The Professor and I have a friend, he shall remain nameless. He grumbles so much that we go out of our way to avoid him. His complaints have a bitter edge that grates on our last nerve. That guy’s got a bunch of grit in his oyster. No pearls yet. I never saw myself as being like him until a few days ago.
Good thing I fancy pearls. The outcome, if not the process.
Since my surgery in March, I’ve found that it really helps my knee to go to the gym to ride a bike. It loosens the stiffness and gets my blood flowing. So, the other day I walked in and showed my card to the scanner. It beeped like it recognized me, but the young gal minding it asked me to do it again. I was annoyed because there were people at the counter in front of it, but I said nothing. Just gave her a look, reached around them, scanned in again, and went upstairs.
I don’t like exercising and the bike isn’t a lot of fun so to pass the time I count revolutions and watch HGTV. But this morning HGTV wasn’t on. It was some local preacher from Caldwell. I figured I’d watch that because I don’t know how to change the channel. Fine.
The topic was bitterness and he was just getting going when boom, the channel changed to some morning news program. I began looking around to see what idiot (yes, I know) changed the channel on my TV – there’s 4 others to mess with. Well, there was that little gal again, flipping through channels two TVs over.
Because I am a nice, cordial person (or so I tell myself), I smiled and said I was watching Channel 6 on mine. Could she change it back? She did and I thanked her. In my head I was not so nice.
I went back to counting revolutions and watching the guy from Caldwell. He was talking about Moses and the Israelites, one of my favorite stories, I don’t know why. Perhaps because there are things I’d like to escape too. Another story, another time.
Exodus 15 talks about how right after the Israelites were led out of Egypt with hordes of angry Egyptians on their tail, right after Moses lifted his staff and the waters parted, and right after they crossed the Red Sea (but the Egyptians didn’t), they came to a watering hole where the water was not potable.
The waters of Marah were bitter. They couldn’t drink. It was a bit of a trigger for the weary travellers – a bigger deal than my gym experience, for sure.
So the Israelites had a big fit. They began to accuse Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness to die. They complained and said things that were nuts given what they had just been brought through. Moses asked what he should do. God told him to throw down a branch that made the waters drinkable. He did and it was.
The preacher used the story as an example of how God hates complaining and bitterness. It nailed me, for sure. (We call that conviction.)
So why am I fixating on what happened at the gym? Everybody gets irritated sometimes. Because it wasn’t just irritation. It felt like our friend sounds. I recognized bitterness that came from out of nowhere over something that should have been no big deal. It was familiar, effortless, and went from zero to 60 in no time.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” Ephesians 4:31-32 says. “by being kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.
Oh that. Forgiveness. How? By choosing (important word here) better characteristics, better responses. By acknowledging the internal conversations I’m having, really turning around, and rescripting my reactions – internal and external.
How did the waters go from bitter to sweet? A branch was thrown down into them and they were transformed. That branch, it’s said, is symbolic of Christ.
So I left the gym with a lot to think about and put into practice. I’m always going to have grit in my oyster, but I’ll accelerate the pearl-making process by getting rid of the bitterness in my heart – by consciously choosing how I deal with irritations and wounds.
My resentments and complaints not only show me it’s there, they intensify bitterness – distill it into a toxic brew that infects others. Like our friend.
Turning this grit into a pearl, making bitter water sweet, isn’t something I can do on my own.
Good thing that Branch is still around.