Rejecting Bitterness When a Child Disappoints
Resentment and bitterness came knocking on the door of Freda’s heart. Bill and Freda (story used with permission) had taken in a teen-aged foster child. As they worked with him, he grew more incorrigible rather than less. Finally, reluctantly, they notified Social Services to take him back. This scenario is not uncommon.
After he left, Freda felt weighed down with sadness and pummeled by temptations to resentful thoughts and bitter feelings. She and her husband had put so much into this boy–money, time, inconvenience, travel to see his mom, prayer, teaching on right and wrong, grace, and discipline. Especially, they had poured their love and longings into the effort of parenting him in a way that might help him out of hurt, anger, and rebellion. But he didn’t want anything to do with overcoming his anger. While they poured heart and soul into him, he spit back ingratitude.
By the time we talked, Freda had a good start on self-counsel. She said that to fight her bitterness she was refusing to open the door to resentful thoughts and was holding on to the truth of God’s loving sovereignty. “The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,…and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:17, 19). He is loving and is also in control. In hardship, the twin truths of God’s love and sovereignty form an unshakeable foundation to steady thoughts and emotions. When adversity strikes, when we pour our lives into someone and love him and long for him to become godly or at least respectful in the family and society, but who returns to us ingratitude and belligerence, it is important to remember that God providentially put this person into our lives for a reason. We may never know the reason. We don’t need to. We don’t need to go on a hunt for it or even for “God, what are you trying to teach me?” What we need to do is submit contentedly to God’s overruling hand and obey Him. He is in control, has a good purpose, and has every right to direct unearned adversity into our lives.
Freda’s self-counsel was an exercise of love toward God by submitting to His sovereignty. There is a second key she was also turning, although her fresh feelings tried to restrain her hand. She was working to put on love for others, love with compassion-motivated pity. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger…be put away from you…Be kind to one another, tender-hearted…” In Greek, the word “tender-hearted” means “having strong bowels, compassionate.” Bitterness looks at self. It nurses a sense of offense into abiding anger. Tender-heartedness looks at the other with compassion. Exercised diligently, it can change one’s emotional response.
Bitterness feels pity for self, so to put it off we need to put on compassion for the other, in this case the child. Consider: A child who persists in rebellion is going to have many troubles in life which will rob him of blessings. He will hurt many people, which will drive them away and leave him alone and lonely. He is at risk of hell for eternity. What a terrible future! If we love him, we certainly don’t want these consequences for him.
Feelings of bitterness can knock so hard on the door of the heart that they threaten to rattle if off its hinges, and Freda’s feelings were protesting her right choices. She persisted and won the victory.
True love demands that we refuse to open the door to resentful thoughts, or to slam it shut if it is already open. Personalized, that means that I put off thinking about how offended I feel at such ungratefulness in my child and put on a pity for how that child’s ungratefulness is leading him into troubles. (This does not preclude firm, consistent discipline for the child who is still in the home.) Yes, I have poured heart and soul into this child, and yes, receiving gratitude and respect feels good, but if I expended myself for love of Christ who gave His life for me, is not He my reward? Why would I be looking for a reward from the child? How can I be as ungrateful to God as my child is to me? Rather, pity grieves over the ingratitude of the child for the child’s sake (and God’s), because an ungrateful heart leads to adversity and destruction (1 Cor. 10:10).
The two great commandments are keys to overcoming bitterness. Love God by submitting contentedly and gratefully to the trials this child generates. Love for God worships and thanks Him no matter the hardships. Love your neighbor, your child, by putting off thoughts of self and putting on love that is not cowed by the child’s anger but lovingly speaks necessary truths and delivers wise discipline. This love cultivates a compassionate pity for the child in his sinful state that produces long-suffering, prayer, and gentleness.