This past weekend I took advantage of the sales and went to the local Mall. After finding a few good clothing deals, I decided to celebrate by eating some chicken nuggets and drinking a diet Dr. Pepper. As I was sitting, chewing, drinking, and reviewing information on my phone. A stranger approached me and this is what happened.
Stranger: “Do you mind if I sit down at your table?”
Me: “Not at all,” and I motioned for her to take a seat.
Five minutes went by…
Me: “So what brings you to the mall today?”
Stranger: “The pretense of shopping….but I can’t…I have a spending problem.”
I gently smiled and the stranger went on to share her “life” with me and how she has not been a nice person to be around lately. After sharing many painful experiences, she looked me directly in the eyes and asked a question.
Stranger: “Why can’t I just get over it?!”
Me: “Because you’re bitter.”
Her eyebrows raised…I braced myself for a splash of soda in my face.
Stranger: “You know you are right.”
She went on to share deeper things and justified her pain.
Stranger: “I just can’t seem to get past the hurt.”
Me: “That is understandable….but you can.”
She looked at me and tilted her head to the right.
Stranger: “Have you ever felt like me?”
Me: “Oh yes,” I said with a laugh.
She went on to share more and as she spoke I realized that she was enslaved by bitterness.
Stranger: ‘Oh! what is wrong with me?”
Me: “You are bitter and have enslaved yourself.”
Again her eyebrows raised…and I was sure that the soda would soon be sailing my direction.
Stranger: “Wow…. what do you mean that I have enslaved myself?”
Me: “Because that’s what bitterness does. It keeps us in our pain, fuels it with anger, justifies itself, and creates a “not nice person to be around.” “We don’t choose injustices but we do choose to be bitter and bitterness corrodes us from the inside out.”
Stranger: “Have you ever been bitter?”
Me: “Yes,” I said with a laugh and began to share some of my life stories with her.
Stranger: “Are you bitter now?”
Me: “No, I am free.”
Stranger: “I want that! How did you do it.”
Stranger: “That’s hard.”
Me: “Yep, its work. Because forgiveness cost you something.”
Me: “The right to retaliate, to seek revenge, to create a level playing field. We often think that staying bitter punishes those who have injured us, but that’s a lie. We are only hurting ourselves, reliving the injury over and over. The person who has hurt us has moved on. They are not thinking about the incident because if they were, they would tell us that they were sorry.”
Stranger: “Never thought about it like that before. You’re right. So how did you forgive?”
Me: “Well if forgiveness was left totally up to me, I would fail miserably at it. I would forgive..then turn around and find myself right back in the replay of bitterness. My form of forgiveness is fleeting, non healing, non liberating.”
Stranger: “That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling!”
She then looked at me intensely and said… Stranger: “I think that I was suppose to meet you today.” I gently smiled.
Stranger: “But you aren’t bitter so how did you learn to forgive?”
Me: “By the only way possible, through Jesus.
She began to nod her head.
Stranger: “Are you a councilor?”
Me: “No…not even close.”
Stranger: “You should be.”
Me: “Well my advice comes without a charge…its free.”
We shared a laugh and I was thankful that I didn’t have soda dripping off the tips of my hair.
Stranger: “I need to go to church.”
Me: “You need to be free from bitterness.”
Stranger: “You’re right.”
Me: “You can’t do it by yourself. Trust me, I’ve been there done that.”
Me: “Look around at all of these people. All of them have their own story of pain and injustices. Some need to forgive, all need to be forgiven.”
Stranger: “Your probably right about that.”
Me: “Do you need to be forgiven?”
Stranger: “Yeah, I’ve hurt folks.”
I held my hand up…me too.
Me: “God loves you.”
She looked at me as if that was the first time she had heard that.
Me: “Do you think sharing my table was happenstance?’
Stranger: “No…I believe that I was suppose to talk with you.”
Me: “God loves you and he wants you free from your pain and free from your bitterness. He wants you to know His forgiveness.”
Stranger: “I am going to accept my friends invitation and go to church with them this Sunday. I want what you have.”
Sensing the topic had come to a close, I trusted that the purpose of the meeting had been completed. We talked a little longer and the stranger expressed her thanks for allowing her to vent, that she didn’t have many friends because she had been acting pretty nasty lately. I stood and extended my hand, she accepted and I said….God loves you even in your nastiness…find out why.
As I walked away I questioned whether I should have shared the gospel of Christ with the stranger, but was quickly reminded that the meeting wasn’t set to my agenda. That it was God’s appointment and I had been invited to be a seed planter that day.
It’s a pretty neat experience to watch God cultivate a person’s heart. When he invites us into His garden know that whether we are to be one who plows, plants or waters, our role is vital in the process of His harvest.