On the “Bitter Card”

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 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 12:14-15, NIV


I am suspicious of those who play the “bitter card.”

My suspicion is that they are uncomfortable with the reality of injustice. Grief makes them uncomfortable. They do not want to deal with difficult emotions like sadness or anger. That is just too demanding: they might have to sit in uncomfortableness or even–gasp!–do something about the wrong (like ending a long term relationship with the adulterous spouse).

These “bitter card” players have more in common with the unrighteous judge who just did not want to be bothered by the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) than they do with the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is patient and kind. The unrighteous judge does not want to be bothered by doing his duty of addressing injustice.

Obviously, it is true that we ought not to become bitter. We need to entrust injustice to God as well as our grief. But sometimes we need help. We need people willing to support us.

Have the “bitter card” ever stopped to think how the wounded person feels? How would you feel if your deepest human relationship was violated and you were told nothing happened? Would you get more shrill about your pain? Or would you say that it was fine to be soul raped? “Thank you for essentially telling me nothing happened as I feel totally disemboweled.” Is that how you’d respond?

A kind empathetic person would acknowledge the pain.

He or she would validate the survivor that something horrible and wrong happened, indeed!

Be willing to give the gift of empathy. Listen. Don’t condemn.

From my family lore, I am aware of an applicable story:

My maternal grandmother was known to worry about becoming bitter like her mother (my great-grandmother). You see, her mother was a pastor’s wife. My great-grandfather served a rural Mennonite church in North Dakota for decades through the lean years of the Great Depression. I have read heard/read stories indicating the church did not really support him financially for his work during those years, and the family only survived, literally, from growing produce in an especially large garden.

My great-grandfather gave the church stability through his faithful service during some especially difficult years. He was known to even empty the chamber pots of widows being such a servant-hearted man. Then sometime in the 1950s, I believe, the church fired him because one family disliked him and thought he was too old to lead. They fired him just as the country was finally experiencing prosperity.

And his wife, my great-grandmother, got bitter.

I feel like this narrative is unfair to my great-grandmother like playing the “bitter card” is unfair to many who have suffered the humiliation and contemptuous rejection of adultery and/or abandonment.

Personally, I get that she was angry: Wouldn’t you be angry after seeing your husband sacrifice so much along with you and the kids to just be kicked to the curb in the end during a time of prosperity? It was unjust.

My great-grandparents deserved to be treated with honor for their years of faithful, sacrificial service. The Bible teaches such elders deserve a double portion (see I Timothy 5:17) and certainly not a pink-slip like my great-grandpa received. I suspect my great-grandmother knew that and probably was angry that her just cause was not pressed more by her husband.

To be clear: It was wrong for her to choose bitterness in the end. But I wonder what would have happened if someone had journeyed with her through her pain and advocated for them against the sinful injustice more? I wonder if such kind and patient “root tending” would have helped her avoid living like a bitter woman in her old age.

I am not advocating for bitterness here. At some point, we need to choose to hand over the injustices to God. However, like the grief process, outsiders ought not to dictate this time table. It needs to be done as guided by the Holy Spirit. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to work. Do not try to take over His job. You will probably mess it up by being overly harsh unlike God.

The best thing outsiders can do is listen. The survivor needs to be heard. Their feelings need validation and acknowledgment.

Playing the “bitter card” is counterproductive.

It says to the survivor that the injustice done to him or her was no big deal. It says to the survivor that their grief and pain is wrong. And it does not give the survivor permission to release the toxic feelings that come with the deep violation. It says to the survivor “Shut up!” or I will condemn you as a “bad Christian”” by declaring to the world that you’re bitter!

That neither helps the wronged person work through the injustice finding the release of forgiveness and healing from processing grief. And it communicates a wrong message about God.

God cares about injustice. He is close to the brokenhearted. And God cares deeply about holiness.

So, I encourage outsiders to be patient.

If the emotions are too much, leave. Do not use the “bitter card” to shut up and hurt the already hurting.

It does no one any real good.




3 thoughts on “On the “Bitter Card””

  1. Oh to have support…from my pastor…my family…so called friends…I was handed the bitter card from all…with my face and neck purple from bruises and my anger at such betrayal…I was called bitter…why? because I was angry at the injustice…the wrong doing…I wanted recognition and someone to help make him see that beating me…degrading me…belittling me…was wrong! that giving up and divorcing was not the perfect answer…and that running away always left me so vulnerable to other predators…and well…him…he would always find me and sweet talk me back…promising to fulfill the promises made to God…and I would relent…and go back…just to start the evil cycle all over again…well…I am getting divorced…I am angry again now…angry at myself for not seeing evil for what it was and being so arrogant to think that I could ever do what only God can do…but bitter? no…
    This obviously is not the plan God has for me…and he will lead me to the light…but first, I need to learn to breathe again..

Comments are closed.