Yesterday, I was watching The Office (what else is new?), and there was a funny, but meaningful monologue delivered by Steve Carrell as Michael Scott. David Wallace (Michael’s boss) asks him to check out a small, local paper supply business to figure out how they can run them out of business. Michael goes in ready to take advantage of this family, but by the end really likes them and doesn’t want to take down their shop. Despite Michael’s extremely amusing attempts to thwart the collected information from getting to Mr. Wallace, Dwight convinces him it has to be done. After Michael delivers the list of Prince Family Paper’s biggest clients to the CFO, he addresses the camera and says:
I guess this is what they call a bittersweet moment. It is bitter because I slightly destroyed a… wonderful little family. But sweet, because David Wallace thought I did a good job. That’s why I hate bittersweet chocolate. I don’t even– What’s the point of that? Why not just sweet? I mean who- who are you helping?
William Shakespeare in his plays often used the “fool” to speak truth and wisdom. The people that were supposed to have it together, such as the kings and queens, often didn’t. King Lear and his court jester most infamously come to my mind. In comedy there is truth hidden in all the craziness and hilarity. Often, when you hear a comedian delivering a funny bit, you don’t just hear people laughing, you hear: “That is so you!”, “That’s totally Mom!” or “So true!”
Like Michael, I’m not a fan of “bittersweet” anything, including chocolate. Please don’t sell me on how amazing dark chocolate is for my health because actually it’s not. It’s like people that say they drink red wine because it helps their hearts. Sure you do…and I drink tea because of the antioxidants not because of the caffeine and the pound of sugar I add to it…
Bitterness can ruin good things. Over the few years I have thought a lot about Naomi in the Old Testament. Naomi was the mother-in-law of Ruth (there is whole book in the Bible dedicated to Ruth, an ancestor of Jesus. Definitely worth checking out, especially since it is on the shorter side). Naomi lived through a great many hardships: endured a famine, had to leave her homeland to survive, lost her husband, and outlived BOTH of her sons! That’s A LOT! After all this she decides to go home. She sends her daughters-in-law back to their families, but Ruth decides to stay with Naomi and make the journey with her. In Sunday School Naomi gets a bad rep because of a particular dramatic moment in Ruth 1, where she changes her name from “Naomi” to “Mara”. Naomi means “pleasant,” and Mara means “bitter.”
When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:19-21 NLT)
To be fair, she has had a rough life, but this is also extremely petty with a side of “drama queen” thrown in for good measure. I relate to Naomi. It is so easy for me to dwell on the negative things in my life and blow them out of proportion or find a way to blame God for the hand I’ve been dealt. We can experience sour things in life, but we don’t have to be poisoned by them.
Being chronically ill, I don’t always know when I’m going to have a good or bad day. I can make plans, hoping for the best, but I may have to cancel or postpone them until a later date. What sucks even more are the things that have passed me by because they were once in a lifetime and I missed it. I’m grieving a life that will never be. I can’t get the first 5 years of my marriage back. I’ve lost friends and potential friends because I wasn’t able to be a great friend. My career path…well, it’s easier to say what career path? To see friend after friend welcome sweet, precious babies into their lives, and know that wasn’t an option for me. What has happened, has happened. It is what it is. I can only move forward, but I would be lying if I didn’t say bitterness wasn’t constantly waiting each morning like a programmed alarm clock.
I find myself embittered when I feel slighted by a friend or rarely invited for hangouts. I want to ignore their texts or post amazing Instagram posts that declare, “YOU are the one missing out, not ME.” When I hear someone I love and care about is having a baby, resentment comes in and blinds me from all the amazing blessings I have to be thankful for in my life. When someone complains about how hard their new “diet” is and how they can’t wait for their cheat day in 2 days, I physically want to scream and throw something at him or her, while simultaneously stealing all the gluten from their house. However, every time (well maybe almost every time. As Hannah Montana sings, “Nobody’s Perfect”) I want to do something that proclaims a “righteous grudge” (is there really such a thing?), I hear a gentle voice whispering, “This isn’t you. This isn’t who you want to be. Don’t listen to the lies. I know you are hurting, but soften your heart.”
Some days it’s easier to keep back the acidic lava of bitterness, and other days not so much. It’s a discipline. Slowly each day my dam is getting stronger and more capable of banning resentfulness and pettiness from taking control in my heart.
Practical Ways to Build a Dam Against Bitterness
- Pray for your family and friends.
- Write letters and cards encouraging and celebrating in the triumphs of cherished ones.
- Spend time with God. Close out the world and hear His voice for a change.
- Don’t post to Instagram out of pettiness (or not “heart” photos because they didn’t “heart” yours. Just me? Sorry my pettiness runs deep…)
- Keep your heart soft. Don’t close yourself out from people you care about because your emotions are lying to you. I don’t care if you are an introvert or an extrovert. NO ONE is an island and NO ONE can go it alone.