In Others’ Words: The Temptation of Bitterness

Root of Bitterness 2015

When I hear cautions against bitterness, I immediately think of the admonition: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

And Martin Luther King, Jr. got it right when he called bitterness a temptation — a choice we wrestle with … or against. Do I or don’t I allow myself to become bitter about [fill in the blank].

The scary thing about bitterness? What we’re wrestling with — the wrong that was done to us — we know we have a right to be angry. We feel so justified. And our self-justification is so empowering. All the “I’m so right” reasons stack up against the “They’re so wrong” accusations like so many pieces of kindling that our thoughts and emotions ignite … but not into a fire.


What we’ve created are invisible roots that burrow deep into our very being … into our hearts … and the bitter roots lodge there, choking out any thoughts of grace.

Bitterness defiles both us and the ones we are so unforgivably angry with. And it mars the image of God within us.

In Your Words: How do you protect your heart from any root of bitterness? And when you’ve discovered it there, how do you uproot bitterness in your heart? 

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  1. September 22, 2015, 6:26 am   /  Reply

    Interesting question. I do relatively well at putting bitterness aside because I spent many years practicing Zen Buddhism, the bitterness and the harmony that are a most basic tenet of that practice are mutually incompatible. I wanted the harmony, so I had no alternative.

    It might be inaccurate to say I ‘wanted’ the harmony; the harmony was already there, and necessary. It was like the need to breathe – bitterness can be likened to holding one’s breath.

    • September 22, 2015, 10:04 am   /  Reply

      Interesting idea to think of bitterness as holding on to your breath. It’s uncomfortable … unnatural … and your natural self strains against it. Hmmm … thinking on this …

  2. Cheryl H.
    September 22, 2015, 6:59 am   /  Reply

    I hand everything to God.

    How can I hold on to bitterness, when HE has forgiven me of so much? I’m human, so I cling to anger and bitterness every now and then, but my heart is always pricked, and I’m reminded to let it go.

    Beautiful, thought-provoking post, Beth. Thank you.

    • September 22, 2015, 10:05 am   /  Reply

      I think you are so right: If we remember what God has done for us it is so difficult to hold on to what others have done to us — the transgressions, the hurts, the wrongs.

  3. September 22, 2015, 7:18 am   /  Reply

    Scriptures tell us to rehearse the victories and deliverances of the Lord. In other words, to remember ways He’s brought us out of previous trials or hardships that could have made us bitter but didn’t because He turned the situation into victory. I used to drive my kids to a distant church where to reach it the last few miles were a series of up and down rolling hills. They (and I) loved cresting one hill and letting downhill momentum take us most of the way up the next. That applies to situations tempting us to bitterness. Remember all the previous times we were in hardship and all the times He rescued us. Let those assurances scoot us up the hill of this test, and enjoy the ride and scenery.

    • September 22, 2015, 10:06 am   /  Reply

      God is a God of remembrance. He so often tells us not to forget who He is or what He has done for us in the past. Love the imagery you painted in your post. 🙂

  4. September 22, 2015, 7:31 am   /  Reply

    I try to guard against bitterness, but it still creeps into my heart at times. I’m learning when I see it, to confess it as sin to the Lord, and to ask for Him to re-align my perspective about the person or situation. It takes time for the change to come, but when I’m seeking the Lord and bringing the struggle to Him, it eventually dissipates.

    • September 22, 2015, 10:06 am   /  Reply

      Jeanne: Excellent insight that bitterness has to do with perspective. Where are we setting our thoughts, our heart?

  5. September 22, 2015, 8:48 am   /  Reply

    I think part of harboring bitterness is linked to our personalities. People who are naturally negative (and some people are–it takes God and practice to change) are more tempted to hold on to bitterness. I learned early on that bitterness not only hurts me but the ones I love. I do think because I see the glass as 3/4 full, it’s easy to let go of things like bitterness. That and God. 🙂

    • September 22, 2015, 10:08 am   /  Reply

      Pat: I agree that it is easier for some people to let go of — or avoid — bitterness. I think we all start out innocent and forgiving, and then circumstances and our choices change us.

  6. September 22, 2015, 8:48 am   /  Reply

    Meant to say it’s easier to let go. It’s never easy. 🙂

  7. September 22, 2015, 9:06 am   /  Reply

    Define bitterness according to the Bible please:)

    • September 22, 2015, 9:28 am   /  Reply

      Marlene: I haven’t done an intensive study on the word “bitterness” recently. But the Greek root word is pikria, and it implies hatred or jealousy, when you cross-reference it with James 3:14 — wanting what someone else has. I think, too, that unforgiveness can be woven into bitterness when we’ve been hurt by someone else. Some translations say “any root of bitterness,” implying that there are different kinds of bitterness that can overtake a person’s heart.

  8. September 22, 2015, 10:48 am   /  Reply

    I protect my heart from the roots of bitterness by choosing to forgive and love no matter what the person does. By letting go of the past and seeing the good in the person. Once I forgive and let go of the past for good I am able to recreate the relationship I want with that person with nothing standing in our way. In order to do all this I have to come from nothing, a blank slate. No past projected into my future. Once I can do that bitterness is uprooted and I am new. So is the relationship.

    • September 24, 2015, 11:50 am   /  Reply

      Gina: “No past projected into my future.”
      What a profound concept.

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