I originally wondered why I felt compelled to wait and combine the past two sermons into one blog post, and it became very clear to me fairly early on Sunday. What Alan presented as two separate sermons, I view as one complete sermon divided into two parts.
In the first week, Alan said it is those closest to us who leave us bitter. In the second week, he labeled those who create bitterness Destroyers and identified some of the ways they instill bitterness. This past Sunday, in week three, he discussed family.
Now, I love my family very much. And no one makes me bitter like my family does.
Alan said that he occasionally picks on his little sister, Allie, who is a professional dancer, whenever she isn’t dancing and performing and therefore isn’t working. Being a fan of Allie as both a person and a dancer and being a little sister myself, I sympathize with her a lot whenever Alan mentions her in sermons. But when Alan told us that on Sunday, I could relate to Allie all too well because I’ve been victim to my brother saying awful things about my unemployment as well.
Last summer, after I graduated from college, I looked for jobs and couldn’t get one to save my life. No nearby publishing companies were hiring, and the local newspaper basically forgot about me after they said they’d contact me. Since I couldn’t find a job I wanted, I began searching for a job anywhere. And in the meantime, I got to listen to my brother mock my unemployment to me (“I mean, you’ve got all day to do it. It’s not like you’ve got to go to work or anything.”) and to other people (“She just stays at home and sleeps all day. She doesn’t do anything.”).
I was incredibly hurt by this. Truth be told, it upset me to the point of tears more than once. I spent four years and a lot of money to get a piece of paper called a diploma that proving to be completely pointless. I couldn’t get a job anywhere, despite trying my hardest to find one. And on top of feeling like a failure, my brother came right along and willingly, gladly, rubbed my insufficiencies in my face.
But Derek didn’t know I was feeling that way. He was simply upset and bitter about having to go to a job he hated when I didn’t. Bitterness breeding bitterness.
I have more stories like that, moments when it felt like he was pushing me down as if gravity and life weren’t doing a good enough job of it. What’s even worse is I’m positive he has just as many stories with that same moral and theme about me.
It’s as old as Cain and Abel, as dark and depressing as Esau and Jacob. Whether we want to be or not, whether we intend to be or not, we’re all Destroyers.
Cain’s unprecedented bitterness and its consequences were caused by two people: himself and his brother. Cain was very lackadaisical in his giving to God. Instead of giving his best, he gave what he could scrounge up. I would say that’s pretty neglectful and pathetic. He certainly messed up there, right?
And then he was compared to his brother.
I hate being compared to my siblings. It hardly ever makes me look good. In all the many ways that people talk about and stereotype being the youngest (a spoiled child, a glamorous gig), no one ever talks about how you’re the last act of the show, therefore you better be a good one. After all, no one wants to be or see Nickelback following The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.
Out of the three of us, I would say that I’m probably the closest to being the Problem Child. Sunnie’s very secluded and not terribly spontaneous. Derek keeps busy and sticks to a somewhat vague routine, and he’s less independent than my sister and me. I’m sort of the wild card. Spontaneous, more rebellious, smart-mouthed, and without much here to keep me tied down, I’m more likely to go on an adventure or to question something or to back-sass the wrong person. People are more likely to encounter me than my sister and more likely to dislike me than my brother. If my mom was one who worried, I would be the reason for her worry.
I would argue that had Cain not been compared to Abel, he wouldn’t have killed Abel. If God had said, “Hey, you’re not giving me your best. Do better,” Cain probably would’ve been mad, but not murderous. But because He said, “You’re not giving me your best. Do better. Be more like your brother,” Cain became mad and jealous and thought he wouldn’t have to listen to people or God sing Abel’s praises if he wasn’t around anymore.
God was trying to show Cain the right way to do things, but Cain misinterpreted it. He saw God’s correction as a sign of love for his brother, not as a sign of love for him. He let his bitterness beat him.
Anger and jealousy are huge, common doors for bitterness. If we let them in and don’t show them out, they’ll gladly make themselves at home. As they settle, they turn into bitterness, but not before attracting more anger and jealousy.
Esau had every right to be angry. I get a little mad on his behalf every time I hear or read of how Jacob stole his blessing. How could people so close to him hurt him so? I pity him.
When Esau loses his birthright, or rather, practically gives it away for almost nothing, I have no pity for him.
Pity is a funny thing. We claim we don’t want it, but we really do. That’s why we’re so picky about who we give it to, yet it sounds sort of demeaning to hear that someone has pity on us. It is food for bitterness. The more we hear of how people are sorry for us, the more we think of how we were wronged, and to us, it justifies our hard and horrible feelings.
We like being justified. We don’t like being called out, disagreed with, or changed.
Bitterness is a hard habit to ditch. It’s edgy. It makes us feel better, but not entirely well. And it will never let us down; it will never disappoint us.
Disappointment is the root of all bitterness. It is Point A if bitterness is Point B. There are a few different ways to get from Point A to Point Be: Anger Avenue, Jealousy Trail, Resentment Road. No matter how you came to bitterness, you’re already familiar with disappointment.
In our bitterness and staying true to it, we think it’s the only thing we can count on, the only thing that won’t let us down, and that’s not true at all. God’s mercy, grace, and love won’t let us down.
Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that God’s mercies never stop and that they’re new every day.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:8 that God told him that God’s grace is sufficient.
The entire Bible tells us that God’s love always has been and always will be there.
God has an answer for everything. Mercy instead of justice, grace instead of fairness, and love instead of bitterness. He wants to give it to us and asks that we give it as freely and generously as we’ve received it.
Show mercy, grace, and love to your Destroyers because you’ve done your share of destruction too. Deep down (or perhaps on the surface), we all want those three things, and we’ve all been undeserving of them at some point or another.
No one is better than anyone else. God cares for us all equally. He loves you, your Destroyers, and those you destroy all the same. He wants to give us His love, grace, and mercy as much as He wants us to give it to each other. And we would do well to accept as much of it as we can.
By Carrie Prevette