Through the Windowpane
“For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred.
It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
― Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook
Early one morning, a dense fog rolled in across the fields surrounding our house. This rare occurrence inspired our youngest daughter to venture outside and take pictures. That’s how this dramatic photo of the barbed wire fence that separates our property from our neighbor’s was captured.
When I first saw the image, I thought I would like to write a post about it, but I didn’t have a clue what the topic should be. Later that week, the title “The Barb of Bitterness” popped into my head. I had recently copied some verses into my journal pertaining to bitterness, and they were still fresh on my mind. I wondered if the word “barb” had any spiritual significance, so I looked up its meaning. When I read the definition, an analogy began to form in my mind.
“A barb is a sharp projection near the end of an arrow, a fishhook, or similar item. It’s angled away from the main point so as to make extraction difficult.” ~The Oxford Dictionary.
In other words, it “catches” and deeply embeds itself in the flesh!
Bitterness does that too. It goes in easily, but it is so hard to get rid of! Angled away from the heart of God, a bitter spirit ruins relationships.
Bitterness Defiles Many
Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it, many are defiled.”
Who in their right mind would want to fall short of the grace of God? Not me, and I’m sure not you. And yet, that’s what happens when we let bitterness take root in our hearts. We can’t just expect it to stay hidden beneath the surface—out of sight, out of mind—and go about our daily business. It rears its ugly head, one way or another, usually through angry outbursts and unresolved conflict that deprives ourselves and others of the grace of God. That’s why it’s so important to hide verses about the consequences of bitterness in our hearts. Our only true line of defense against a bitter spirit is the word of God.
Bitterness Abuses with Hateful Words
Bitterness is often accompanied by a barb of cutting remarks—angry, hateful words aimed at the heart of another, whether said to their face or behind their back. Once hurled, however, angry words come back to haunt us, driving bitterness deeper.
Ephesians 4:31-32 admonishes us to be kind and forgive one another as we have been forgiven. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
If there is an antidote for bitterness, it is the spirit of forgiveness.
1 Peter 2 says: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
“The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” (Psalm 145:8) Can we be any less gracious than the Lord?
Freedom from Bitterness
Before the Lord brought bitterness to my attention, I had never really given much thought to how it takes hold of a heart, but I do know that in the past there were times I succumbed rather quickly to its all-consuming power. At this juncture in my life, however, I don’t want to be a bitter well, poisoning my family and friends; instead, I want to be an extension of God’s grace.
How about you?
We all have many reasons to be bitter each and every day. There are people in our lives who continually let us down or others who try to manipulate us. Or we may be bitter toward God for circumstances we can’t control or won’t accept. But once we become sensitive to the presence of bitterness and its attempt to penetrate our hearts, we will find it easier to reject it, repent of it, and respond to others in the spirit of grace.
I think one of the greatest gifts we can give our families is a heart free from the “barb of bitterness.”
You know, my husband and I needed some outside support a few weeks ago because Grandpa’s care has become even more challenging, so we called in the “big guns” and asked our Pastor to come over.
Over a down-home lunch of pulled pork, slaw and Kentucky Derby Pie, with coffee of course, we poured out our hearts and sought his advice for enduring the race that has been set before us – namely the “The Grandpa Marathon.”
When I had originally asked Pastor Steve if he would be willing to come over and talk with us, he made the comment that every family has to decide what they are going to do, i.e. when they might have to put their parent in the nursing home.
I laughed, and said. “No, Pastor Steve, you don’t understand. We took Grandpa out of the nursing home!” They couldn’t keep up with him . . .
Anyway, he was so gracious to come over and listen. A pastor who has the time to really listen these days is a rarity, but our Pastor has been around for a few years, ministered to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and God has given him the ability to discern human nature pretty well.
One of the amazing things he said, and something I know I had heard before, but forgot was this: the spirit doesn’t grow old. What Grandpa was like as a younger man is what he is now – plus one other major factor: Grandpa’s heart is redeemed!
Even though he can tend toward self pity and manipulation every now and then, especially when he wants things his way (like the day he asked me to feed him breakfast so he could write on his book), Grandpa is a new man compared to the one I grew up with. More than not, Grandpa relies on the Lord to get him through and before Pastor Steve left, he asked him what the good word for the day was. Grandpa said, “His will be done!” So pastor Steve prayed with Grandpa that His perfect will will be done.
And you know what? I cling to those words. We’re going though more changes with Grandpa and I’m relying on the Lord to get us through. I need to know that God’s perfect will is being done for my family.
He also prayed that our house would be a house of prayer. There are so many variables when you’re taking care of an elderly person. How important it is for my husband to remember to pray at the beginning of each new day. We never know what it may hold.
Come to think of it, do any of us know what a day may hold?
All we can say is, “Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done.”
Sometimes Grandpa is awake in the morning, like today.
Other days, he practically sleeps through breakfast. Those days I feed him his cereal because his hand just can’t find his mouth.
He’s always awake at lunch time, though. So today, I had the brilliant idea of switching his meals – breakfast for lunch and lunch for breakfast.
He can easily pick up a sandwich in the morning verses navigating a spoon through sloppy bran cereal which somehow pauses mid air and hangs there until I yell, “Eat your cereal Grandpa!”
We’ve tried bran muffins before but they aren’t as good for his digestion as bran cereal straight out of the box with almond milk. So I made Grandpa a sandwich and cut it into eight separate pieces so he didn’t have to hold it all at one time. Then I covered it with a lid to keep it fresh and so he wouldn’t be able to see it before I explained the change in routine! (You’ve always got to be thinkin’ about repercussions ahead of time around here!)
But how was I going to present this new concept to Grandpa? I mean,who wants to eat lunch at breakfast time – every day?
As I stood before him, all cheerful and upbeat – ready to present my case – these words came out of my mouth (with no premeditation on my part, I assure you):
“Grandpa, were you in the air force?”
He nodded “yes.”
“Well the air force is sort of like the army, right?” I said.
He nodded “yes” again.
“Well, from now on, you’re eating lunch at breakfast time and breakfast at lunchtime!”
He nodded “yes” again, didn’t even bat and eyelash, and continued eating his prunes . . .
Wow! He’s totally on board! I can’t believe it!
I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to my work.
A few minutes later, however, I looked over at Grandpa and noticed that he was eating his sandwich with a fork and using his non-dominate hand to do it!!!
Unbelievable . . . This guy just amazes me. From one day to the next, I never know what I’m going to get to work with!
Does it matter on the “Eternal Plan?” Not really, I tell myself.
Eric says, “Well that went pretty well… but just wait until lunchtime!”
Gulp!!! I hadn’t thought of that. He’s right, of course. It’ s one thing to sleep through bran cereal, it’s another to be fully awake and have to stomach that stuff every day.
Eric told me this morning that “flexibility” is my middle name. I just hope it’s an inherited trait – coming from Grandpa, himself. If not, he’s in the army now!
I love the gardens the Lord grows—uncultivated fields containing a variety of wildflowers, grasses, and insects, not usually seen in everyday vegetable plots or flowerbeds. Years ago, when we lived on a farm in Northern Illinois, we had a big garden that was surrounded on two sides by alfalfa fields. Because of the close proximity, we ended up with a small strip on the north side that could best be described as “wild.” It was filled to overflowing with milkweed, red clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, sunflowers (from a previous sunflower house project), and Daisy Fleabane (a plant related to the Shasta Daisy with much smaller flowers).Wildflowers thrived in our garden, and the only cultivation needed was an occasional yanking—roots and all—of an invasive goldenrod that would have completely taken over if left to its own devices.
One fall, a single milkweed seed dispersed from a weather-beaten pod took hold in what was my husband’s strawberry bed. I have loved milkweed ever since I was a little girl, so I wasn’t about to evict a lone straggler. But three years later, that single plant gave birth to more than 60 offspring—all in very close quarters! It was an impressive habitat, and I was fascinated with the insect life that the milkweed supported.
One of the most interesting things I observed about milkweed is the way the large pink composite flowers bloom in succession rather than simultaneously. As the stalks grow taller, the composite flowers open— one after another— over a period of five weeks or so. This abundant food source not only offers nourishment for adult insects, but developing young as well.
I nicknamed my milkweed “The Prairie Lilac.” When friends approached our garden patch, they were surprised to smell a fragrance similar to that of lilacs. The scent is heavenly and it’s no surprise that it attracts a wide variety of insects. My husband commented that he never knew milkweed smelled so good. I believe that’s probably true for most people.
By mid-June ants could be seen trying to sip nectar from the tight-fisted blossoms before the florets even opened. Soon they were joined by bright red milkweed beetles searching for mates. Honey bees performed a tap dance of sorts, gingerly pulling their legs off the sticky flowers as they, too, drank deeply of the succulent nectar. We also saw milkweed bugs, yellow and black swallowtails, a Great Spangled Fritillary (butterfly), Hummingbird moths, earwigs (they love to sleep like crowded sardines in the folds of the leaves), ladybugs (the larvae and adults), yellow jackets, bumble bees, wasps, flies, and dragonflies.
Monarch butterflies flitted and floated among the broad green leaves of the tall milkweed stalks secretively laying their eggs. It never ceases to amaze me how the tri-colored caterpillars delight the child in all of us. Whenever we found them, we would place them in ball jars and feed them fresh milkweed leaves until they underwent the miraculous change—the anticipated moment when shimmering gold chrysalises waxed transparent, revealing the newly formed butterflies within. After their wings hardened, we released them on the summer breeze to soar high above our beloved milkweed patch—far beyond the border of our state—southward across unfamiliar territory over hundreds of miles of rough terrain to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Seeing them fly skyward caused me to contemplate the journey of life, and the beauty of a changed soul.
“For I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me..”~Galatians 2:20
Yes, metamorphosis is the symbol of the Christian life—a journey across uncharted territory, over miles of rough terrain, through life’s circumstances—the chrysalis of God’s transforming power. And just as milkweed flowers bloom in succession, so too our hearts are changed, not in an instant, but over time as we look to our Creator for our spiritual sustenance and the miracle of old things made new.