"He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings." Psalm 40:2

Bitter Sisters

One of the many heavenly darts that penetrated my heart at last weekend’s Keach Conference was a comment made by Pastor Wheeler in his message The Reality of Remaining Sin. (Great message, by the way. Imminently practical! Listen to it free here.) It wasn’t the first time I had heard this truth, but last Saturday morning it resounded more loudly than ever. I can’t quote him exactly, but he simply pointed out that the sins and temptations of our youth follow us into adulthood. Unless we deal with and continue to deal with those sins, they will continue to haunt us. We don’t “grow” out of them.

While reflecting on Pastor Wheeler’s message later, my thoughts turned to besetting sins that I’ve struggled with personally from a young age, and besetting sins that women seem to deal with on a greater level than men. This led me through a mental time warp back to about 8th grade — and then to memories of interactions between sisters in the Lord I’ve both witnessed and participated in since then — and the parallels are startling.

“If you’re not killing sin, sin will be killing you” ~ John Owen ~

While there are many areas of sin I could reflect on while applying these principles, I think it’s providential that I’ve currently been studying about bitterness.

In junior high and high school, I and my female classmates were often downright nasty to each other. We’d become so emotional and offended at another girl, and then replay what she did over and over both in our minds and verbally. This led to the whole list of symptoms of bitterness I shared Monday – directed both at the girl who hurt us and at other girls who tried to later befriend us. Some of those friendships were never mended due to the ever-growing bitterness between us. Our bitterness over a situation would often lead to our being jaded and closed, and when someone new tried to pursue our friendship we shut them out, projecting on them the hurt that someone else had inflicted on us.

Decades later, you would think that we would have learned – and, thank God, some of us have grown to some degree – yet the temptation to harbor bitterness attacks again, and again, and again, and if we don’t kill it each time it reappears we’re liable to fall back into the ‘8th grade cycle’. The sins of our youth follow us still.

Let’s prayerfully look again at the symptoms of bitterness I shared Monday, this time thinking of the relationship between sisters in a local church:

9 Common Signs of Bitterness1

1. Gossip and Slander – In the process of complaining, the woman gossips about and slanders her sister, thereby defiling others and often separating friends. She has either nothing or very little that is good to say about her sister.

2. Ungrateful and Complaining – The woman is not grateful to her sister. She’s not grateful for her input, service, friendship, or presence. She murmurs to herself and complains to others about her.

3. Judges Motives – Whatever her sister does is suspect in the woman’s eyes. Even if the offending sister does something nice, the woman thinks her sister’s motive must be off. When a new sister joins the church, the woman is prone to project the errors of the offending sister onto the new sister and make assumptions about the new sister’s motives.

4. Self-Centered – The woman spends a lot of time thinking about herself. She is very self-absorbed. Her focus is fixed on herself, the hurts done against her, and the ways she is inconvenienced. She protects herself by refusing to sow into the lives of others, or when she does serve another sister she does so reluctantly or begrudgingly.

5. Excessive Sorrow – Grief and hurt have crowded out any joy, peace, or love that the woman used to have. They have, in fact, filled up her heart. This may, at times, overwhelm her. She tends to feel very lonely and rejected, while allowing the grief and hurt to grow into walls that keep potential friends out.

6. Vengeful – The woman looks for ways to avoid her sister. Perhaps she leaves when she enters the room, pouts, or gives her a cold shoulder. She is paying her back for what she has done to her. Or, even if the sister who hurt her is no longer around, the woman may guard herself from new sisters in the church, avoiding vulnerable relationships by avoiding genuine interactions.

7. Brooding – The woman broods about what her sister has done. She thinks about it often and plays it over and over in her mind. She sometimes speculates over unknown aspects of the situation, building an even worse scenario in her mind.

8. Loss of Joy – Lately, the woman has little or no delight in her relationship with the Lord. Because of her sin, instead of God’s peace and joy, she is experiencing intense emotional pain and misery.

9. A Critical, Judgmental Attitude – It is difficult for the woman to take her focus off what her sister has done wrong and focus instead on what she is doing wrong. She may associate particular practices that the hurtful sister had with the pain of what that sister did, and separate herself from others who maintain those same practices although they have done nothing to hurt her.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” {Ephesians 4:31-32}

In my experience, this particular cycle of sin is one of the most common that Christian women face, to one degree or another. Bitterness and its symptoms grieve the Holy Spirit, inhibit our walk with and love for the Lord, and hinder our love for others. If the Lord opens our eyes to even one of these symptoms in our hearts, then it’s our duty to obediently turn from our bitterness and back towards Him.

Recognizing the sin of bitterness for what it is, we must then look to Christ to deliver us from it. He knows what it means to face temptation and He holds the power to overcome it. It’s in abiding in Him and depending on His grace — knowing that while we must strive against sin we cannot kill it on our own — that victory is won, one temptation at a time.

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” {Ephesians 4:22-24}

“For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  {Hebrews 2:18}

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  {John 15:4-5}

1This list is adapted from the list given in The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace, p.88-90

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