I believe Satan hates families, especially families who are training their children to serve God. I believe Satan’s biggest tool to destroy family harmony is bitterness. Hebrews says, “See to it that no root of bitterness, springing up, causes trouble and by it many be defiled.”
Bitterness is a subtle thing. Satan knows he can’t get the average Christian to forsake the faith and follow him, so he settles for a sneak attack, hoping to hinder our usefulness (I Pet. 5:8,”Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”). I have a strong burden for Christian families. Harboring bitterness is never worth it. Bitterness always brings about death to relationships. As home educators, we need to doubly guard against this. We are investing our time, energies, schedule - in short, our lives - into the lives of our children.
I think there’s a strong tendency to become bitter when we feel like we’ve invested so much and our kids don’t appreciate it, or haven’t done what we expected them to do. In some ways, we have added pressure from others to see that our kids ‘conform’ to expectations of excellence, academic proficiency, etc. We are tempted to put pressure on our kids to conform to what others think they should be doing. We must guard against this and let God lead each child as He sees fit, not what others pressure us to do.
Parents, we must set the godly example. A clue that you may be harboring bitterness is feeling hurt often. Bitterness masquerades as hurt, which is actually selfishness.
Another symptom is that a bitter person is hardly ever able to be pleased. It’s almost like he has a chip on his shoulder and walks about looking to be offended. He gets offended very easily. When offended, he dredges up all the past offenses toward him and dwells on it. He hasn’t turned whatever it is over to God, but hangs on to it himself and it colors his eyeglasses, so to speak. A bitter person is not always exhibiting bitterness. Sometimes it’s masked, but springs up to cause trouble when he is irritated.
He has a tendency to expect the worst in the person he is harboring bitterness toward. The offender’s faults overshadow their positive qualities in his eyes and he tends to live with a defeated spirit. If you sense any of these characteristics in your life or your loved ones, examine yourself for bitterness and relinquish it. Don’t destroy the very thing you’ve been working for all these years by allowing bitterness to dwell within. Learn not to take things personally, but give hurts and disappointments to God. We must realize that bitterness seems to be directed at people, but it is ultimately toward God. Confess it to God and give no place to the devil!
God allows trials to come into our lives to make us better. Satan fights to get us to become bitter. We as parents must first of all, realize that our kids probably won’t appreciate all you’ve done for them until they’re adults and won’t completely even then. As they experience seasons of life themselves, what you have sacrificed for them will slowly dawn on them. We must train our children because God expects us to and we only need to please God, not expect our kids’ approval on each issue.
Secondly, expect your kids to need to question your values, the ones you’ve often fought for and been despised for by others. Your kids don’t just grow up and adopt your beliefs as their own. They need time and freedom to question. Communication is a must. Talk things over with them. Allow space for questions without becoming defensive. Resist the temptation to feel threatened. Try to see things from their point of view. Hold strong to your values, but explain why you have the values you do and how you arrived at that conclusion. They’ll come around to adopting them for themselves as you help them work through it. It’s kind of like getting saved. You can’t just grow up in a Christian home and be a Christian. You have to deal with your sin and accept Jesus as your personal Lord. So it is with values. Your kids need room to think and reason and then adopt them and cling to them for themselves. Some will struggle more than others; be there to help and support and explain.
Be your child’s best friend – not by dropping your standards, but by being there when they feel a need for you. Some of my best talks with my older kidshave been between the hours of and . When I see one lingering around after the others have headed off to bed, it’s my cue that something’s on their mind. I may be tired. I may need some quiet time myself, but remember, kids weren’t given for our convenience.
Believe the best of your kids. Inspire them to greatness. Tell them how you expect God to use them to accomplish mighty acts. Pray with them. Pray for them. Take their burdens before God’s holy throne in prayer. Help them to visualize God’s plan for their life (“where there is no vision the people perish”).
Ask God for vision for their lives. Encourage them to aspire lofty things. Be positive. Don’t always focus on the negatives. It’s difficult to do, but don’t let the negatives blind you to the positives. Tell them when you’re pleased with them. Be interested in what interests them. Remember that every negative characteristic is a positive quality misused. God delights in taking our biggest weaknesses and making them our greatest strengths and areas of ministry to others.
Learn the power of enthusiasm! Anyone can learn. Your enthusiasm in their accomplishments or your vision for their life can be a powerful motivator. God created enthusiasm to help spur others to greatness. Watch how He uses it as you practice it in your relationship with your children and with others.
God is the mighty re-builder. If bitterness has sprung up and caused rifts in your relationships, the first step is recognizing and acknowledging it, going back to your kids and confessing your sin. God will lead you in creativity to rebuild that relationship. It will take more work and more planning and more forgiving, as you are tempted to let that bitterness spring back up. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
When I stand before my Maker someday, I want to show him a perpetually godly generation, not a mess of broken lives scarred by bitterness.
You’re the key – drop your load of bitterness at the Savior’s feet and put your arm around your children. Come alongside them and be a Barnabas, encouraging them to give their all to the Savior! You’ll be glad you did, for all eternity!
By Marilyn Boyer, excerpted from her book, Parenting From the Heart.