Recently I was stunned by two observations while attending a reunion of old friends I hadn’t seen in many years.
The first observation was that virtually everyone had dealt with some kind of crisis or loss since I’d last seen them. A few had gone through a health crisis, such as a heart attack or kidney failure. Others were grieving over lost loved ones or reversals in their career. And several had experienced the pain of divorce or difficulties with their children.
This first observation was a great reminder that we ALL “go through stuff” in life. No one is exempt. Your trials may be different from mine, but we’re all in the same boat in many of the tough experiences in life.
However, the second observation was just as eye-opening: While everyone had gone through adversity of one kind or another, their reactions and outcomes were entirely different. Put succinctly, adversity had caused some of these friends to become BITTER, while others had clearly become BETTER.
This same principle is seen in nature, where fire causes completely different outcomes in the elements it touches. When wood is placed in the fire, it turns to ashes. However, when gold is placed in the fire, it is refined into purer gold (Job 23:10). The fire doesn’t determine the outcome, but simply reveals the character of what it touches.
Of course, people aren’t inanimate objects like wood or gold. We’ve been given freewill, the power to choose our attitudes and responses to the events we face in life. Because of their choices and their character, two people can experience exactly the same kind of trauma, with totally different outcomes.
I’m intrigued by how God turned things around for many Bible heroes who experienced hardships or losses. Job…Joseph…Naomi…David and many others could be cited.
Naomi recognized that her losses had made her bitter, and she even wanted her friends to call her by the new name, “Bitter” (Ruth 1:20). I admire Naomi in this, because few people are that self-aware or that honest about their condition. Bitter people seldom seem to realize their malady.
It is also very encouraging that Naomi’s friends were determined to see the best in her, and they never called her by the very unflattering label she had chosen for herself. Instead, they continued to call her Naomi, which means sweet or pleasant.
I hope you have friends like that. There is no greater asset if you need to make the journey from bitter to better.
Fortunately, by the end of Naomi’s story, both her heart and her circumstances had changed in a positive way. Although she admittedly had been bitter at certain points in her journey through life, she didn’t stay that way.
Isn’t it great to know that bitter people—whether Naomi or you and I—can move on toward better attitudes and better days? No matter what we’ve gone through or are going through today, we can entrust our lives to the Lord. No matter how hard our hearts have become, we can ask Him to soften them so we don’t remain captives to bitterness.
Even though many Bible characters experienced a joyful new beginning when they got unstuck from their bitterness, others never learned the keys of going from bitter to better. For example, Esau is cited as a tragic example of someone who never recovered from the “root of bitterness” that had become entrenched in his heart (Hebrews 12:14-17).
I hope you haven’t allowed life’s traumas and losses to make you hardhearted, cynical, or bitter. But if you have, there’s still time for a turnaround. The poison of bitterness can be replaced by its antidote—grace and forgiveness.
So drop the excuses for your bad attitudes. If you’ll let Him, God stands ready to give you a heart transplant, and that will transform your circumstances too.
I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.