Monday, I drove out of state for work. A quick down-and-back trip, but it provided ample time to think and pray and listen to sermons. It was a welcome change of pace.
Before I left, I was faced with an unexpected situation that brought a flood of memories to the front of my mind, reminding me of painful places in my past. I struggled with responding appropriately, wanting to simply let these people know their stupidity, their self-centeredness, to write them off forever. I vented to my husband. I found myself angry, bitter, recounting every wrong these people have ever done to me and my kids.
I chose to send a text, kind and yet direct, offering another solution to the situation (even though the initial contact came through my kids instead of an adult reaching out directly to me). I chose to take what I felt was the high road, the way of integrity.
And I waited for a response.
As I drove alone, enjoying the solitude and the sermons, I found my mind wandering, constantly returning to that place. That place of pain. That place of anger. That place where I’ve been constantly maligned and falsely accused. That place of danger. That place I’ve tried desperately to escape over the years.
But I couldn’t escape. The bitterness welled up inside me, overwhelming me, almost crushing me. I wanted to lash out, to forget whose I am and act like one from the world. I wanted to shout out in my own defense, telling of all the wrongs done against me. I wanted to let the bitterness and anger have its way with me.
Even as I battled the bitterness, I had my daily Bible reading playing on my phone. I’m reading through the Bible chronologically, and I’m at the kingship of David. I’ve read the dysfunction in his family, from rape to murder.
Here’s an excerpt from a couple of David’s children:
Amnon [David’s son] said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar [David’s daughter], my brother Absalom’s [David’s oldest son] sister.”
“Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”
David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.
“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”
“No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!” 2 Samuel 13:4-15
Here was the king’s son raping his half-sister. He lured her in, overtook her, and then threw her out. She was forever disgraced, humiliated.
And her brother Absalom? I don’t know if you have brothers, but they can be fiercely protective. I’ve watched my boys protect their little sister. They’ve always been there, promised to be there, to take care of anyone who might hurt her. Few people are as protective as brothers.
Absalom was no exception.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.
When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:20-21
Absalom took his sister in, cared for her needs. His love for her was fierce…but his anger toward Amnon was even more fierce.
Scripture doesn’t mince words. Absalom hated Amnon. We see this anger, this bitterness, mixed throughout the rest of David’s story.
Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. 2 Samuel 13:28-29
David was devastated! His oldest son, Absalom, had killed his son Amnon. The anger had taken its toll, leaving a trail of pain and devastation. Absalom fled for fear of his own life, separated from his father. His anger and his bitterness continued to consume him, until he finally turned on his father, tried to take the throne, and was eventually killed.
Absalom’s life is a portrait of the danger of bitterness. He chose not to deal with the hurt and pain of his past, and instead chose to allow the bitterness to destroy his life.
And that’s exactly what bitterness does. That’s exactly why God tells us to forgive, to forget those things that are behind and grab on to what is ahead. That’s why God tells us to rip out of the root of bitterness so it doesn’t get a hold on our lives. That’s why God tells us to obey His word…because His way is so much better than our own.
Can I tell you that God’s way works? Yes, I attempted to take the high road. I attempted to reach out in grace and love. I attempted to let go of the pain and bitterness. Even as I drove down the road, I begged God to help me put the past behind me, to forgive, to focus on the many gifts He has given me. I asked for favor, that my righteousness would shine like the dawn and the justice of my cause like the noonday sun.
And, we had a positive outcome, a positive encounter. My words were well received, and the situation was worked out in a way that is beneficial to us all.
I made a decision years ago not to let bitterness consume me. Some days, it’s hard…really hard. Some days, it’s a minute-by-minute decision to focus on my Savior, to focus on His love for me. Some days, it’s a challenge to remember the forgiveness He pours out on me, the forgiveness I’m expected to give others.
But it’s the right best way, the only way.