Isaiah 61:1-3 says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He many be glorified.”
These are the words of Isaiah, speaking perhaps in part about himself, but ultimately looking forward to complete fulfillment in Jesus. I have been acquainted with this beautiful passage for many years, but reading it this morning in the wake of Poppy’s life, the verses became alive and resonant as never before. As I absorbed the message of the words, reading them over and over again, I felt my spirit echoing “Yes, Jesus! You have truly done this for me!”
I must admit that in the weeks before Poppy was born, my greatest fears about the future began to gradually shift. Instead of fearing the inevitable death of my baby, I began to fear what her death might do to my spirit. I remember my grandmother telling me of a woman she had met years ago who had lost her third child to SIDS. She had been blessed with two additional children after the loss of that baby, yet years later, absorbed in bitterness and pain, she continued to dwell on the unfair aspect of the loss. She resented God, allowing the death of her child to color her perspective and steal the possibility of joy, even in the two children she had been given since.
And this certainly isn’t my only exposure to what bitterness can do to a person’s heart when given free reign. I, like most of you, have seen first hand what a person consumed with resentment and anger is like. Closed. Unhappy. Lonely. It’s easy to become offended by these kinds of people since the most likely thing out of their mouth isn’t going to be a word of encouragement, but the more I think about it, instead of focusing on my personal injury, I am filled with pity and compassion for people like this. To me, the life of bitterness is the life of the living dead. Whether consciously or not, someone living in bitterness has at some level refused to hand the pain over to Jesus, feeling some kind of gratification or control in the simple act of refusing to let go.
I was thinking about it this morning, and I decided there are probably few things that excite Satan as much as a discouraged and bitter Christian. The reason why is simple. The person who is entrenched in bitterness cannot be filled with God’s hope and joy. She is adorned with ashes instead of the garland that Jesus so desperately wants to put around her neck, and instead of a mantle of praise, she lives in the constant weariness of defeat. Before Poppy was born, I lived in fear of this scenario becoming my reality.
Since that time, praise Jesus, I have discovered that the path of bitterness is one that I can choose not to take. It has not already been mapped out for me. In fact, it is opposite of the beauty that Jesus has planned for my life according to these verses. He wants to make me an established oak, with roots that are deeper as a result of the storm I’ve endured. And this isn’t just His plan for me. It is what He wants for EVERYONE. It’s yours for the taking.