4 Ways to Spot a Root of Bitterness Growing in Your Heart

Every good gardener knows that you can’t chop weeds. Try to go after those buggers with a weed eater, and you’ll get nowhere in a hurry. You’ve got to rip weeds up by the roots. Otherwise, they will just keep coming back, and when they do, they’re bound to bring more and more of their weedy friends.

It’s no accident that God uses the image of a weed to describe a particular sin that has a way of creeping into all of our hearts . . . bitterness.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Heb. 12:15).

We need to take bitterness seriously.
Bitterness isn’t one of those big, flashy sins that you can see growing above the surface of our hearts. It may not show off like anger or produce big ol’ hunks of rotten fruit like disobedience. Bitterness is a sleeper sin. It grows beneath the surface, down deep in the soil of our hearts.

But the author’s warning in Hebrews is clear—that bitter root will one day sprout, and when it does, “many will become defiled.” In other words, if that bitter root keeps growing, there will be a harvest of pain for you and the people in your world. And because bitterness is a weedy sin that burrows in our hearts first, we can’t just cut off the behaviors that bitterness causes. (We will get to those in a minute.) We need the Lord’s help to yank that baby up by the root.

The pack that bitterness travels in:
Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Paul is describing a cluster of emotions here that come along with bitterness. I know from experience that bitterness almost always travels in a nasty pack. When bitterness is taking root in my heart, usually wrath is, too. The same goes for anger, slander, and malice.

Our pastor directed my husband and me to this passage as part of our premarital counseling. He described these emotions as a progression.

  • If we don’t deal with bitterness, that bitterness will progress toward extreme anger (that’s wrath).
  • If we don’t deal with the anger, we will start to clamor or demand what we want.
  • If that doesn’t work, we will start to talk bad about the object of our bitterness in the hopes of recruiting others to agree with and justify our feelings (that’s slander).
  • If that goes unchecked, we will eventually have a desire to cause harm to the person we are bitter toward.

All along the way, people are hurt, relationships are derailed, joy is stolen, and growth of the fruit of the Spirit is stunted.

Four Ways to Spot a Bitter Root:
With so much on the line, it is wise to ask ourselves often, “Am I bitter?” Since bitterness is a sleeper sin, the answer isn’t always obvious. Here are four questions to help you spot a bitter root.

1. Am I replaying the tapes?
Do you find yourself constantly replaying the tapes of a conversation with someone? When you interact with her, do you spend days rehashing every word or body language cue?

Bitterness flourishes in the soil of justification. I’ve found that when I fixate on my interactions with a specific individual, I’m looking for justification for the anger or frustration I’m feeling in a relationship. I’ve learned that if I find myself replaying the tapes often, I should see it as a red flag that something is off in my own heart.

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SOURCE: Crosswalk, Erin Davis