I was drinking the poison of bitterness without realizing what I was doing.
I remember the bright red gas can in my grandfather’s garage that had a small skull and cross bones with the letters D A N G E R written in white towards the bottom of the aluminum container. Several adults had taken my hand and walked me over to the can, insisting that I look at the skull and cross bones.
“NEVER pick this can up, Shawn. And NEVER drink what is inside. Are you listening? This is poison and it will hurt you very badly and make you very sick. Do you understand?”
My head nodded up and down in the affirmative. Every time I would walk past the can during my preschool and early elementary years, those conversations would replay in my mind. A shiver would go down my spine as I imagined what might happen to me if I did not obey what I had been told.
It was in my mid-teens when I first took a sip of the poison that Scripture had clearly warned me would cause trouble to not only me, but to others.
This poison could not be seen or tasted.
It was not stored in a bright red can. It was deadly, however, and its side effects could not be hidden from those around me.
The poison I began to drink was bitterness.
Cheerleading tryouts happened in March of my sophomore year in high school for the next season. I had started the year with an extra forty pounds on my frame from comforting myself with food the year before. Making the cheering team would signal to me that someone else recognized the hard work I had put into losing half of the weight I had gained. I realized I still was not at my ideal weight, but losing twenty pounds had given me the confidence I needed to try out for the team.
I learned the tryout cheer and practiced the words and motions in front of my small mirror over my dresser. I couldn’t see my full body movements in the mirror so I concentrated on my smile and enthusiasm. Every afternoon, as soon as I got home from school, I would enthusiastically run through the cheer, trying to imagine what the judges would want from me to secure my spot on the team.
The day of tryouts finally came!
I walked into the room where the judges were seated and sat on the floor with the other girls who were trying out. I knew three of them would immediately get on the team, no matter what their tryout performance was like. They were juniors and sophomores who were already on the team. But that still left four spots! My hope rose!
I watched as several other girls went before me. Two of the girls stumbled over the words and had to ask the judges for help. I tried not to smile, but I felt that my place on the team was a sure thing.
After the second girl’s departure from the room, it was my turn. I was a little nervous, but I went to the designated tryout area in front of the judges with a big smile on my face. The weeks of practicing had made me well prepared. I had gone over the routine so many times that I didn’t have to think about my next move. The routine came effortlessly to me.
I could tell that the judges were smiling back at my enthusiasm. One of them clapped when I was done. I was beaming from ear to ear as my tryout performance came to an end.
I stepped out into the sunshine from the tryout room feeling as though my feet weren’t touching the ground!
I was going to be a cheerleader! I just knew it!
Waiting to find out the results was sheer agony. I knew the results were going to be posted by the lockers the next Friday morning. I could hardly sleep the night before. I couldn’t wait to read my name on that list!
I had to keep myself from running to the lockers the next morning. I came around the corner to see a group of girls already gathered around the list. Squeals and shrieks of excitement were escaping from their mouths. I stood behind them and started reading the names on the list.
The three girls that I knew would make it were listed first. I quickly scanned the rest of the names, starting with number four.
My name was nowhere on the list. I read the list again.
No, I hadn’t missed my name.
The last two names on the list made me gasp. Those names belonged to the two girls who had asked the judges for help.
I could feel the bitter feelings welling up inside me. How could those girls have made the team over me? They had come to the tryouts unprepared and forgot the cheer.
I started comparing my performance to theirs. The anger and feelings of justice I felt over them being chosen made my eyes well up with tears. I walked into my French class and cried all the way through the teacher’s lecture. With only four others in the class, I was made for a miserable sight of bitterness, but I didn’t care. My teacher stopped her talking and gave me a hug, which only made my tears come faster.
I comforted myself with my bitterness for the rest of the day and for a long time after that.
Here are three signs that you are drinking the poison of bitterness and what to do:
Your Mouth Is Exposing Your Heart
Take this challenge for one day. Make a mental note of what is most prevalent in your speech – does it overwhelmingly consist of complaints, gossip and pride or speech that is uplifting to others? If edifying speech is rare, ask the Lord if bitterness could be the source of the problem.
2. Your Attitude Is Not Gratitude
Bitterness and gratitude cannot reside in the same place. The Lord continually instructs us in the Psalms to remember all the wonderful things He has done for us. When I focus on what I believe He hasn’t done for me, bitterness clouds my perspective. The fastest way for an attitude adjustment is to take five minutes to remember how He has been faithful and make that our focus. I find a scrap of paper and start writing all those faithful acts of His down.
3. You’re Suffering From “Compare-i-tis
Why can’t I be as outgoing as her? Why don’t our kids behave like theirs? Why do we struggle financially when she gets to have her dream house? Why can’t my marriage be more like hers? Why does she get to be married while I am lonely and single?
This is the quickest way bitterness enters my heart! I start comparing myself to someone whom I believe God has been kinder to than me. Which one of us would ever say that a comparison session makes us feel better when it’s over? No one. The best way to beat “compare-i-tis” is to have Hebrews 12:14-15 memorized or written out on a 3×5 card and pray it out loud to the Lord:
Bitterness never affects just us.
It is like a highly contagious virus that spreads to those around us.
Our spiritual health depends on us stopping the poisoning effects of bitterness that may be going on in our lives.
I’d love to hear your feedback! Which of the three signs of bitterness poisoning can you relate to the most and why? Leave your comment below.
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