Life is a challenge. The Christian walk is never promised to be an easy one. When we journey through valleys of hurt, disappointment and rejection, we can choose to rise above and persevere, keeping our Savior in view. Or we can allow a bitter root to grow in our hearts.

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” – Hebrews 12:15

Bitterness is more than just angry feelings. It is unresolved, unforgiven anger and resentment that accumulates over time. It moves beyond experience to belief… a way of viewing life. Bitterness is like smoldering embers easily fueled and erupting into flames as new grievances present themselves.

Bitterness is characterized by an inability to fully forgive… causing toxic and far-reaching effects upon one’s life. Bitter people internalize negative emotions, impacting their countenance and overall health. Emotionally, they live at the mercy of their feelings… riding the roller coaster of their emotions. This results in an inability to trust others, to give and receive love, and to find happiness in life.

All of us face bitterness at times in our lives. Yet bitterness, left unchecked, can erupt into a forest fire… destroying relationships and wreaking havoc with one’s life. It can damage one’s faith and spiritual walk. Unable to trust and accept God’s love, bitter people live at a distance from His compassionate presence. They miss out on His peace, His joy and His hope in their lives.

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice.” – Ephesians 4:31

A bitter root crept into the heart of Absalom, the son of King David. Of all the challenges David encounters during his reign, perhaps the most trying and heartrending is the rebellion of his own son Absalom. David had grown strong in his spiritual walk over the years to where he could resist bitterness in his own life. Yet his son succumbs to a bitter root… with calamitous and life-destroying effects.

The first evidence of bitterness taking root in Absalom’s life is seen in his behavior toward his half-brother Amnon. Tamar, Absalom’s beautiful sister, is the object of Amnon’s desire. Amnon wrongly caves in to his desire and defiles her. When Absalom hears the news, he is inflamed with anger. Yet he keeps this anger to himself, allowing it to smolder within him.

For two years, Absalom watches for an opportunity to gain revenge. When the chance arises, the embers of bitterness flare up into flames. Absalom gives orders to his men to kill Amnon.

Years later, when father and son meet again, David greets Absalom with a kiss of reconciliation. David had forgiven his son. He had risen above his anger, not allowing bitterness to overcome him. Yet Absalom’s wrath seethes against his father for banishing him.

Absalom plots revenge. He rebels against his father David and seeks to dethrone him. He sets out to win over the people of Israel to his side and become king himself. When David hears that the hearts of the people of Israel have gone with Absalom, he flees Jerusalem with all who remain loyal to him.

David looks to the Lord for deliverance from this great trial. He is willing to follow God’s way no matter where it might lead… even if it means leaving his beloved Jerusalem and losing his throne.

“Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, He will bring me back and let me see it and His dwelling place again.” – 2 Samuel 15:25

Absalom amasses a great army and leads the march to battle against David and his men. When news reaches David, he and his army retreat across the Jordan. In the Forest of Ephraim, the two sides meet. David commands his men…

“Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” – 2 Samuel 18:5

The army of David is victorious, routing the men of Israel at a great loss of 20,000 men. Perhaps the greatest loss to David is Absalom who is killed that day. Evidence that the king’s forgiveness is complete is seen in his mourning for the loss of his son.

“O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 19:4

David’s heart is found to be right in the eyes of the Lord. He receives favor from God and is restored to his throne. David is honored to return to the City of David and reign once again as king over all Israel.

How can we, like David, rise above bitterness in our own lives?

»   Let faith rule over feelings

Instead of internalizing anger, hurt, disappointment and rejection, release them. Rise above negative emotions, not allowing them to smolder in your life. Resist taking things too personally. Choose to emulate your Lord, displaying kindness, compassion and empathy.

»   Refuse to keep reliving the past

Revisiting past encounters stokes the fire of bitterness. Keep from assuming, questioning, jumping to conclusions that are not true about past interactions and events. Let the past go. View those who have hurt you through God’s eyes… for who they are, not for what they have done to you.

»   Forgive and maintain forgiveness

Forgiving may need to be done many times until your heart is right. Pray for the Holy Spirit to douse the smoldering embers of bitterness. Release all grudges. Remove the sins of others from your mind and heart as far as the east is from the west, just as God promises to do for you (Psalm 103:12). Give others the grace, the undeserved favor, your Savior has shown to you.

»   Lean on God and trust that His way is best

Trust Him in the difficult times. Believe that He has your highest good in store and follow His leadings. Open your heart to God’s love. Embrace His peace and joy for your life. Allow Him to comfort, cleanse and heal you. Above all, always keep your Savior in view… your hope, your treasure, your prize.