Meant to be a snappy joke, the derogatory remark instead made me snap. I was in junior high school and after hearing my classmate’s remark, I shot a look at him that basically said, You will never speak to me like that again. He, David, took me literally. We didn’t talk and patently ignored one another clear through high school. Oddly, no one else knew about our secret pact. Years later, after college, marriage and children, I came across David in the grocery store. We immediately smiled, said hi, and started catching up on news. Standing in the vegetable aisle, customers walked around us so as not to interrupt the genuinely happy reunion. After a long chat, I walked away and thought, “That was weird.”
I didn’t psychoanalyze the situation however I did admit that any previous bitterness had obviously vanished. To my ignorance or discredit, I certainly didn’t try to remove the bitterness when I was in High School. For all I know I tried to keep it real by ignoring David but at some point the surliness was no longer real.
Curiously, I felt a tangible decency after admitting the bitterness wasn’t as real as I’d previously believed. To this day, twenty-five years later, I can still see David and me in the grocery store. He was holding his little girl and I had our daughters and we were sharing stories and laughing at the hilarity of how much we learn from children. It never occurred to us to recall our high school days.
For those times when new feelings of bitter resentment wash over me, I recall my experience with David. Why not expedite the release of bitterness? For instance, on those days I’m steaming mad at my husband for taking me for granted or thoughtlessly expecting me to take care of the house and cooking and cleaning alone, I’d remind myself that a bitter attitude is unpleasant, a real turn-off, even if I thought I was right, not bitter. I read in James that bitterness is not wisdom, “The wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle; willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17, NKJV)
So, I yield to the wisdom that cleaning and cooking are part of life and can be done peaceably no matter where I am or who I was with. Then, I ask my husband to help around the house taking the time to teach him how to clean and then accepting the fact that his standard of clean and mine differ. As for cooking, I ate crummy dense pancakes, with a smile on my face, until he mastered the art of making pancakes, twenty years later.
These experiences furthermore exposed a clandestine bitterness that would flummox me every now and then. Too often, I accepted lock-stock-and-barrel the advice to set a good example. Well, for twenty years I set a perfect example of beating eggs until they were fluffy before adding the rest of the ingredients to make lovely pancakes. And, I’ve made a lot of pancakes since our family tries to eat food made from scratch and not rely on cold cereals.
Basically, setting a good example is not the clincher to success. In fact, some people who purely concentrate on setting a good example become deluded and bitter because all their efforts aren’t doing all that much good in the world. When I act on the belief that setting a good example is a cure-all, I’m tempted into indolence and come across as hoity-toity, hypocritical, and unwelcoming. Bitterness lurks and lunges as I see others succeeding in life just fine while not following my example. I mean really, we all can live without scrumptious light pancakes.
Religion can be defined in multifarious ways, and definitions generally include helping others and following traditions. But, we can only help others when what we are offering is useful. It is silly to offer a college degree to a child or offer an outmoded motorcycle to a person who has to transport tons of food to a starving society across the ocean. Religion needs to be reformed. It needs to be broken down into understandable bites in order to be useful.
As for religious traditions, we can offer that which is practical and appropriate without being unfaithful to our God, religion, spouse, or family, even if what we are offering differs from the words, music, and habits we are familiar with. We read in 21st Century Science and Health, a revision of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health, “The present new, yet old, reform in religious faith will patiently and wisely teach us not to give in to sectarian bitterness when it flows inward.”
Conservatism and traditionalism are like sugar added to bitter chocolate. But throughout history, people stop giving attention to sugary pious conventionality and the unpleasant hard to swallow bitter chocolate is spit out. Newness happens and we all can join together and feel reformed in love.