7 Steps to Uprooting the 7 Roots of Bitterness & Reclaiming Grace
byDr. Beverly Carnes-Lowe & With Isabella Campolattaro MS
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See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)
The Bible uses the strongest possible language to describe the destructive power of bitterness—on ourselves and on others. More than ever, we can see the far-reaching poison of this sour fruit. Like unwelcome garden invaders, the remedy is to uproot the roots that cause bitter fruit to erupt. The task begins with discerning the underlying causes of bitterness and pulling them out decisively.
This book is a practical guide offering seven steps to help you uproot the seven roots of bitterness I’ve identified as the source of this destructive emotion.
What is Bitterness?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary[i] offers very descriptive definitions of ‘bitter’ beyond the taste of lemon peel or kale: “Distasteful or distressing to the mind,” “marked by intensity or severity,” and “caused by or expressive of severe pain, grief, or regret.”[ii] Bitterness sounds and is intense…and costly. In Hebrews 12:15, the apostle Paul begins by linking the loss of God’s grace with indulging bitterness. What’s at risk?
Grace is God’s unmerited forgiveness and blessing. While we are saved by grace, we do suffer the consequences of rebellion. By harboring bitterness, we miss the full and free enjoyment of God’s favor in our lives. Like a child who refuses a gift out of spite, indulging bitterness prevents us from living in the joyful freedom of loving favor, unhindered by hard hearts. Still, it’s important to note that even if we insist on remaining bitter, God is merciful and assures us that He can work good from all things.[iii] Still, we don’t want anything less than God’s best.
A High Cost
“Falling short of grace” is a very high price to pay for unchecked bitterness. In addition to the spiritual, emotional, and relational impact, pent up negative feelings are the well-documented source of many serious and chronic health issues[iv].
Paul goes on to say bitterness can defile many. The word defile means to spoil or make unclean. Other Bible translations use “hurt,” “corrupt,” “trouble,” and “poison.” Wow! Just as weeds can overrun a garden and the roots of a tree can wreak havoc on anything in its subtly powerful path, bitterness can harm many people in your immediate circle of influence and beyond. Finally, there’s no doubt that harboring bitterness prevents us from hearing clearly from God.
Again, the apostle Paul uses forceful language to underscore the perils of letting bitterness take root. We want to nip the roots of bitterness in the bud.
“Bitterness only hurts oneself. If you hate, you will give them your heart and mind. Don’t give those two things away.” Nelson Mandela
Uproot Bitterness Early
Let’s face it, those of us who have tasted bitterness don’t need a dictionary to know that whatever the source, this emotion is a powerful venom that can deeply hurt us and others. We’ve all experienced that truly toxic feeling of pushed-down pain, which sometimes seeps out or erupts when we least expect it.
We also know that bitterness is not a starting point. Like a plant, bitterness starts deep beneath the surface, eventually taking root and producing toxic fruit over and over again. That’s why pulling outing the roots of bitterness, like a pesky weed in your garden, is key to preventing this destructive growth cycle.
The 7 Roots of Bitterness
I’ve identified seven common roots of bitterness. This is not intended as a comprehensive list, and because these emotions are closely related, you’ll find overlap. Yet, in my practice and lifelong experience, these are common, readily identifiable roots to bitterness. Moreover, they are not necessarily progressive, but often are. In other words, left unchecked, one will lead to another, becoming progressively more entrenched and destructive:
Each of the following chapters will briefly unpack each root and include questions to help you uncover and address each root using a simple 7-step process.
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About the Book
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