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I don’t like going to the dentist.  I don’t like the picking and the scraping. And God forbid that there be any drilling! Although I have had a fairly stellar record at the dentist, even the cleanings give me the willies! So when my hygienist wanted to do a deep cleaning at my last visit, she put some liquid Novocain on my gums.  She told me it would taste bitter and boy-oh-boy, she wasn’t kidding! That liquid ran down the back of my tongue and not only tasted terrible, but numbed my throat more effectively than the gums she was working on!

Our lives are full of experiences that are bitter, don’t you think? Some of the experiences are slightly bitter, like liquid Novocain, and are quickly recovered from.

But other experiences leave such a residual bad taste in our mouths that we can’t stop thinking about them.  We ponder the Why, the How, and the What of the situation.  We talk about the problem; we think about the problem; we pray about the problem.  But real, authentic bitterness is more like a soul tattoo than like Novocain that wears off.  It’s going to take a purposeful procedure to get that removed.

There’s a great story In Exodus 15:22-26 that demonstrates the power of bitterness over faith.  The story takes place 3 days after Moses has parted the Red Sea and the 3 million+ Israelites have been supernaturally delivered from slavery and death at the hands of Pharaoh.   Moses and the people of Israel have been walking in the hot desert and have not found any water. Feeling incredible thirst, they finally come upon a spring in Marah but the water is bitter.  The people, who only three days before were singing God’s praises for bringing them through the Red Sea and killing their enemies, are now complaining against God and Moses.  Moses cries out to God for a miracle of provision and the Lord tells him to throw a tree into the water.  When Moses obeys, the bitter water becomes sweet and the people can drink.  God tells Moses that those 3 days had been a test of the Emergency Complaint Broadcast system – and they didn’t exactly pass the test!  Instead of choosing to trust that the God who saved them through the sea would not let them die in the sand, they chose instead to rail against God and Moses.

Throughout my life, I have faced many situations that tried to inextricably snare me in bitterness.  In each situation, as new facets of the pain surfaced, I thought I could not survive it.  I wish I could say I always turned to Lord first; but there were many times when I picked up the phone first to complain about the circumstances or grumble about the hardship that was my life.  And what I found was that complaining was like a sugar high: the crash afterwards made the temporary rush of getting the anger and fear off my chest not worth it.  I had to learn through trial and error the fine line between getting counsel for my situation from people who were able to help and getting down in the grumbling pit with whoever would listen.

I had to learn through trial and error the fine line between getting counsel for my situation from people who were able to help and getting down in the grumbling pit with whoever would listen.

How many times do we grumble and speak negatively when going through trials? Is God unrealistic to ask us not to complain, gossip or speak negatively during a stressful time of trauma and loss?  Is he out of touch with the frailty of our humanity in telling us not to freak out when tragedy strikes – be it the rejection of a loved one, a sick child, or desperate financial situations?

After all, it seems to bring a temporary relief to talk about the problem, to find as many people as we can to commiserate with us and shake their heads in disbelief at what we’re facing. But it doesn’t really bring any solution, does it? Does their sympathy change anything? Does our complaining and gossip cause the situation to turn around? Has nagging ever turned the heart of a cheating spouse, or has weeping ever deposited money into a bank account? These common human reactions to trouble and stress don’t help the situation in the long run at all.  And God knows that after the initial shock, if we stay in the mulligrubs, we’re powerless.  In the place of self-pity, doubt and freaking out, we lose our grip on the only One who actually CAN do something about the problems we’re facing.  That Someone is Jesus.  Just as God turned the bitter waters sweet with a tree (have you ever seen that happen before?), He has promised to turn our bitter situation into a sweet experience, if we simply believe.

So what should we believe then while we are walking through these painful times? Should we believe that He is going to answer all of our prayers exactly the way we think we need them to be answered? No. But we can and should believe that God is ALWAYS good.  His plans for us are for our good, and His mercy and favor will prevail if we don’t turn our hearts away in unbelief, fear and grumbling.  It’s not an easy choice to walk out, but what is easier – fighting off your unbelief and walking through the pain with Him, or wallowing in despair, panic and bitterness alone?

So, what skill could you begin practicing today that will help you rise above the temptation to grumble and gossip when the heat is on?

Here are a couple suggestions that I am practicing.  I hope they help you as well.

  • When other people try to engage you in evil speaking about your situation, you can deflect the conversation and change the topic.  It takes practice, so begin today!
    • When we’re going through something hard, usually the painful decisions of other people are involved. The temptation is to get as many people as we can to listen to how we’ve been wronged so that our position seems fortified and we feel like we can sleep better knowing how “right” we are.  But let me ask you this: what is more important, being ‘right’ or being ‘righteous’? God doesn’t bless our gossip or grumbling.  What he blesses is our humble contrition for our part in the mess and our consecration of the parts we can’t control into His care.
  • When you want to pick up the phone to call a friend and “vent”, pick up your Bible first and find a Scripture that speaks to your situation and write it in your journal (I usually start in Psalms). You may find that your conversation changes when you eventually dial your friend.

Here is some really good Scripture on this topic.  Let these words be the cornerstone of a new strategy in your life!

James 3:9-11

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

James 3: 17-18

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.