There has been a lot of talk on blogs (or at least some of the ones I read) about the “bitter” divisions within the Church of England. I don’t actually think there is that much bitterness at the grassroots, but it is true to say that certain groups and individuals feel excluded and marginalised by Synod’s vote last month concerning the nature of provisions for those opposed to women bishops.
In some ways the drama seems rather disproportionate, the proposed legislation still has to go to diocesan synods and then return to a completely new General Synod; we might well be back to square one, and then those who have waited so long may well find themselves experiencing resentment and frustration.
I have been thinking lately about the nature of bitterness, not just around this issue, but in life generally, and how bitterness is one of the most futile and destructive of emotions, but also one of the hardest to overcome.
Bitterness is, of course, a reaction to being hurt, rejected or disappointed, a feeling that we have been hard done by. In many cases this may be true, and feelings of anger and indignation are understandable and can be healthy responses where we have suffered great wrong. Bitterness goes further though; the bitter person dwells often obsessively on their sense of being wronged and often wants to evoke an emotional response - usually of guilt - in the perceived wrongdoer.
One of the most important lessons you can learn is that it is very difficult to influence other people’s behaviour or emotional state through bitterness (unless you are very close to them.) Others have their own lives and emotional concerns and will simply walk away if they can. The only person hurt by bitterness is the one suffering from it, the bitter are their own worst enemies. Bitterness is also deeply unattractive; it is an emotion that can make the sufferer seem selfish, self obsessed and childish, even ridiculous. A bitter person is rarely admirable.
Once bitterness takes hold we can become completely and utterly irrational, particularly if we blame other people for their actions without admitting that would have little or no compunction if the boot was on the other foot. The tiniest details can assume huge proportions in the mind of the bitter person, and we can waste a lot of time and emotional energy literally “feeding” bitterness.
I think resentment is a more common emotion that most of us like to admit – I know it can be for me. We all have people in our lives who have hurt us, things that we just can’t “let go”, people we dislike, for reasons that we know are beneath us, situations that irk us, and times that we ask “why me” and feel that we have deserved better. Bitterness never enhances our lives, and genuinely letting it go sets us free – and yet letting go is one of the hardest things to do.
I really do pray that we can overcome divisions in our faith and problems in our lives, without too much bitterness; it is not an emotion that speaks of Christian witness.