Overcoming Bitterness

In 1993, a Taiwanese company imported a product that would change the taste buds of young Americans for the next several years. This product was not for the faint of heart. Many times it was used as a rite of passage among children to see how long they could handle the taste without breaking down into tears, or how long they could hold it in their mouths all while acting like it wasn’t even that bad.

Have you figured out what the mystery product is yet? Here are a few more clues.

It’s a hard circular candy that was named after a missile used by the military.

It comes in five distinct flavors.

The answer, of course, is the Warhead.

This candy was very popular in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s as it had kids all over America in tears.

For me, this candy separated the men from the boys. My neighborhood friends and I would go down to the store and get a giant three-pound bag of the assorted flavors, and then we’d begin having our contests. We competed daily in three different competitions to see who would be hailed the “Warhead King.” The challenges were as follows,

1. How many Warheads one could eat in five minutes.
2. How many lemon flavored Warheads one could have in their mouth at once. (For some reason we dubbed the yellow Warhead the sourest of the bunch)

3. And lastly, the holy grail of the competition, how many Warheads one could fit in their mouth at the same time.
The last contest was the main competition, the other two were fun, and all but everyone was most excited about the final portion of the game. The record that we had was 23 Warheads at once. I remember this because I was the one who did it and growing up in Chicago the number 23 was the answer to everything (shout out to my hero Michael Jordan!) I completed this heroic act and was the talk of the neighborhood for the rest of the week. Being dubbed “Warhead King” was cool and all but it had one slight problem. My taste buds were completely shot. We had a BBQ at church that weekend, and I couldn’t taste a thing. The burgers tasted like garbage, the chips burned my mouth, and everything tasted bitter. No matter what I ate for the next few days everything was ruined; all sacrificed for one afternoon of fun. The Warheads had ruined every interaction that I had with food that week.
This story made me think. Bitterness is like the Warhead to our mind. All of us have experienced bitterness. Whether it be from a past relationship, a less than amicable split from an employer, a friend, or problems with a church, something was done to us to give us a feeling of anger, jealousy, frustration, and sometimes pure hatred towards someone or something that has done us wrong.

The issue with bitterness is that it doesn’t just affect us in one aspect of our life, it always spills over and affects anything else in our life that is good and ruins it.

In my life today, I’m experiencing extreme bitterness towards the church. I’m at the point where I can’t even walk into another church facility without bitterness rising inside of me. Even when encouraging things are being said by a pastor, or people come up to me and genuinely ask me how I’m doing, everything seems negative in my eyes.

My bitterness is affecting my relationship with God and the church to the point where I can’t walk into any church without instantly feeling like I don’t want to be there.

I write this because I know I’m not the only one who experiences this feeling. Maybe for you, it isn’t with a church. Maybe it’s something an old friend did to you, and now every single relationship you get into feels like it’s the same thing and something you despise.
Or maybe you and your past employer ended on bad terms, and it’s spilling over into your new job, and you aren’t the same person.

Whatever the situation may be, know that bitterness changes who you are and ultimately leads to negative thinking.

There are so many parallels between eating sour candy and having a bitter feeling towards someone in your life, but there is a part of bitterness that cannot be compared to it. If you pop a Warhead in your mouth and you can’t taste anything for a few hours that affects nobody but yourself.  Having bitterness in your heart affects every single person around you.

Being bitter affects everyone you come in contact with because you essentially have turned into a cynical version of yourself. People might not treat you the same way, they may stop inviting you around or may stop associating with you. Who wants to be around someone who’s constantly bitter?

All of these things can bring more fuel to your bitter fire, but you have the opportunity to put out the fire before it even starts.

So how do we overcome bitterness?

I do not claim to be an expert, as I’m currently going through this at this moment, but this is a compiled list of things that people have told me in counseling to help me move forward. My prayer is that it will help you too.

1. Recognize you have a problem
This is your classic “snowball” effect, once you have realized you have a problem it becomes easier to work towards overcoming bitterness. Here’s how I realized that I have an extreme bitterness problem; I didn’t find joy in the things I used to. For me I loved going to church, being around the kids and the youth of the church, talking to parents, volunteers, participating in church events. Bitterness made me turn cynical towards the things I loved most.
2. Own up to your part.
When a bad situation happens, we tend to blame someone else for everything and give ourselves the excuse to be upset. When we own up to our part, we have a better likelihood of moving on. Many great people use the “post mortem” tactic to help them improve on mistakes for next time they encounter a similar problem.

3. Forgive
This is tough, but to move out bitterness we have to introduce forgiveness. Whoever caused this problem, it’s imperative that you forgive them to successfully move on. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to make everything okay with that person; it’s just a huge step in letting that wound heal instead of picking at the scar that was formed.

4. Seek Help
Have a trusted mentor, counselor, or pastor that you trust? If you don’t, it’s helpful in life to have one. If you do, it may be a good idea to seek an outside opinion about your specific situation. Having someone who is outside of the issue and not on either side can usually give you advice from a perspective that you couldn’t see yourself.

5. Seek God
I wanted to put this option last for two reasons:
Some people who read these articles are not followers of Jesus, and that’s okay.
For people like myself who are followers of Jesus, this is the most important step.
When we seek God and ask for help He will be there for us.
To end this article I wanted to quote David in Psalms as he wrote this passage to God, and I believe all of us reading this should use this verse in our prayers.

Psalm 51:10
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Thanks for reading
-John