the time.
The things that bother you are much deeper than pet peeves most of the time. You need to evaluate those things and figure out what the deeper reason is for those situations that are bothering you. For example, my tendency to get easily frustrated and angry is a generational curse. For all of us, whether we want to admit it or not, our own attitudes are the problem. I am not saying that other people haven’t affected us to make us get to the high level of bitterness we’ve attained. Trust me, I know, I am speaking from a heck of a lot of experience. Bitterness doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Most of the time, our bitterness starts at a place of frustration or hurt that was genuine. I am simply saying that it is our choice to let those things fester inside of us until they become a terrible, soul eating monster that even we can’t tame. It makes us a victim, not to others, but principally, of ourselves. We need to recognize that, there, in those dark places of loneliness, pride, fear, and insecurity, our soul-sucking frenemy, bitterness was birthed.
What I’ve learned in my journey to what I call “Whole-Hearted” living, is that all of my problems are connected (bitterness, pride, insecurity, etc), and I’ve also learned that it is vitally important to understand where these issues were birthed. I’ve been reading a book called “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown and it is life changing. Seriously, if you want to learn what living a wholehearted life looks like, this book is great help with that. She challenges you to figure out, what are your triggers? What are the lies that you tell yourself? Our self-talk needs to be uplifting, because the same way a mean word to a friend would cut them deeply, your own words to yourself cut with that same depth if not deeper.
Okay, here’s what I’m getting at….. the root of bitterness is pride, insecurity, and even fear, and the root of those things is a lack of self confidence. When I am less confident in who I am through Christ, I am more likely to take criticism, or things that appear as so, very hard, because it hurts my pride, and I am prideful because I am insecure. Secure people are not prideful, because they are not trying to prove anything to anyone. They know who they are, and are completely satisfied with how God made them. Secure people are very humble. Therefore, because I can be prideful, which in turn reveals my insecurity, I get bitter and even angry, because I feel vulnerable and hurt.
You and I have a problem with letting the world see the real you. Authenticity is not something that someone just has. It is something that you have to wake up and say, “Today I choose to be authentic.” Because if you choose to be somebody that’s not you, and you’re not accepted, it hurts more when they can’t even accept the people pleasing character you chose to be that day. But when you are yourself and people don’t accept you, well then they don’t deserve your friendship. Find people who will love you as you are, but also love you enough to tell you when you’re making mistakes and be with you by your side through it. That’s true friendship.
The true definition of compassion comes from the latin words pati and cum, meaning “to suffer with”. When someone truly loves you, and is practicing compassion, they won’t just lay it on you and then leave you to pick up the pieces, they will tell you the truth and help you find your way. For you see, “compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Real friends suffer with you.
It takes courage to be yourself. In Latin, courage originally meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”. Brene Brown says, “Speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Ordinary courage is about putting vulnerability on the line.” The more real you are, the more alive you’ll feel, and the less affected you are by what people think of you. I didn’t say you aren’t affected at all by what people think. Because when you don’t care at all what people think, you are immune to hurt, and are ineffective at connecting. Courage is telling your story, not being immune to criticism. When you do this you’ll have confidence, humility, and true compassion. Being real means, asking for what you really need. That’s brave. It means not playing down the exciting stuff, because that doesn’t make your pain any less when it doesn’t happen. It takes away the joy when something awesome does happen, and it also makes you feel lonely. If something is important to you make it known. Don’t brag about it, but don’t hide your true feelings. It is prideful to not share that you really want something, because you’re afraid people will judge you for being confident or judge you even more if you don’t get it and you talked about it with such assurance.
There’s a difference between humble confidence and prideful confidence. But realize that humble confidence doesn’t mean saying things like, “Yeah, I hope I get it, but who knows, eh, maybe not, I am not really that skilled for it, so who knows.” That is insecurity. You need to say, “I’m excited about the possibility. I’m trying to stay realistic, but I really hope it happens.” That’s humble confidence, my friends. The key is to be AUTHENTIC. You see, “courage has a ripple effect. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”
We can only truly experience real belonging when we present our imperfect, authentic selves to the world and are accepted for who we are. A lot of us experience a heavy amount of shame when it comes to sharing our story and our downfalls. Shame is pretty much the fear of being unlovable— it is the complete opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy, and we’ve worked so hard to make everything look just right on the outside. Allow me to tell you a secret, this is why shame absolutely loves perfectionists—it is so easy to keep us quiet.
We need to develop shame resilience. This is “the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience… the less we talk about shame, the more we have it.” Shame loses power when it is spoken. That is why it is so important to share our struggles. Be courageous and shine light on your dark places. I can’t tell you how many times God has worked through me and others in powerful ways when we shared the horrible, dark experiences of our hearts. Because a lot of times other people are going through that same darkness and they need to know they’re not the only one.
But our stories are not for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If you have someone in your life who can hear your shame stories, and hear your good and your bad, and I mean all of it, and love you the same way, if not more because of it, then consider yourself extremely lucky. Seriously, you don’t need to share your story with everyone. Everyone doesn’t need to know where your bitterness, pride, and insecurity were birthed. Some people won’t be able to handle it, some people will make you experience more shame because of your vulnerability, and they won’t treasure your story. You are worthy, and anyone who makes you feel anything less because of what you’ve been through, isn’t worthy of hearing your story.
So I’ve told you that you need to be authentic. Here’s three steps:
1. Cultivate the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable
2. Exercise the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle
3. Nurture the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough
Be real. That is one of the most courageous battles you’ll ever fight. So to wrap this up, be real, be honest in love, and recognize the signs of shame, pride, insecurity and bitterness stirring inside of you. Don’t let bitterness take over your life. It is painful. The only way to truly overcome bitterness is to be authentic. Don’t pretend that things don’t bother you. Don’t just say yes because you don’t want to disappoint. If you say yes, make sure you’re saying HECK YES, and aren’t going to resent that person later because you didn’t have the guts to say no like you wanted to. Don’t be anything that doesn’t represent the amazing soul that you are. Be true to yourself. As cheesy as that sounds, it is important. Evaluate the way you live, and ask yourself, “Is my life doing justice to the person I was created to be or am I squandering more and more of my identity as each day passes? And am I wasting away, saturating my thoughts and heart in bitter thoughts and self-pity?” Consider your answers, and take action. Make a move. Wake up and say, “Today I choose authenticity.” Be confident in who you are. You are beautiful. You are perfectly made. You are loved. You are worthy. Own those truths. Own your story, all of it. I pray that the truths God has been revealing to me help you the way they helped me in my struggle to overcome bitterness.