In Hebrews 12:14–15, God tells us, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
The call here is to “strive for peace with everyone,” and if we are to do that with our family members, we must “see to it . . . that no root of bitterness springs up.” God gives us a planting analogy for relationships and the effects of bitterness and unforgiveness. A family conflict starts with sin. It is a seed of offense and hurt. Sometimes, when we experience hurt and rejection from someone at home, we tell ourselves, “I’ll just take the high road here and let it go. Time heals all wounds.” While there can be value in choosing not to be easily provoked, it is simply not true that “time heals all wounds.” If you get a deep gash in your arm, you would not look at the open flesh and say, “No problem. I’ll just let that go. Time heals all wounds.” With major wounds, time without treatment leads to infection and far worse.
In the same way, if you plant a seed and then walk away and forget about it, what is that seed going to do? It is going to grow roots, sprout into a plant, and eventually bear fruit. The same thing happens when a seed of hurt is planted in our hearts. Unless we specifically address it through an intentional forgiveness process, it will grow a “root of bitterness.” Notice, then, that a root of bitterness always grows up to do two things. First, what grows from that root is going to cause trouble; and second, it will defile many. To defile means to pollute or corrupt. We see that second ugly effect in our home on an ongoing basis. Two people get into a conflict, and before we know it all nine of us are going at it! Bitter roots do indeed spring up to cause trouble and corrupt many. This is why it is so urgent that we deal with the seed, and any roots, before they produce their destructive fruit.
A few years ago, I was leading Visionary Family Conferences in Malaysia, and while I was there I learned Southeast Asia is home to one of the fastest-growing trees in the world. It is called the falcataria moluccana, or batai tree. When the seeds of the tree are planted, a year goes by without any sign of life. In the second year, a shoot appears . . . and the tree can grow more than 20 feet in the first season. From there it can reach as high as 120 feet. They say you can hear it cracking as it grows. What was happening during that first year? Above the surface, nothing was visible, but below the surface, roots were growing hundreds of feet in all directions. The tree was gathering nutrients and strength for its eventual burst upward.
A seed of hurt can work just like the seed from this plant. It goes in the ground and, although unseen, it immediately goes to work developing the tree’s root system. Then, perhaps well after it has been forgotten, out blasts an ugly tree, which will eventually yield defiling fruit. Some of our current family conflicts are the result of seeds of hurt, and roots of bitterness, which were planted long ago.
An excerpt from “Healing Family Relationships” by Rob Rienow: