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Musings on Grace and Bitterness

Another Father’s Day has come and gone; the second Father’s Day since our middle son passed away.  It is, as all the special days in our lives are now, bittersweet.  Isn’t that an interesting word?  Bittersweet.  I never gave that word much thought before October, 2 years ago.  I appreciate that word now, as it so adequately and succinctly describes how I feel about almost everything.  There is always a sadness in the midst of the joy; a heaviness resting atop the light-heartedness; a struggle that makes play more akin to work; bitterness alongside the sweet.

I’ve come across a scripture verse I’m very familiar with several times in the past few weeks – Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  This is interesting to me in light of the grief, and all that goes with it – sorrow, anger, frustration, depression, did I say anger?, questioning, doubts – I’ve been dealing with since our son’s passing.  It makes me question some of my feelings.  It makes me wonder how easily this grief, and all that goes along with it, can morph into resentment or even bitterness.  My first thought, though, this morning when I reread that verse is, “Obviously, we can miss the grace of God”, or it wouldn’t say, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God”.  How do we miss the grace of God?  What does that even mean?  Do we stumble around in our grief or hurts or fear or even happiness, looking so inward at the overwhelming feelings that we somehow miss the grace of God?  And, what exactly is the grace of God?  These are questions I don’t really have answers to, but I think I should since the scripture clearly infers that we can “miss the grace of God”.  For the most part, I’ve always heard the “grace of God” defined as “the unmerited favor of God”.  I’ve heard a few say that grace is the God-given ability and power to do that which God commands us to do; those I’ve heard say that, define mercy as the unmerited favor of God.  I’ve heard, and have said myself, things like “I don’t have the grace to do that”, or the opposite, “I have the grace to do that”, meaning God has given the power, patience, endurance, etc. to do such and such.  The scripture that comes to mind regarding this position on the grace of God is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for  you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  I am certainly in a place of weakness.  And, I really don’t want to “miss His grace”.  I believe His grace is sufficient for me, and I will trust that for as long as I am seeking Him, I will not miss His grace.

But, that wasn’t really what I was thinking of when I was musing on the verse in Hebrews.  I was thinking about the depth of pain, sorrow and anger that I have been experiencing over the past 20 months, and wondering if I could allow that to become resentment or bitterness……….dare I say it?………toward God.  I know there are many different theologies and doctrines about accidents and death and the like, and I have had a few conversations with people about this, most having not really ever spent much time thinking about it, as it has not touched their lives personally.  When death touches your life, like losing a child touches your life, all the platitudes, untested doctrine and rote theology become irritants poured out on an exposed and raw wound.  They are anything but helpful.  But, I have been thinking before the Lord about my own heart and what is going on in it, aside from the words of advice offered by well-meaning friends and family.  I want my heart to be right before the Lord; I don’t want a “root of bitterness” to shoot up in my heart, causing trouble and defiling many.   As Psalms 19:14 says, I want “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heartto “be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”  The meditation of my heart is what I have struggled with over the past 20 months.  Occasionally, the words of my mouth have been unacceptable, but “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”, so I’m not terribly disturbed by an occasional outburst.  I’m in the mind of examining my heart today; exploring the depths of the feelings to discover the root of it all.  Of course, my reflexive answer to that is “PAIN” is the root of it all; I have a great deal of pain in my heart from losing a cherished and beloved son.  But, how quickly, or how easily, can legitimate pain become resentment and/or bitterness?  And, what is the answer to preventing that from happening?  Those are two of the questions I’m asking myself lately.  I don’t have answers, except to say that I know I’m not there.  I don’t have bitterness in my heart toward anyone, that I know of.  I have deliberately and consistently thanked God for all He is in my life, partly to help me not become bitter toward Him for what He allowed in my life 20 months ago.  But, the temptation is there.  The ugly temptation to settle into the anger and let it rule my thoughts, my feelings, and ultimately my life, lurks in my thoughts sometimes.

The accountant we’ve used for the past few years seemed like a very angry man to me the first time I met him.  His demeanor could have been intimidating if I hadn’t had such a sense that there was some deep hurt behind the anger.  I presumed the anger was a result of a nasty divorce or something like that.  After our first couple of bumpy conversations, we found a rhythm and managed to communicate effectively, though he still gave off a “don’t even try to get me to be nice” vibe!  The first email conversation I had with him after we lost our son revealed to me the hurt behind the intense anger of this man – he too had lost a child.  That one email message sent a red flag up in my heart and mind, warning me of the dangerous possibility of sliding into the miry pit of constant anger over our loss.  There have been times the temptation to do that has been almost irresistible, but the hatred I have for unchecked anger keeps me resisting that temptation.  Even as I write that, though, I realize the anger has been lessening significantly over the past few months, a fact I am very thankful for.  I have peace more often than not, and I am truly grateful for the good in my life.

“Grace is the overflowing favor of God, and you can always count on it being available to draw upon as needed.”  Oswald Chambers

“Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”   Hebrews 2:18


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