I hope not! It does seem as though some people were born to be bitter. But who in their right mind would hold a sweet babe and think bitterness?
This week it felt as if the world around me was pushing me towards bitterness. I’ve been dealing with dad’s estate and working in an increasingly bitter workplace. Then there’s the vitriol and bad news constantly hammered at us from radio, TV, and internet. In the world I hear from friends, family, and co-workers. “Get tough!” “Don’t let it, whatever ‘it’ is, get to you!” “Protect yourself!” “Harden your defenses.” “You can’t do anything about it”
All of this advice causes me to separate from others, including the ones giving the advice. My heart isolates itself with all the warnings. I recoil at the venom in the messages. Lately when this happens my spirit whispers ‘harden not your heart’ [Hebrews 3:8]. This phenomenon happened so many times in the last week, I had to figure it out.
But first, who taught me to have a hardened heart? Since God’s instruction is clear to not hardened up my heart, it’s not Him, then who? Probably started with my father. His bitterness towards life runs like a deep rich vein of ore in a mine. The bitterness hardens his heart towards everything around him.
Looking back, I realized I have never known him to be without bitterness. That made me ask God, “Was he just born bitter? When did the bitterness take root? Was it in his childhood? How about in the Air Force? Was he bitter when he fell in love? Or was it when the children came along?” I know a lot of questions right? Good thing my God is amazingly patient with me.
I believe bitterness like happiness is a choice. God says harden not your heart. That sounds like it is my choice to harden or not to harden my heart. God doesn’t choose for his children to be born with a bitter heart. So just what does it mean to “harden your heart?” I went back to my bible to find out. Here is what I found.
I found nine references to the phrase in the bible. The phrase is mentioned by Moses, King David, Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus. It’s not mentioned a lot but, these are some of the Big Guys in the Bible. God’s chosen ones and his only Son. Four of the references are warnings for us to hear his voice and harden not our hearts (Psalms 95:7-8; Hebrews 3:8 & 15; 4:7).
“for it is said, “Oh that today you would hear his voice:
‘Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion.'” [Hebrews 3:15].
Deuteronomy 15:7 states “You shall not harden your heart or close your hand to those in need.” That’s pretty straightforward. That means don’t do it unless you, Ms. Milly, want to be at odds with God. Wow!
Isaiah 3:17 asks why God allows the Israelites to wander and to harden their hearts. Now I don’t know the context of this prayer but, it seems to me those praying cry out in the pain we cause or have felt when we harden our hearts. The prayer begs for God to relent and come to their aid. In Mark 8:17 Jesus asks his disciples why they don’t understand his parable about the leavening of the Pharisees. He asks why they have hardened their hearts. I hope I am listening with an open heart.
One last reference in Exodus 4:21 God tells Moses he will harden Pharaoh’s heart in the New King James Version. At first I didn’t think this pertained to my original question. Then I found the New American Bible Revised Edition uses “obstinate” and later “stubborn” for “harden.” Well that’s interesting. When we harden our hearts we are stubborn and obstinate (and maybe stubbornly holding onto bitterness?). hmmm….Something to think about. I need a balance. I need to refuse the verbal vitriol directed at me while loving the person. It’s hard to love the person who hurts me. I could just coldly do my duty but I want more from myself. I haven’t quite figured this out just yet. But I’m working on it!
So where are we? Born to be bitter? Absolutely not. Born to be sweet? Possibly, think of sweet baby butterfly kisses and hugs. Born to be wild? Probably, I know I harbor a wild streak. How about you? Born to be loved, oh yes! Let’s soften our heart for God’s love to reside deep in our souls. God loves us down to the hairs on our heads [Matthew 10:30]. To sum it all up…we are…
Born to be God’s!
P.S. I again have to say I am not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination. This is merely my humble interpretation at the moment. I am just applying what I’m learning to the present situation. Thank you for your indulgence.