Something is strange about the way hurts in life corrupt me inside, later to unfurl in confusing and unexpected directions. My feelings wrap and jumble like poorly tended rope; a mess of buried ends and loops lacking purpose and order. A thread of bitterness with no discernible track or pattern to the casual glance. Picture the stereotypical client on the psychiatrist’s lounge, discussing problems that somehow all stem from one’s mother. It has become a silly caricature, but all of us are touched by hurt from our most meaningful relationships. I think the effects should be obvious and reflective of the source. I observe, however, that sometimes the end results are not rationally linked to my original hurt. My own bitterness can be difficult for even me to understand until I root its source in a seemingly unlikely origin.

There is a special kind of knot one can tie. Even though tugging on one end of this knot will hold it fast, if you pull the opposite end, it completely unties itself. It’s called the Highwayman’s Hitch. It is a strong knot that will hold, yet give a quick release when needed.

My husband and I used to volunteer as leaders for a high school youth group. We were preparing for a water park excursion and discussing swimsuit guidelines for the students.* The swimwear guidelines were clear. I only owned a bikini, though. So, I put on a tank top and shorts over the swimsuit to wear to the park and that was the plan. Ostensibly, anyway. Except you can’t go down water slides in cotton clothes. And who wants to carry their clothes around the park and in lines and such? So I walked around the park in just my bikini. I – a leader – was the only person to trouble leadership with blatant non-compliance. And to top it off I was late to the bus home carrying ice cream in my hand. Though this memory has a -funny-in-retrospect quality, inwardly I cringe at this disregarding, tacky image from the past. Much can be said in favor of appropriateness.

With a groan of mortification I ask myself, what was wrong with me?! At root, I became increasingly resistant to change and cooperation among leadership. There was a thread of rebellion emerging in my involvement. I was just stubborn enough to not even bother with what would normally be a great excuse to buy a new swimsuit. These reactions made no sense, seemingly. It was outwardly foolish to act this way. By no fault of the leadership team, at my core I was unsatisfied and angry. As a result, I was working with them in a posture of disunity. I had the bitterness I had with seemingly no rhyme or reason, until I resolved problems in other areas in my life.

Eventually a deeply buried conflict and alienation between my spouse and I came to a head and led to its resolution. The conflict is not at all germane to my apparel choice for the water park outing, other than the fact that it had been brewing beneath the surface, feeding my hurt and anger. Somehow this knot got mixed up, mashed together with and tumbled out into other areas of our mutual life. When it was over, I realized I harbored bitterness against the whole leadership realm over a conflict having no connection to them whatsoever. I was simply tangled in bitterness. Resolution of the one gave release to those other malignant feelings, and they vanished of their own accord.

In another example, a once-pregnant mother close to me was due near the same time as the birth of my own baby. I noticed a petty competition and jealousy within me about her baby. I was surprised by my own reaction. I wanted to be happy for her. I prayed about my irrational response and I was answered. Tangled deep and curly was source of the hurt; a comment she had made about birthing choices which contrasted with my own. I realized that I was feeling defensive. Perhaps she was too. I had felt like my choices were discredited, but upon reflection I realized this was not her intent in the comment she made. It was easy then to forgive her on the spot. Bitterness released, and I was able to celebrate with her in uncompromised joy.

There is a special kind of knot one can tie. Even though tugging on one end of this knot will hold it fast, if you pull the opposite end, it completely unties itself. It’s called the Highwayman’s Hitch. It is a strong knot that will hold, yet give a quick release when needed.

I’ve noticed that when I harbor any trace of bitterness in my life, it grows within until it weaves and tangles and tumbles out toward nearby situations that might be in its path. So I suppose I am that client on that couch. I’m trying to understand the odd paths hurt can take within me. I find if I can simply follow the knotted ropes to their bitter ends, if I can tug away from the source, the knot loosens itself like a Highwayman’s Hitch. An openness to God’s revealing voice is the necessary guide to teasing out the winding paths of bitterness.


[*The discourse about modesty versus body-shaming is an important discussion, and perhaps an issue I will write on at some point, but this is not the topic of this post. Suffice it to say for now, that I remember no instance of shaming in the course of this event.]

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