I just read that as people age, their tongues lose the ability to taste bitterness. This doesn’t sound so bad to me. Wouldn’t it be great if it happened in our emotional lives as well? So the older we get, the less bitter we are about life. I know people like that!
But of course this doesn’t happen with everybody. I’m always shocked and saddened when I meet patients in their seventies and up who have been carrying a grudge for some fifty years or more.
It seems that having a life-threatening illness can make old grudges float to the surface like so many dead goldfish. I recently saw an elderly man who said that forty years ago he found his wife with his best friend. “There they were in bed together: ten toes up and ten toes down.” He recounted this experience with such anger and venom, it was as if it had happened yesterday.
After a while we got around to talking about what it would be like if he could let go of his bitterness. He looked shocked. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Because then you wouldn’t have to carry around that poisonous anger.”
He shook his head and muttered, “Ruined my life.”
It was as if he was carrying around a ratty old blanket covered with filth and burrs. He didn’t want to give up the familiarity of the blanket in exchange for the release of his pain.
He didn’t have many friends and had successfully alienated his kids. As his son later told me, “Who wants to be around a toxic waste dump?”
The Bible is full of passages about bitterness and this is one of my favorites:
19I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for God’s compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I love this because the writer is honest about their bitterness and then just as open about their hope and faith in a compassionate God. I wish I could say this patient got to such a place of hope. He did not.
And yet I’ve known other people who seem to taste nothing but sweetness. It’s not an accident. It’s a choice and I pray it’s a choice we all can make.