Choose Better, Not Bitter

"All it took was a heart examination and the Holy Spirit’s prompting to turn my bitter into better." by Kathleen Bustamante

“Christians are a bunch of judgmental hypocrites.” This is an accusation often uttered against believers by nonbelievers, but what does God think about Christians who issue the same charge against their brothers and sisters in Christ? 

Years ago, I attended a women’s Christmas dinner at my church. As hundreds of chattering, well-dressed ladies who all seemed to know one another milled about before the music began, I searched for my friend, who promised to save me a seat at her table. Once I found her, I plopped down, relieved to detect a familiar face.

Finally settled, I noticed the band of four or five women sitting across from me. I had heard this group of well-connected ladies referred to as “the inner circle.” And even though I had been attending the church for years, I had never met any of them. So, during a lull in conversation I gathered the courage to introduce myself to these women, whose names I knew but who knew nothing about me.

They greeted me politely and then returned to chatting amongst themselves, never bothering to make conversation with those of us who were not part of their clique. Rebuffed, I felt anger swell within me. Who did they think they were? These “spiritual elite” clearly believed they were better than the rest of us. At that moment a seed of bitterness took root deep in my heart.

It wasn’t the last time I would be offended by someone at church. I began to tally perceived attacks by others. A legalistic comment here. A judgmental quip there. After suffering a heartbreaking miscarriage followed by agonizing infertility, a fellow churchgoer suggested these trials were a result of unrepentant sin in my life.

The tentacles of bitterness stretched longer and deeper.

Finally, one Saturday evening I told my husband I’d had enough and that I wanted to try another church the next day. He agreed, but that morning we awoke and realized that we had forgotten to set the alarm. It seemed we missed our opportunity that week to attend a more perfect church. It wasn’t, however, too late to attend our imperfect church. Resigned, we put on our clothes and made the drive.

Worship had already begun, so we slinked into the back row. I gazed at the congregation of judgmental and inhospitable sinners, rationalizing my bitterness toward them.

Worship ended and the pastor replaced the music team on the stage. His text that morning was from Colossians 3:13–15 (NIV):

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

He explained that believers will offend one another and that we shouldn’t be surprised when fellow Christians let us down from time to time.

“As much as they try to be godly, they are still human and you are, too,” he said. “So, you can try to find the ‘perfect’ church, but if you find it, don’t join it because you just might ruin it.”

I slid lower in my chair, cheeks burning. How did he know? 

“In short,” he continued, “if you don’t forgive your brothers and sisters in Christ when they offend you, why should the Lord forgive your offenses against others?”

It was as if the Holy Spirit had delivered a supernatural thump to the back of my head. I knew this message was aimed specifically at me.

That afternoon I had an in-depth conversation with God. I repented about my bitterness against believers who had offended me, asking His forgiveness.

Over the ensuing months, the Lord redirected my heart, showing me ways that I could use those past hurts as a catalyst for change in my own behavior by placing opportunities in front of me where He would be glorified, and I would be blessed.

The director of children’s ministries emailed me one day asking if I could volunteer to hold babies while their parents attended church services. I agreed. During the next two years I met amazing people and made fast friends while changing diapers and snuggling infants. Eventually, I was asked to help lead elementary classes, and I said yes, which led to connections with children that filled my heart with joy. Next, my husband and I joined a home group where we met lifelong friends with whom we would laugh, cry, and celebrate milestones and holidays.

While my flesh still struggles at times with defensiveness and judgment, I recognize those tendencies and repent much quicker than I used to. All it took was a heart examination and the Holy Spirit’s prompting to turn my bitter into better.