An everyday choice that leads toward life or death

Zig Ziglar was the first person I heard say, “Everything that happens to you in life, has the potential of making you bitter or better. “ I could handle that statement until he continued, “The choice is yours!” I have to make a choice? Isn’t it the severity of what happens to me that determines whether I become bitter or better? Doesn’t my past free me to blame circumstances or other people for my attitude and actions?   Ouch!

But wait!  There is good news.  The fact God has given me a choice also means that I don’t have to be a victim of circumstances. Responding with bitterness sometimes feels better for a short period of time.  It momentarily relieves the pain of being treated unfairly.   It’s payback time.

But Bitter is NEVER better.

Make no mistake, it is a natural and acceptable human response to be angry at personal and corporate injustice, but allowing that anger to take root and fester may be one of the most self destructive actions a man or woman can take.

Without exception when bitterness is allowed to take root and grow it eventually diminishes and destroys the person who nurtures it. I have watched it happen to people I love.   The movement toward destruction can be slow and invisible to the naked eye, but inevitably bitter people with incredible potential are reduced to vindictive souls who lash out at perceived slights and offenses. Their judgment becomes clouded.  They become brittle, insensitive shells of what they really could be.  Once filled with life and compassion they slowly harden into isolated self protective souls desperate for and incapable of knowing healthy relationships.  I should know.  I did some hard time in that shell myself.

Every day the events of our lives force us to choose. Bitter? or Better?   Both, is not an option.

How ironic that bitterness has zero affect on the person or persons it is aimed at, but surely destroys the one who chooses to harbor it.

Researching my book “Fully Alive”  has forced me to re-evaluate my own life. Not always a fun process. I must confess that my default, knee jerk reaction can still occasionally lean toward “bitter.”  But, I am a free man now.  Seeing the miracle in lives resolved to let go of bitterness and move toward betterness. (sic) is like witnessing a rose that has been battered by hail recover and bloom to beauty again.  I have also seen the destruction that comes when bitterness sucks the beauty from life and destroys the potential to live fully alive.  I choose to live.  So today I pray…..

“Dear Lord, Today will bring a variety of events to my life.

I may experience cancelled flights, cruel remarks, or personal tragedy.

I may be made a fool of or make a fool of myself.

I may be reminded of a past filled with pain.

In the face of whatever happens Lord, help me take the time to weigh my response to these things.  Though I may get angry, feel like an idiot or dance in celebration, at the end of the day, by your grace, please help me – CHOOSE – to be better. ”

I look forward to your comments and stories.  They always help me be a BETTER person.



  1. Great post, Ken.

    I’ve heard it said that bitterness and unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

    1. Author

      Great quote Gail. I pray that readers will see the “Poison” label before they drink the contents. Thank you for your insightful comment.

  2. I must admit that I really needed this today. Thanks so much for putting things into perspective and reminding me that I do have a choice. Will be re-reading this one a lot. Thanks again.

  3. Hi Ken-
    Looks like we had the same thing on our minds for a blog topic this week. My blog post was on the Cancerous Nature of Bitterness ( Your post compliments it so nicely I will recommend it and share it with my readers!

    This rings so true:”Without exception when bitterness is allowed to take root and grow it eventually diminishes and destroys the person who nurtures it.”

    Thanks for writing!

    1. Eliza, Your blog was right on. I have to be very careful not to slip into this trap. Even as I spot bitterness in others, it keeps trying to build its nest in my own soul. Thanks again for adding to the conversation.

  4. Wise-ness!

    Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars; She has slaughtered her meat, She has mixed her wine, She has also furnished her table. She has sent out her maidens, She cries out from the highest places of the city, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, “Come, eat of my bread And drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, And go in the way of understanding. Proverbs 9:1-6

  5. My Sister and I had a fall out yesterday and in one text she called me a particular offensive word.

    Rather than be bitter I asked her what I had done to deserve the name calling. Turns out my Mum hadn’t yet told me the bad news that she needs more chemotherapy and my Sister is understandably upset and stressed, especially as she still lives at home.

    I could of acted bitter, when in fact she needed someone to listen.

    1. Stuart, Isn’t it crazy that we often interpret the actions of others as against us, when really something else is going on. Your restraint and insight is commendable. thanks for the comment.

  6. A man who steps in dog poo. He sits on the curb, grabs a stick and scrapes it off. Standing triumphantly, he shoves the stick in his back pocket and walks away. That’s bitterness.

  7. Ken, thanks for this message. Why is it always easier to be bitter. God has made me a regular pollyanna, and I try to see the better in every thing. However, it is easy to complain. I do this, if I catch myself saying something negative, I immediately come back with something positive. It works for me and puts me in a better mood. Also, always try to find the humor in things (look who I am telling this to.) And lastly remember to treat people as you would want to be treated. Life is too short to be ugly, and you never know who is watching you. Stay well, thanks for the emails. I love em…..

  8. Dear Ken,

    This is such a truth. How many times in my life have I asked God “why” I had to go thru a particular trauma, only to find the blessing hidden inside. We can choose to trust Him in the midst of terrible situations knowing that He has our best interest at heart. Note my e-mail address, I am no longer a survivor (of incest, rape, divorce, death of loved ones, cancer, car accident and disease) I am triumphant in the Lord. I have come thru these things a much better person with an undying knowledge of God’s perfect love which is enough. . . always enough to see us thru anything.

    1. Beth, What satan would use to destroy, God can use to make us strong and glorify him. Your story and your attitude bless me.

  9. Great message and reminder. As Andy said at Gaither Family Fest, everyday someone is going to push us into a pool…how are we going to react? I needed this.

  10. Ken,
    I love this. Thank you for your transparency. I can be right there with you some times. I met a mutual friend of ours while I was in the middle of working through a very painful trial of working in a church, only to discover it was not the cure all nirvana I had built it up to be in my head. Having been denied belonging to a church as a child only to become a paid staff member as an adult actually created quite the arrogant me. Talk about a chip on my shoulder. I always felt behind and like I had something to prove. Her testimony went a long way in helping sand off my rough edges and protective shield I was building. It was a shock to me to discover the depth of fear that protective coating was really hiding. — who knew that bitterness and anger could be a shield for fear. I’ve learned that once I address the fear, the shield is no longer needed.

    I like Gail’s quote – drinking poison. I’ve heard that before and it is so true. Another phrase I use is HALT. Bitterness takes root very quickly when I am Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It is in those times when I most need to Halt or rest and take care of myself.

    Great thoughts Ken. Thank you.

    1. Deana, Your comments are always so welcome and insightful. Thanks for participating.

  11. We always have at least two choices in all things. Hate and revenge takes up way too much time and energy, time and energy that can be better spent making our day brighter and more productive.
    Instead of giving Satan the last word by holding onto hate, why not fill our hearts with God’s love and ask Him to bless those that hurt us? After all I want the “PRINCE OF PEACE” dwelling in my heart, not the “father of lies”.
    Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.” NKJV.
    Besides, there is enough hate the world already, why add to it? Our hearts aren’t big enough for both.

    1. Author

      STephen, I love the comment, “our hearts aren’t big enough for both.” Thank you

  12. I’m so glad that I stopped in tonight! It’s good to know we can choose grace. 🙂 I want to remember this message when life happens and hurts come along. Thank you!

    1. Author

      Laura, I too am glad you stopped in. I enjoyed your comment. Come back often.

  13. Hi Ken,
    Thanks for your wonderful insight. I needed that reminder right now about the choices we have~to be bitter or better. I have usually been a happy-go-lucky person, but have found myself feeling quite bitter lately. I’m not even sure why. Thanks again for bringing things back to perspective. You are an inspiration to many of us. I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Father’s Day!!

    1. Author

      It’s a choice we half to make so often. I am so glad you are part of this conversation.

  14. Thanks for this Ken, really needed this reminder. I too can repress issues that have hurt me in the past and find myself getting bitter not better. Thank God for his grace and mercy. We must always let the past stay in the past, forgive and let God take over.

    1. Petia, Easier said than done isn’t it? I appreciate your comment. You are welcome for the post. Come back often.

  15. I learned along time ago that you have the choice to hold on to hate and anger or fogive. I know by personal experiences that hate and anger can distroy your soul. Jesus forgave all of us. Is this not the lesson he wanted to teach us. So when I get my feelings hurt or I get Mad. I have leaned to say to myself. If Jesus can for give me with all that I have done I can foregive. After 38yrs. of marriage it ended because I was not good enough for him. It hurt very badly. But the one thing I know that he does not know is that Jesus and my father God knows me, and Loves me for who I am. I have forgiven my husband and pray for him to know and Love God and his Beloved Son as much as I do. Susan

  16. Hi Ken, thanks for sharing on being bitter or better. Yours was the 3rd devotional I read this morning on this same topic! Obviously the Lord was telling me something very loudly and clearly. I lived for 5 years with unforgiveness and my bitterness started to flow over into my childrens attitudes. It was then that I cried out to the Lord for help, as I realised that something I thought I was entitled to feel was actually destroying me and the ones I loved. It’s always the best choice to be BETTER and not bitter!

Leave a Comment