My first response for my own life when I began thinking about and writing on bitterness was that I was not bitter. My definition of bitterness involved a continual dwelling on wrong thoughts about a person—an intense, constant stewing on all the things they’ve done wrong, so much so that you couldn’t talk to the person or be around them. I imagined an angry person who couldn’t think of anything positive, or really think about anything but that one horrible thing that someone did to them. However, as I talked to my dad I began to realize that bitterness may not be so obvious or so outwardly extreme. And it manifests itself in various ways. Hopefully the following examples will give you an idea of what bitterness may look like in the life of a teenager and help you to determine if there is some springing up in your heart. I hope they will be applicable for you as I tried to think of common scenarios for teens; or in the least that you will be able to understand bitterness and its danger in a greater way.
First scenario: Imagine you’re having a conversation with one of your good friends. You may be talking about something that’s going on in your life, having a good discussion about some things you feel strongly about, or talking about what Scripture says about an ethical issue. The conversation may become heated because of the topic, or it might have the appearance of a friendly debate. Either way, your friend says something that hurts your feelings. You take it as something against you personally. They may have never meant it that way, but you perceive it in that manner. However, instead of asking them to clarify what they meant, or acknowledging that their statement hurt you, you stuff it inside. Your thoughts like, “I can’t believe he/she said that to me!” or “He/she doesn’t understand!” continue, you replay the conversation in your mind, and begin to get angry. This continuation of wrong thoughts and anger quickly leads to bitterness towards that friend. Your friend, meanwhile, may never know that they hurt you.
Second scenario: You have younger siblings. And your younger siblings aren’t always as responsible as you are (or at least, as you think you are). One of them in particular seems to always forget to do a chore that affects your own chores and the state of the household: picking up his belongings. This bothers you, and while you know he may just be forgetful, you think he think he needs to take charge of this responsibility, instead of carelessly leaving his stuff everywhere. But instead of talking to him about it (in a gentle and loving manner of course), you sigh and think, “He never cleans up after himself! Why can’t he ever do what he’s supposed to do?” Already you’ve planted a seed for bitterness. Over the next months, it grows stronger and deeper as you see the pattern continuing. You complain to yourself about all the things he does wrong, meanwhile feeling sorry for yourself for getting left with all the work. Every time you see something that belongs to him, your blood begins to boil. After a while you can hardly speak to him in a kind manner because of the bitterness that has built up in your heart.
Third scenario: You were supposed to ______ (fill in the blank to apply to you: wash the dishes, take out the trash, mow the lawn, clean your room…). However, in the busyness of the day, it slipped your mind, and you didn’t do it. Your dad walks in, and begins to raise his voice and speak angrily because you didn’t do what you were expected to do. Without even giving you a chance to say why, he blows up at you. You inwardly harbor bitterness towards him for not even allowing you to give a reason for why you hadn’t done your work. You may forget about your bitterness towards him, and not even think you’re bitter any more; that is, until he asks you to do that same thing again (or maybe just asks you to do something unrelated), and you have angry thoughts towards him when he does. You may not even pinpoint that it’s the bitterness and anger in your heart that you didn’t deal with biblically before that is resurfacing.
Bitterness takes root and grows so easily and so subtly and why it’s crucial to carefully guard against it.