Blessed Out Bitterness

Many of you may already know this but many of you do not. I work full-time as a physical therapist in a senior living community. I love my job for so many reasons but one of my favorite perks of working with seniors is access to the wealth of knowledge they possess. 

I’ve worked in senior living for nearly ten years and I have received a plethora of wise counsel.  However, there are two pieces of advice that have really changed how I live my life. I want to tell you about one of those today.

I have worked with several couples in their nineties who have been married 70+ years. In most instances, I’ve been touched by their longstanding adoration of each other.  Many have offered their best marriage advice to us youngsters with most of them stating typical phrases such as “pick your battles” or “don’t sweat the small stuff”.  However, there was one couple that stood out to me.

This particular couple had been married 75 years!  In our one on one conversations, the husband would always say, “She’s truly a great woman. I am honored to be her husband.” Although it was heartwarming and I could tell he meant it by the child-like grin on his face, it was the wife’s words that really stood out to me. 

She spoke the best marriage advice I have ever received.

The wife was very spry for her age and had no real physical limitations. When her husband began to decline, both cognitively and physically, she continued to engage in her own hobbies but any time he called for her, she was ready to provide whatever he might need at the time. One afternoon we were chatting while her husband was sleeping. She told me when they were dating she made a decision about how she would handle conflict.  “For every wrong he does me, I will do him two rights.”  Wow!  What a thought provoking statement.

“For every wrong he does me, I will do him two rights.”A beautiful friend

As I watched her care for her husband through his progressive decline over the next year, I noticed his language and demeanor toward her change.  He became less patient and more demanding, often shouting orders from the sofa.  I watched this wife faithfully respond to every request made by her husband. Now let me say, they were not unreasonable requests, but they were frequent requests made by a man with progressing dementia.

His requests varied from asking for a glass of water to being agitated he could not remember how to change the television channel for the third time in ten minutes. Each stated plea for help came with another layer of frustration.  With each request, his patience lessoned. But hers never did.  She provided for every request as if it were her only purpose. She treated him the same from the day I met them until he breathed his last breath. I will never forget the advice she gave, or how joyfully she served her husband in his time of need, even when he became “difficult”.

I remember a time I was not so joyful to my husband.

There was a cold winter day a few years ago when I was not so joyful toward my own husband. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but we were both feeling a little prickly after coming home from a stressful day at work. An exchange of irritable jabs back and forth escalated to some hurtful remarks made between us. The conversation ended as he left to pick up our oldest daughter from dance. I reminded him it was recycling night as we had forgotten to put it out the previous week.  He appeared dejected and asked if I could help him since so much had accumulated.

Was he serious???  He just hurt my feelings and NOW he wanted my help?  How arrogant could he possibly be? Then I felt it, that root of bitterness growing longer and starting to wrap itself around my heart. As he walked out the door, he made another comment. I don’t remember what it was but I interpreted it in my moment of emotional tenderness as a jab, a taunting if you will.

That nasty root of bitterness popped up.

I felt the root of bitterness popping up faster than ever before and this time, it was a sturdy one. This was not the root of a wimpy weed that pulls out of the ground easily after a rain but a deep rooted, thick bitterness that planned to make a permanent home in my heart.

I stood there wondering how I could let the hurtful words of tonight go and not hold onto them. Then I remembered, I had just read an article about love being a choice. Every day we had a choice to love or not to love.  What was I choosing in this moment? I wanted to choose love. I chose to dig deep and rip out that nasty root of bitterness before it took me over.

Removing bitterness is an intentional act.

I did something that night I had never done before. I took the recycling to the curb. 

The entire lot of it.

By myself.

The large blue bin stuffed full, the five boxes full of other smaller boxes, milk cartons, and empty cereal boxes. I walked all of it to the end of our fairly long driveway, requiring multiple trips on a very cold winter night dressed in full gear. Why?  I took it out because it needed to be taken out. 

I wish that were the case. In reality, I took out every last piece of the recycling on a cold and bitter winter night because the Holy Spirit nudged me to do so.  This was usually my husband’s chore. At that time, we had been married 11 years and I had never once taken out the recycling by myself. I may have helped once or twice on a nice fall evening but this time was different. This time I took out the recycling to pull a root of bitterness out of the garden of my heart. I took the advice of my wise friend and returned what I had perceived as a wrong with a right. I paid it back as a blessing, four trips worth of blessing.

Honoring Our Husbands Honors God

I chose to honor God by blessing my husband.  As a response to our trivial argument that I would have normally stewed over for days, I chose instead to bless him by taking out every last bit of recycling so when he came home he would be surprised to see the task he was dreading had already been done.

Friends, let me be the first to tell you I did not always think like this. But do you know what happens when we choose to replace wrongs with rights?  That weed of bitterness gets plucked out of our own hearts down to the very root.  Just like that, it was gone.

 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.Hebrews 12:15 ESV

How quickly this simple act changed my own heart. I was now looking forward to the joy my husband would feel when he came home rather than stewing in bitterness and resentment.  Grace.  It is extended to us by Christ and thus, as we grow to become more like Christ, we shall willingly without being asked extend it to others.

If you have never tried this, I encourage you to find a way to bless the next person who does you a wrong with a right.  If you’re really adventurous, replace that wrong with two rights, as my wise friend would have done. I promise your feelings will change and your heart will be the real recipient of that blessing. May we realize the grace we have received and excel in the act of grace.

But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.2 corinthians 8:7 esv

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