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By Rev. Carrie A.H. Benton
Pastor Mountain Lakes Presbyterian Church 

Surrendering Bitterness


“Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord pointed out a tree to him. He threw it in the water, and the water became sweet.” (Exodus 15:25 CEB)

The notion of “surrender” has a myriad of understandings. On one hand we can relinquish an object, even ourselves, over to the care or responsibility of another. On another hand, we can surrender by giving into something – perhaps a behavior, or going along with the crowd.

This season before Easter, what those of us in certain liturgical traditions call “Lent,” provides an opportunity to focus on surrender – both what we relinquish to God (what we give up) as well as what we receive from God (or give in to). There is a distinct relationship between the two ways of surrendering. In order to receive the grace and love of God, there are attitudes, behaviors or ways of living that we must let go of.

Oftentimes this is difficult – the negativity is familiar. We may not want to admit it but we get something out of wallowing in our misery. Perhaps we carry a grudge. We choose to not forgive someone – it feels powerful, as if we have control. We tell our friends how we were hurt or offended – they commiserate, we feel justified in our indignation. Oh yes, we do get something from holding on.

Unfortunately, by nursing bitterness, we are unable to savor the sweet taste of God’s love, mercy and grace.

In the desert after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were so thirsty. They came upon some water but the water was bitter. Full of fear and irritable thirst, they complain to Moses. Moses cries out to the Lord and the Lord points to a tree. The Lord shows Moses how to turn bitterness sweet. He throws the tree in the water. The water turns from bitter to sweet.

But first, I imagine, Moses has to work very hard to cut the tree down. In this logging community I have observed that felling a tree is no easy task. It takes elbow grease, determination and focus. Perhaps receiving grace can sometimes be like this.

There are places in our lives where bitterness has taken hold. It robs us of our joy. We have fed bitterness for so long, fixating on blame, enlisting others to join our cause of righteous indignation.

The Lord wants us to cry out so that he can point out one action we can embrace to begin enabling God’s grace to turn our bitterness sweet. No doubt some spiritual elbow grease – control relinquished, prayer sustained, repentance lived – will be called for.

Once we’ve relinquished control so bitterness can fade, the Holy Spirit empowers us to receive God’s free gift of grace. We surrender bitterness so that we can surrender to grace. When we do this, not only do we taste the sweet joy of the Lord but others will too.


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