On my mission, I listened to John Bytheway’s audiobook Rough Start, Great Finish. I don’t remember all the details, but one line has always stuck with me: “You can be bitter or you can be better.”
I remember loving it then, but I had no idea how significant that seemingly small piece of advice was going to be in my life. As time has pressed forward, I have wrestled over and over with releasing bitterness in favor of betterment.
When hard things happen in our lives, it is so easy to let feelings of anger and bitterness creep in. Someone else got that job you deserved? Your ex-boyfriend just got married to some girl who should have been you? Your health has deteriorated, your grades were bad despite hours of studying, etc., etc. The list is endless because there’s one reality of life no one can escape: bad things happen to all of us.
While we can control many things, we can’t control life’s unexpected twists and turns, and that can be equal parts infuriating and discouraging. But when those difficulties inevitably descend upon us, the one thing we can control is how we react to them.
No one was a better example of choosing betterment over bitterness than my own grandmother. At the age of 45, she lost her husband. A high-school drop out, she had no degree; her own parents were both deceased and her two children were grown and out of the house. I can’t imagine how lonely and scared she must have felt.
It would have been so easy for her to bitterly wonder why such a horrible thing had happened to her. She was a less-than-middle-aged widow! No one can plan for something so devastating. But instead of succumbing to her grief, she moved forward with faith. Rather than spending her time sulking (which I am 100% is what I would have done), she spent the 35 remaining years of her life serving.
She taught me so much about loving the Savior and following His example — something she couldn’t have done effectively if she had spent her life in a state of bitterness.
In my own life, I much less gracefully attempt to overcome feelings of resentment and anger at life’s unfair realities. I’ve learned firsthand, and had it reaffirmed time and again, that being bitter never ends well for anyone.
One of the most beautiful verses in all of scripture informs us, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelations 21:4).
Nothing bad in life is permanent! Because of Jesus Christ’s Atonement, “All that is unfair about life can be made right” (Preach My Gospel, Lesson 2). The challenges and trials we unfairly face are not going to remain with us throughout the eternities. But the people we choose to become? That will remain with us, for better or for worse.
Luckily, no one else gets to choose the person that you become. You (and only you!) have total control over who you are tomorrow and forever.
As Joseph B. Wirthlin so wisely recounted, “I know why there must be opposition in all things. Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. We can learn to love it” (“Come What May, and Love It,” October 2008).
By turning to the Lord, those oppositions and adversities that could easily beset us will not make us bitter — they will make us better.
Amy Keim is the site manager and editor for LDSBlogs.com. She served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love mountains and despise snow. She has a passion for peanut butter, dancing badly, and most of all, the gospel.