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How Do We Weed Out Bitterness in the Garden of Our Hearts?

A British agronomist helped me win a long-standing argument with my husband.

Here was the conflict: Michigan has great conditions for growing vegetables and a wide variety of beautiful flowers in the summer. While it can be frustrating at times to discover weeds in the flowerbeds again, I find digging in the soil to be relaxing and there is a sense of accomplishment when I finish.

I also love the beauty of the variety of flowers in our garden that somehow bloom each year despite my very limited gardening abilities. My husband, Jim, hates weeding. He finds it boring and pointless because weeds keep coming back. Knowing he couldn’t just weed his tomato garden once at the beginning of the season but would have to regularly tend to the garden, he simply didn’t weed at all. I found the resulting explosion of vegetation to be unsightly.

But because his plants produced some tomatoes, and an untamed garden isn’t immoral, we were at an impasse.

While having lunch with a couple on a trip to England, Jim discovered the husband was an agronomist (which I googled later to discover is an expert in crop production). Jim jumped at the chance to prove me wrong about weeding with a very leading question. “Isn’t it a waste of time to weed?”

To my delight, the agronomist quickly disagreed. He summarized the problem: “Weeds steal nutrients, sun and water from the plants.” Essentially, weeds crowd out the plants and prevent them from getting the essential nutrients they need to flourish and produce abundant flowers or crops.

As I celebrated my victory, I thought about the agronomist’s explanation and began to consider the metaphor of weeding. Turning to Scripture, I began to see there is a lot God has to say to us about weeding.

The Garden of Our Heart

To grasp the metaphor of weeding, we need a garden or field. While Scripture uses a variety of gardening metaphors, when applied to people the garden is often the heart because the heart refers to the center of the whole life of the person, representing where one’s thoughts, passions and emotions are housed.

Due to its importance, we should not be surprised when the writer of Proverbs implores his son: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Like a guard keeping watch over valuable treasure, our hearts require the same kind of attention because our attitudes and actions are the harvest that grow out of it.

To guard our hearts is to ensure that our hearts have the opportunity to produce the good fruit of a life lived under the control of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-33). We must protect it from the things, or weeds, that not only prevent good fruit from growing but can end up producing an unsightly harvest of chaos and destruction.

The apostle Paul reminds us that a person reaps what they sow (Galatians 6:8) so he urges us to work to produce a good harvest, which implies not only cultivating our hearts to bear good fruit but also eliminating the weeds that can choke out a bountiful harvest.

A Common Weed

In Michigan, the common weed known as dandelions spring up everywhere! They have deep root systems that allow them to survive even our cold winters. And because dandelion flowers produce white seeds that the wind, or my kid, blows around the yard, dandelions spread easily and quickly take over lawns and gardens. The only way to eliminate dandelions is to pull out the entire root.

There are also weeds common to the human experience that can quickly take over our hearts. In the book of Hebrews, we read, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). The Message summarizes it well: “Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.”

In this passage, we are reminded that God’s grace brings many benefits into our lives. His peace gives us calm even in the most challenging storms. His love reminds us that we are his beloved children even when we face rejection from friends or family. His truth guides us when we face uncertainty. God’s love, truth and peace can fill the garden of our hearts creating a beautiful display of his grace in our lives.

But, the fast spreading weed of bitterness can multiple so quickly that it “defiles” or ruins our ability to enjoy the benefits of God’s grace.

Bitterness about a coworker taking credit for a successful project can take root in our hearts and spread until we are unable to be in the same room. The pain of feeling unloved by a parent can take over in our heart so that we are unable to accept love from anyone. Bitterness is the result of real pain and suffering. But, it is an expression of anger turned inward that can overtake our hearts, multiplying the pain. And, the benefits of God’s grace can become lost among the overgrowth of bitter weeds.

Uprooting Bitterness

How do we get rid of bitterness? First, we must identify the weed of bitterness so we can uproot it. The verses in Hebrews remind us we need to keep a sharp eye out for any evidence of bitterness. Do we replay conversations with a friend from weeks or months ago? Are unable to be in the same room as another person? Do we hold grudges? Do we have strong emotional reactions to another person’s words or actions? If these things are true, it is likely that we have at least some sprouts of bitterness in our hearts.

Second, when we find evidence of the seeds of bitterness we should “get rid of all bitterness” (Ephesians 4:31). Paul’s advice to be rid of the weed of bitterness is forgiveness. That might seem like an unfair solution, especially if the other person hasn’t asked for forgiveness, but it is the biblical model because we are called to forgive each other, “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

In these situations, forgiveness is a choice. We can name the source of our bitterness as we pull it out and hand the weeds to God, giving him all the pain and all the suffering. Not because it is insignificant pain but because he is able to water the soil with his grace, replacing the weeds with a bountiful harvest of love and joy.

The choice of forgiveness might mean proactive gardening, like installing fences or boundaries to help provide better protection against the ability for weeds to enter the garden.

Forgiveness is the choice to pray the hard prayer of Jesus, “Father forgive them” (Luke 23:34) even when it still hurts. And even when our feelings don’t match the decision to forgive, God’s grace is big enough to carry us until we no longer experience a primary harvest of bitterness but are enjoying a heart full of peace and love.

Maintaining the Garden

My husband was right about weeding. It is not possible to simply prepare the garden beds, remove any bad seeds and never think about the weeds again. The potential for weeds likely already exists in the garden. Wind, birds and other creatures also bring contaminating weeds into the beautifully prepared soil. And when the conditions are right, bitter seeds will germinate and begin to grow.

Even when we do the hard work of pulling out the weeds of bitterness by the roots, there are still possibilities for bitterness to take root again. I have a relationship that I’ve learned can quickly spread seeds of bitterness in my heart. Even though I’ve done the hard work of uprooting the deep roots, I sometimes still find little bits of bitterness sprouting again.

As with any weed, pulling it out when it is small is a lot easier and a lot less painful. But, even if bitterness has developed strong roots in our hearts, God’s Spirit can strengthen us so that we can uproot bitterness and cultivate a garden of flourishing flowers or a field of bountiful crops in our hearts.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Marco-Xu


lisa samra headshot authorLisa M. Samra graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas and earned a Master of Biblical Studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Lisa now lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband and children. She leads the Jerusalem Project at Calvary Church, a ministry focused on partnering with local churches, training people for ministry, and planting new churches. She is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Our Daily Bread, and her work has also appeared in a variety of publications and online sites. Lisa enjoys good coffee, running, and reading, just not all at the same time. 

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