Who remembers this impossible tongue twister? I remember thinking Peter Piper was difficult to recite as a child, as well as the infamous “Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore”, but I do believe this little poem puts all other tongue twisters to shame! I won’t ask you to say “Betty Botter” five times fast, but rather I want to point out the spiritual truth the rhyme contains: if bitter butter goes in – bitter batter comes out! In other words, if we “buy” into bitterness and allow it to reside inside of us, it most assuredly will find it’s way out to rear it’s ugly head.
Ask yourself this: how does butter get bitter? It doesn’t mysteriously become that way! No, we know that the bitterness goes all the way back to the source…a cow. Most likely the cow ate something unpalatable, which made its milk taste bitter, thus making the butter bitter also.
In the same way, a bitter attitude is not something that mysteriously comes out of us. A woman’s bitterness has a source…her heart. If we feed our hearts unpalatable thoughts and negative emotions, we are going to have a bitterness to us that results in unsavory behavior. Yet if we are wise like Betty Botter, we will buy into a different kind of butter…a better butter. What is this better butter?
Spiritually speaking, what Carolyn Wells describes as butter, the Bible describes as water. Water (as you well know) makes up a great percentage of us. I once heard of a young man who told his sweetheart:
“If you like water, then you already like 72% of me.”
All jokes aside, water is what we are made of – literally and figuratively! That being said, it’s no surprise that the book of James uses water to symbolize the speech that flows out of us:
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. -James 3:10-11
What kind of water are we made of? Some are bitter but do not recognize it. Some are bitter and only wish they knew how to snap out of it. Still some are bitter and don’t really want to change at all…because they believe it helps them to cope in life. Whatever the case, most of us at one time or another have experienced feelings of bitterness. Is being bitter all that bad? Let us take a look at the damage an embittered woman can do to herself and others, and see if this is a road we should ever travel on…
1. If I’m bitter…
I can’t think.
Even a worldly phsychiatrist will tell you that bitterness destroys your mental health. Not only is bitterness a non-effective way to cope with problems, but it’s also counter-effective.
A bitter heart may take root for various reasons. It might even be a seemingly innocent reason, such as a response to sin. Maybe someone acts in an immoral way and we are repulsed by it. While it is true that we should be repulsed by sin, we must ask ourselves this: does our repulsion cause us to act in love and try to find a way to help the other person improve their behavior? Or does the repulsion merely serve as a blanket for our own self-righteous hatred towards another (ultimately giving ourselves an excuse to stew and act like a child)?
Bitterness is all about our perspective. Everyone has negative things happen in their life, yet some choose to get bitter and some do not. As much as we don’t want to believe it, we truly have a choice in how we re-act to each and every situation. To overcome bitterness, we must re-wire our brains to respond to events differently than we are accustomed to.
There is a chart that psychiatrists commonly use to help mental health patients overcome their poor coping skills. It looks something like this:
Negative Event (a)
Irrational Belief (b)
Unhealthy Emotion (c)
Negative Event (a)
Rational Belief (b)
Healthy Emotion (c)
Take note that on both sides of the chart, there is a negative event taking place. Yet the belief and emotion following the event may differ. It is a common misconception that our emotions build up prior to thoughts and/or beliefs. Many women believe that they can hardly control their reaction to negative events, because their emotions will dictate how they will respond. This is an innacurate and dangerous persepective. We must be aware that our thoughts create our emotions. If we can learn to change our thought patterns, our emotions will be conquered.
See how this applies in a real life negative event:
Perhaps your husband comes home from work in a sour mood and begins snapping at you for no apparent reason.
You can choose Option 1:
Think of how rude and unappreciative he is, get angry, and give him the silent treatment for the remainder of the evening, (all the while thinking of how righteous you are and what a horrible person he is)…
Or you can choose Option 2:
Realize he probably had a rough day at work, feel compassion for him, try to make him as comfortable as possible, and give him some time to relax.
Did the original event change? No, the event did not change, but your attitude did. If we approach negative events with negative thoughts, we will feel negative emotions and exhibit negative behavior. On the flip side, if we approach negative events with positive thoughts, we will feel positive emotions and exhibit positive behavior.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. – John 7:38
(The belly symbolizes our emotions and affections. This passage is saying that if you truly love God, your emotions and affections will be regenerated, thus causing your attitude to be subdued and the water you send forth to be sweet.)
2. If I’m bitter…
we can’t link.
Bitterness will do more than destroy your mental health – it will set you at odds against other members in Christ’s church. The longer one dwells in a state of bitterness, the more fault they find in others. They say misery loves company, and I believe that the more bitterness and hatred a spirit contains, the more it despises those who have joy. The bitter person simply can’t believe that anyone with struggles could be so happy, and so they tell themselves that others must have life handed to them on a silver platter. Jealousy takes hold on the heart, and the seeds of strife have begun.
Consider this picture in Judges 7:1-8:
In this chapter, Gideon is preparing his army to fight against the Midianites. The Lord commanded Gideon to thin out his army, for He did not want the Israelites to glory in their own strength, but to trust only in Him. He gives Gideon two methods to weed out the 32,000 (at minimum) recruited for war. The first command, to send home “whoever is afraid and trembling”, which came to a whopping 22,000 men. Now Gideon is left with 10,000 soldiers. Still, the army is too large in the sight of The Lord, so Gideon is offered a second method. This method seems odd…”bring the people down to the water and have them drink. Separate the men who lap the water out of their hands from the ones who bend upon their knees to drink.” The number of those who lapped the water from their hands was 300, while all the rest bent upon their knees and drank from the water. The Lord proclaims that the Israelites will be saved from the Midianites by the 300 who “lapped from their hands”. The others were sent away.
What does this unusual story have to do with our ability to link with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Keeping in mind that water is that which we are a fountain of (whether it be bitter or sweet) I would like to propose this: the men who lapped the water from their hands represent those who strive to keep their “water” (thoughts, emotions, and behavior) under control. The men who bent down and drank represent one who’s water is out of control and all over the place.
God’s message here is: SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT. If you are in a spirit of bitterness, you can not/will not properly fill your role in the church. Don’t let your water get “out of hand” – keep a hold on it.
The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with. – Proverbs 17:14
3. If I’m bitter…
they can’t drink.
Remember, human hearts are “fountains of water” that send forth either bitter or sweet water. (This is an either/or scenario) When we let bitterness seep into our hearts, we often fool ourselves into thinking that we are only contaminated a wee bit. Perhaps we explain the sin away by blaming our thoughts/behavior on someone else or an event that took place in our lives… or maybe we call our bitterness by a different name entirely. The fact is, if you and I have bitterness within us, we have become contaminated.
Consider this hard truth. We all know what toxic water does, right? It kills. Toxic water kills fish. Remember Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17? If we are to follow Jesus, we are called to be fishers of men. How can we fulfill this calling if we’re killing the very fish we are meant to catch? Consider Revelation 8:11…many men died in the “wormwood waters” – why? Because the water there was made bitter.
Be assured that if you let bitter water flow out of you, it will kill fish (ie: the lost) one way or another. We will either turn people away from the Lord and his church by our bad attitudes, or we will influence them to join with us so they can become as unhappy and hardened as we are! Either way, we have foiled God’s plan.
We might like to believe that “under the right circumstances” our hearts would be better, and do better. We must be honest with ourselves – if what it takes to get us on the right track is a different set of circumstances, then what we are looking for is a change of pace, not a change of heart! True christianity is “learning to dance in the rain”, as it were. A christian woman will decidedly be righteous in thought and behavior in times of rain as well as sunshine. She will determine, no matter what to “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
If you believe that a change in circumstance is what you need to finally let go of the bitterness inside you, consider this:
Water left to a change of circumstance does change, but not for the better. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the term osmosis. Osmosis is the natural tendency of water with a low concentration of solutes to travel through a semi-permeable membrane to an area of water with a higher concentration of solutes. Layman’s terms: water will inevitably become more contaminated over a period of time, not less.
What’s a girl to do? If water tends to get more contaminated over time, what hope is there for us to ever rid ourselves of bitterness?
Take heart, for God has an amazing plan by which we can become purified. Can anyone guess what it’s called?
This process couldn’t be more accurately named, for Reverse Osmosis is just what it sounds like – to send contaminated water backwards. How does it work? Reverse Osmosis technology removes small particles from water by forcing it through a filter…a membrane. The necessary tools here are some water, a filter, and a whole lot of pressure. As water is forced out through a membrane, holes in the membrane become smaller and smaller. Eventually, the holes become so small that the only particles that can travel through are water…leaving the contaminated particles trapped on the other side of the membrane/filter.
How fitting this is for us in a spiritual sense! We like to think that to overcome bitterness, plain old osmosis will do the trick. We think “perhaps I will outgrow my bitterness, or maybe if I’m fortunate my life circumstances will improve so that I don’t have to be so unhappy”. Yet this is just the opposite of God’s plan for us.
Just like in the world of science, our bitter water will not naturally flow into a place of sweetness – it has to be forcibly turned around in it’s very tracks. Sisters, how can we rid ourselves of bitterness unless we welcome the pressure process that serves to make us better? Do we not see that pressure serves to remove bitterness, and push us closer and closer to the living membrane which is Jesus Christ? If we will have it God’s way, negative events in our life can and will push and prod us to Jesus, not away from him as it is with worldly women. Be forewarned, we are in for a bumpy ride. The more pressure used in reverse osmosis, the greater the results. Yet ultimately that’s what we’re after, is it not?
Do not be deceived, water that is contaminated even a small amount is unsafe for anyone to ingest. Bitter water is harmful to you and me as individuals, to the church as a whole, and to the lost. The only way to drink contaminated water is to eliminate the contaminates completely!
Let us remember to always be a Betty Botter. It’s time to search our hearts (and throw out the bitter so we can buy into the better)!
As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man. – Proverbs 27:19
God bless, and take a chill pill!
Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.