Ephesians 4:31 says to, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away fro you, with all malice.”
This weekend concludes the 2018 World Cup. The final game this year lands on my oldest son’s 24th birthday. This particular sport, and the World Cup specifically have played a very interesting role in my life. Some people might have a great World Cup story about something awesome that happened during a game, or tales of a player that had an outstanding year. “Remember when…” and so it goes. For me, the fact that I am looking forward to going to a friend’s house to watch the game this weekend, is nothing short of a miracle. It is truly proof that God uses all things.
There was a time that I would have told you that I hated soccer. Haaaaaaated it. The truth of the matter was not that I actually hated soccer, but I hated what it represented for me. To me, soccer represented being unloved, being ignored, and being abandoned. It was a picture of a dream left to die. Never in a million years did I believe that I would get over the bitterness I was harboring towards the sport itself.
So how did my hostility towards soccer begin? Well, it began 24 years ago. It began with the birth of my first son. Everything was then memorialized for me in a photo where I put the focus of my anger and resentment for many years. It encapsulated my emotion from that period in my life and stood as continual fuel to the fire of enmity blazing within me.
Having my first son was definitely one of the most incredible times of my life. His little fingers and toes, his newborn cry that I can still hear in my mind, he was perfect. I was a mommy for the first time. I held my sweet baby boy having hopes of a future with his father. We were young, I was 18 and Rob was 21. We were friends at the time and we “hung out” and we thought we were going to be able to parent this little guy together as we lived separate from one another. In my heart, I wanted a long-term relationship with Rob and I wanted him to want to marry me.
After weeks and months of trying to stay friends, Rob going back out of state to college and me “waking up” and realizing that he truly only wanted to be friends who had a kid together, I knew that it was over. I couldn’t be friends with him because my heart was attached, and now it was broken. It was later that I came across a photo that we had taken in the hospital.
It has come to be known as “THE World Cup Photo” in our home. A picture of me and Rob with Colby, still in the hospital after his birth, and Rob wearing a World Cup t-shirt. But now in this later look at the photo there was something different about it to me. A different aspect to the photo that stood out to me now in the trauma of my hurting heart. (It was just a few weeks ago with the onset of this year’s World Cup that Colby realized that that was what Rob was watching in this photo. He gave a joking and unneeded thumbs up absolving Rob of his lack of attention in the moment it was taken.)
Yes, we were there in the picture together. Yes, we are sitting on the hospital bed together. Yes, I knew that the soccer game was on the tv at the time in my hospital room. What I saw now was the distance between us. I saw that I was smiling for the photo and engaged into the life of my new baby, and Rob was…watching soccer. Now for all rights and purposes, I do get it. It only happens every four years. It’s fun and exciting, like the Olympics are to me. I call myself an “Olympic American.” I get super patriotic about it all. But in my little opinion, this was “just” soccer.
When it comes to tv or watching shows around my house we call it “man’s disease,” although I notice that my daughter has the same strange affliction. When the tv is on with a movie, show, or sport, something happens to Rob. He can disappear. His brain is gone. His ears don’t work. It can be as if he is lost. (This is one of the reasons we don’t have regular tv or cable!). So in the infamous photo, Rob is watching his favorite sport. The “Olympics” of its kind. And he has man’s disease. So in the picture you see me holding and tending to the baby, and Rob sitting next to me, but not present with me.
I was filled with rage. I hated him. I hated him for not wanting to be with me. And I hated, oh how I HATED soccer! Especially World Cup soccer. I wanted nothing to do with it ever. It was at that moment that secretly and quietly in my own heart and mind I made a vow with myself that my son would never ever play soccer. He would not have the same love for the sport that his father had and I was going to strip him of that bonding joy that a father and son could share.
“Hatred stirs up strife…” (Proverbs 10:12)
So there has been strife. Years and years of ugly hostility between me and Rob. Most of it was so stupid and was driven by fear, anger, misunderstandings, immaturity on both our parts and a lack of true communication.
The problem is that hatred doesn’t just stay as internal hatred. It is not silent and it transforms over time into something more gross…bitterness. You have probably heard the old adage, that bitterness (or hatred) is “like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The next predicament for the the “bitter pill swallower” is that you can be so blinded by your emotions that you don’t even realize what it happening. You don’t feel the transformation taking place. When a seed begins to grow and take root in your heart, it is so tiny in the beginning. It can take weeks or months or sadly, years to be able to recognize this on your own. Especially if you are not filtering out your emotions, actions and responses by God’s word. There must be a standard.
For me, I thought, “Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness…” (Isaiah 38:17). I thought that I had a right to be angry and bitter. I thought I deserved to feel that way. I wanted Rob to pay a price for his actions, but I couldn’t see what was happening to myself through all the mud, both that I was slinging and what I was wallowing in.
I didn’t see how my heart was becoming so ugly. I didn’t understand how this could separate me from God. I didn’t want to believe that He would be the one with the final answer in my situation and that He was already at work in my life and in Rob’s
Hebrews 12:14-15 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any room of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (Emphasis mine). I was defiled, marred, impure, and it was my own doing. I swallowed the nasty pill. I let it take root. And I thought that I was going to forever live with the negative effects of my actions.
Here is where the Lord is so sweet, and where you finally get to see and know Him more fully in your life. Here is where His cleansing word, when you take it in, comes to purify, to make right and to redeem. It is when you come to know for certain that God does have a plan for your future and fills you with hope in Him.
Isaiah 38:17 does start out speaking of King Hezekiah, and his words in thinking that, “Indeed it was for my (Hezekiah’s) own peace that I had great bitterness; But You (God) have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”
King Hezekiah was given grace and God’s love was poured out over him, his life being extended. He had been forgiven. When I realized this too in my life, God’s word and His love was poured over me as well. I was given grace in my own life and the broken pieces were being mended back together. God forgave me and I want to be obedient to His word and forgive others.
So I chose to forgive Rob. I chose to allow him back into my life and into Colby’s. And like a rushing wind, God got busy with what He had wanted to do in us all along and He brought us together under His terms. We surrendered. And now, many years later, we are getting ready to watch the World Cup together, on purpose and with joy in our hearts.
Have you seen, or are you willing to ask God to show you if there is any bitterness hidden in your heart. Psalm 139 is a prayer that ends by asking God to use your own heart to show you what your hidden sins are. Bitterness is a sin. Hatred is a sin. It is an impurity in your heart and it separates you from the Lord.
What muddy waters are you still treading in? What areas of hurt in your heart have you been unwilling to give to God?
Trust Him to be gracious to you, as He has always been with me, to tenderly weed out your heart. He will prompt you and you will know what has got to go. This will draw you closer to God and will take you on the journey of redemption in your own life. You are never left with the beginning, “Hatred stir[ring) up strife…”, but you are brought all the way through to completion.
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” (Proverbs 10:12)