There is a common ailment that is spreading rapidly in the US. It is called Gastroesophageal reflux disease; better known as Acid Reflux. This is caused by partially digested food and stomach fluids moving back up into the esophagus (throat) from the stomach. When this happens, a person experiences a burning sensation in their throat and chest. This may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth. There are a number of things that can cause this condition. Stress, the use of alcohol, smoking, and obesity are a few of the common causes. If this condition is left untreated it can cause damage to the throat. If you have ever experienced this condition, you know how uncomfortable and irritating it can be.
The Bible talks about a spiritual form of acid reflux disease. It is called bitterness. Bitterness is experienced when some perceived injustice or hurt occurs in a person’s life. There are several factors that contribute to the onset of bitterness. When a person feels that they have been betrayed by another person, bitterness can set in. When a person feels that they have been intentionally harmed by another person, bitterness can set in. When a person experiences discouragement or disappointment, bitterness can set in.
Just like with acid reflux, left untreated bitterness can do internal damage to a person. Bitterness damages a person’s soul; making them hard and unforgiving. Bitterness distorts a person’s perspective on life. Instead of seeing and rejoicing in the positive things, a bitter person focuses only on the negative. Bitterness damages a person’s relationships; both with God and others. It becomes a barrier to trust and vulnerability. The person who hangs onto bitterness pays a high price.
In Ephesians 4, Paul challenges us to get rid of bitterness, along with a few other detrimental attitudes. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
There are several things that a person can do to deal with acid reflux. Taking antacids will deal with the immediate symptoms, but will not cure the problem. To cure the problem a person needs to watch what they eat, lose weight and reduce their stress level.
Paul gives us a way to deal with the real cause of bitterness, and not just mask the symptoms. Be positive and proactive in your interactions with others. Much hurt is caused by what we say. Words are very powerful. Take control of your speech. Weigh your words carefully before you let them escape into the environment, never to be retrieved. When we encourage others and seek their best, our attitude is transformed. We stop focusing so much on ourselves and begin to value others, as Christ does.
When you become aware of the beginning of bitterness, take action right away. Our tendency is to savor our bitterness for a while. Don’t we have the right to feel hurt or abused? We cannot control our reaction to negative circumstances in our lives, but we can control our response. If we allow bitterness to linger, it will begin to take control of our heart. Instead, as soon as we are aware of it, take steps to eliminate it.
Practice kindness and compassion. These are the greatest antidotes to bitterness. Not only should we seek the best for others, we need to think the best of others. We have the ability to be nice on the outside and angry and bitter on the inside. Genuine compassion begins with the attitude of our heart.
Actively forgive. Forgiveness is so hard for us. We want others to pay for their wrong doing. We want them to feel some of our pain. Forgiveness is letting go of our “right” to judge the other person. Christ had every right to condemn us, but instead he forgave us unconditionally and without holding back. When we consider how Christ has forgiven us, there is nothing that we cannot forgive in another person.
Acid reflux is persistent. If you let down your guard, it quickly flairs up again. So it is with bitterness. This is not something we can deal with once and forget about. It requires constant effort to recognize and defuse bitterness before it has a chance to take hold and do damage.