I was sitting in the pew of the Dover Chapel at Gardner-Webb. It was a session for our preaching class, but there was something different about today’s class. My preaching professor had invited a female preacher to share her story about her call to ministry. As I listened to her story, realizing it was my story with tears in my eyes, I was shocked that there was not even a hint of bitterness in her voice or her demeanor.
And there could have been based on her experience of being rejected and reprimanded, but there simply wasn’t.
Although I hadn’t even been in seminary for a semester, I could already feel the sting of the words of hurt that I’d heard find their way to the deepest parts of my heart. The parts that form and mold you. The parts that impact everything else.
The question was not whether those words would impact me to my very core. I knew those words would reside deep in me for a long time. As they tumbled to the deepest part of my heart, I knew there were a couple of different things that could happen to those words. They could fall like a coin into a pizza parlor game and ignite a new experience, a future I never imagined or they could remain those words of hurt and slowly mold into bitterness that would begin to eat me from the inside out.
The hurt as the words became part of who I am was unavoidable, but I didn’t have to let the words mold. I could let the words transform as well.
The more I work as a pastor, the more people I encounter who have let hurt and pain turn into bitterness. Bitterness that weights them down and clouds their vision. Bitterness over loss loved ones, loss jobs, loss relationships, loss hope.
Bitterness that cripples them from living and becoming who they want to become. Bitterness that stagnates them. Bitterness that holds them back from trying something new. Bitterness that drives them away from family and communities who would embrace them and walk with them through the hurt and pain.
Bitterness that leaves them alone.
The more times I see these people, the deeper my resolve becomes to not let hurt turn to bitterness. Because the world is broken and full of hurt and pain, but that’s not the end of the story. We can still join in creation and “Let them be” something new.