I pause with my hands on the steering wheel to suck in a few breaths of air, then scan the church parking lot. Daphni’s red Toyota sits a few stalls away, glimmering in the early evening sun. A wave of bitterness washes over me as our previous conversation comes to mind. I shake it off.
Forgive and forget. Love, joy, peace, patience.
And if not love, a steady dose of tolerance–or duck tape.
Yeah, I know. Not loving, but Lord, help me out here. You remember what she said. You’ve seen how many times she’s slammed on me, with that painted smile of hers and those narrowed eyes–as if she’s Your gift to the entire congregation.
A familiar passage fills my find, adding a twinge of guilt to my already heightened senses.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46 NIV)
I sigh, jump out and lock my van. Footsteps shuffle behind me. I turn and smile as Yana approaches with her three children.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” She smoothes a stray lock of hair in place.
“Absolutely lovely.” I lift my voice to hide the bitterness fermenting within and cast a glance to the metal door leading to the fellowship hall. Forgive and forget. Gentleness, patience…love. Good thing love is an action, not an emotion.
But then there is David from the Old Testament.
* * *
Relax, that story was fictional. I’m not secretly seething every time I go to church, but I have struggled with bitterness and unforgiveness on occasion. And in those moments when my blood boils and negative thoughts fill my head, I console myself with the oft quote phrase, “Love is an action, not an emotion.” But then I read 2 Samuel 1.
For years, David served Saul faithfully, but Saul mistreated him again and again. Saul promised David his daughter’s hand in marriage if he killed the Philistine warrior, Goliath, but come time, he gave her to someone else. Even so, David remained faithful, playing music for Saul when agitation set in. Over time, Saul’s anger and jealousy grew, until he began to hunt his trusted servant. David fled, hiding in caves, among the Philistines, and where ever he could to flee Saul’s wrath. Again and again, he had the opportunity to slay Saul, but again and again he refused, vowing to never harm the Lord’s anointed.
Rationally, we can accept this. David doesn’t murder Saul because he’s trusted God to exact revenge. It’s easy to lay down your sword if you think someone else will pick it up. But then we get to 2 Samuel 1 and read about the moment David learns of Saul’s death.
Put yourself in David’s position. You’ve lived on the run for so long, you can’t remember what peace feels like. You’ve been slandered, cheated and mistreated, and now, after countless nights of anguished prayers, your enemy is dead. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you rejoice or mourn?
David mourned. Granted, much of his mourning was for the loss of Jonathan, his dearest friend, who was also killed. But he mourned for Saul as well. In fact, he didn’t just mourn. He composed a song. (You can read it here.)
In the NLT, he calls Saul Israel’s pride and joy. Does that sound like an embittered man?
As I read 2 Samuel 1 this morning, having followed the story from 1 Samuel 16, when David was anointed, to 1 Samuel 17 when David slew Goliath, to 1 Samuel 19 when Saul tried to kill him, and on and on, I was a bit taken aback to see David display such genuine love for his enemy. One question burned: How did he do it? How did he overcome the bitterness I know had to spark at least on one occasion. What enabled him to forgive so deeply, so completely, that his bitterness turned to love?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could travel back in time and ask him ourselves? Unfortunately, we can’t. But we can compare and contrast his attitude and responses from other biblical characters, including Saul, who took the opposite approach, and allowed bitterness to consume them. But I’m not going to be able to do that in one post. (Otherwise I’d break the cardinal rule of blogging–never go over 1,000 words. lol) Over the next week or so, we’ll talk about the effects of bitterness, and steps we can take to move past it.
Emotions are a funny thing. Often it seems they have a mind of their own, and we poor, emotionally-driven humans are helplessly carried along in their unpredictable current. But I don’t think that’s the case, at least, not entirely. Our emotions are largely triggered by our thought processes, and vice versa. As we align our thoughts with the truth of God’s word, and turn to Him in prayer, He begins to align our emotions to match. It’s not a get-happy-quick deal. Quite the contrary. It takes diligence and determination, but I believe bitterness free living is possible.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this, and make sure to come back next post to discuss the destructiveness of bitterness. When we’re fueled by anger, we feel like we have the upper hand, but in truth, we are enslaved.
But Christ wants so much more for us. He died to set us free!