Healing from Bitterness, with Yvonne WelchThe Beginning of Bitterness
Leslie Basham: Yvonne Welch describes a time of testing in her life.
Yvonne Welch: God was concerned with my response to what was happening in my life. How am I going to respond if I don’t like it, if I don’t understand it? It was not the stress making me sick or depressed. It was my own response to it.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 30.
Yesterday Yvonne Welch joined us. She’s a Bible teacher and speaker who has valuable things to share about her own experience with depression, stress, and hope. Holly Elliff is also joining us. She’s a pastor’s wife and good friend of Revive Our Hearts, bringing the perspective of a wife and mom to today’s conversation.
Here’s Nancy picking up Yvonne’s story.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: For those who weren’t able to be with us in the last session, you shared about a really dark time early in your married life. You had four little ones and you came to a point of utter exhaustion where your husband took you to a doctor. It was kind of a crisis. You needed some real physical and spiritual help.
Out of that period of time God began to do some rich things, but it was a long, slow, hard process of recovery. Just give us, Yvonne, in a nutshell: What did life look like in the Welch home in those days? How did your husband even know there was a problem we’ve got to address?
Yvonne: Because every night I would go to Bob, and I would say, “Bob, I’ve just got to talk to you.” I am so grateful that Bob would listen. He would listen, and he would encourage me.
Nancy: When you talked, what did you say?
Yvonne: I would say, “Bob, I’m hurting. I don’t know why I’m hurting, but I’ve just totally lost my joy.”
Holly Elliff: So when you say, “I’m hurting,” were you physically hurting? Was it emotional? Was it spiritual? Was it affecting your ability to do household chores? Were your children aware of it? What did that look like in your home?
Yvonne: Holly, it was physical and mental and spiritual and emotional.
Nancy: Because you can’t really separate all that.
Yvonne: No, and I really did hurt. It was like a headache only I had it twenty-four hours a day, all the time. I really didn’t want my children to know. So I would try to act like things were fine in front of them.
But around 2:00 in the morning I would say, “Bob, are you awake?”
He would say, “I am now.”
And I would say, “I’ve just got to talk to you. I can’t sleep. Something’s wrong.” It was a very, very difficult time.
Nancy: You shared with us that you began to get some help and there were some very simple, practical steps that you were able to take that, over a period of time, began a process of restoration in your life, some of it as simple as just getting out and first walking and then running.
But I want to back up because I think what you described is common to so many of our listeners and things that all of us have experienced to greater or lesser degrees at certain points in our lives. I want to talk about what was under the surface.
You’ve mentioned the words depression, exhaustion, just this sense of inability to cope or deal with life, this dark time. As you look back, what do you see at the root or the heart of that issue of what you were experiencing at that time?
Yvonne: Nancy, I see bitterness.
Nancy: Huge, huge word.
Yvonne: It is a huge, huge word. Yes, and that’s what I see.
Nancy: What you’ve described about what you were experiencing during that season of life is so typical, I think, of what bitterness can do, that unseeing, subtle enemy of bitterness in our lives. You just illustrated that it really has huge consequences.
In fact, Hebrews 12:15 says, “Be careful that you don’t let a root of bitterness spring up in your life because if you do it will trouble you and many will be defiled” (paraphrased). Bitterness does have huge, enormous consequences.
So let’s talk about how do you get to the place—how did you get to the place—where bitterness is such an issue that it left you almost incapacitated? Did you start out in your marriage that way?
Yvonne: No. Nancy, I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. I accepted Jesus when I was nine years old. I had a real desire to live for Christ all through high school, and then took off for LSU.
God was very, very gracious to me. He gave me a very wonderful life, an exciting life. In fact, I can remember thinking, This must be what the Christian life is all about—just fun and no problems.
I really never dreamed of the dark valleys that I would go through later on in life. Amidst all that excitement, though, there was a desire that I had deep down in my heart. That desire was to meet, to fall in love with and hope that he would love me, a young man who loved God with all of his heart, a young man who would be the spiritual leader in our relationship.
I can remember claiming Matthew 6:33 as I would walk to class at LSU. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
And I said, “Lord, help me. Show me what that means. Help me to seek You first.”
Nancy: Were you thinking that one of these things He would add would be this godly man?
Yvonne: I was really hoping that that would happen. I was praying that it would. The last week of my junior year, it did. I walked into the Baptist Student Union, and there he was.
Nancy: Bob Welch.
Yvonne: Yes. I fell instantly in love with Bob Welch. He was a very godly young man. He was a graduate student from Mississippi. When I walked in and was introduced, he had the Bible. He was teaching some of the other students.
I can remember I ran home and called my mother. I said, “Mother, guess what? I think I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”
She said, “Great. What’s his name?”
And I said, “I’m not real sure. But I’ll call you back.”
So that summer Bob and I were both there together working at the Baptist Student Union. He asked me out, and we began to date. I really felt as if God had given me the desire of my heart.
There was only one problem. I’m sure there were a lot of problems, though. I really didn’t know what true love really was. My idea of love came out of Hollywood. That love was a romantic dream world with no problems, no heartaches.
Nancy: They all lived happily ever after.
Yvonne: Yes, with a little cottage and roses. And he was going to take me out to eat every single night.
Nancy: Yes, right. While you’re dating.
Yvonne: Yes. He was a very godly young man. But I will never forget the question Bob asked me at the same time he asked me to marry him.
Nancy: What was that?
Yvonne: He looked at me and he said, “Are you sure that you would be willing to live a sacrificial life if God ever called me into the ministry, if God ever called me to be a missionary or to full-time Christian work?”
I said, “Oh Bob, I would love to live a sacrificial life. I will follow you to the ends of the earth.”
Nancy, I had no idea what a sacrificial lifestyle was. I just wanted to marry him. So I just said, “Yes.”
We were married the summer after I graduated. We’d only been married five days when the first disaster hit.
We’d only been married five days. We moved back to Bob’s hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, where his parents were and the family business was. We didn’t have a washing machine, and so I took all of our clothes to the laundrymat. I thought, “I’ll just leave them here, and I’m going to go shopping. When I get back surely somebody will have taken them out, put them in the dryer, have them all folded.”
So when I got back to the laundrymat, our clothes were gone. Someone had stolen all of our clothes. It really didn’t bother me that much.
I ran back to the apartment and I said, “Guess what? Someone has stolen all of our clothes.”
Do you know, this godly young man—we’d only been married five days—he got mad at me! I said, “Well, don’t get so upset. I mean, we can go to downtown Laurel tomorrow. We can take this little charge card, and we can just charge new clothes all over town.”
He looked at me and he said, “There are some things that I forgot to tell you before we got married.” There were a lot of things, Nancy, that I didn’t know that we forgot to talk about.
But he said, “I don’t believe in charging anything.” I almost had a heart attack.
And then he said, “I believe that you pray for the item and you ask God to provide it if it’s not in the budget, or you look for some incredible bargain.”
In my heart I thought, And I prayed for this kind of a man?
You see, I wanted a godly man who was a spiritual leader who would do everything I told him, everything I wanted him to do. It wasn’t very long before Bob and I began to have some conflict.
Nancy: Like five days.
Yvonne: Yes. He was the interim music director at the First Baptist Church. I was the youth director. I remember one day he rushed me so badly, and we got to church and nobody was there.
Holly: Wait. Did you have clothes at this point?
Yvonne: Oh, yes. I was all dressed.
But he rushed me so much that it just really upset me and we got to the church and nobody was there. It was daylight savings time, and we had forgotten to set our clocks. Nancy, I will have to say that I really got angry. But I couldn’t stay angry long because then the people started coming to church, and I didn’t want them to know.
Nancy: And you were on staff.
Yvonne: Yes, and so I just got out of the car and put a smile on my face. But something began to happen to me.
We’re told in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and sin not. Do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” And Nancy . . .
Nancy: That’s what happened.
Yvonne: That’s what happened.
It wasn’t long before Satan was able to get a foothold in my heart. It was bitterness. I began to resent the very same man I had so prayed for, the very same man I had so loved.
Nancy: It sounds like the issues weren’t in and of themselves, at that point, major issues. But it’s amazing how those little things can become so destructive. It’s those little foxes, if you let them burrow way in and destroy the vines of your love.
Yvonne: Exactly. God was so gracious. He gave us a son, Robert, and then another son, Richard, came three years later.
Bob began teaching a Bible study at our church in Laurel, at First Baptist Church. God just poured out His Spirit on that Bible study. That little group of about ten grew to almost 400 high school students coming on Tuesday nights.
Bob came home one day and he said, “I love seeing God change lives.” And he said, “Yvonne, I think I want to go into the ministry.”
Nancy: Now he had warned you this might be a possibility when you got engaged, right?
Yvonne: Yes, he had. I had forgotten all about that.
Yvonne: Conveniently. And so we did. We sold our home, our newly redecorated home. We sold the family business, and we moved to Birmingham.
Nancy: Did you have any resentment about that at the time or you just went with the program?
Yvonne: No, at the time I went with the program. We got to Briarwood and it is a wonderful, wonderful church. We would have many missionaries come. Bob began to meet these missionaries, and he began to meet missionaries who were living on faith.
He came home and said, “That’s what I want to do. I really would like to live on faith.”
The more excited he got, the more unexcited I became and the more the bitterness began to grow.
Holly: Was Bob aware of what was going on in your heart at that point?
Yvonne: He was aware. He knew.
Nancy: How did it come out? Were you just closing up your heart?
Yvonne: Oh, no. I would share what was on my heart. I remember one afternoon I went to the mailbox and I opened up the mailbox and there was a check for $1,000. It was our income tax refund check.
I thought, Oh, this is so exciting. I thought, Well, this living on faith, this is nice; this is not too scary.
I walked in the kitchen and Bob said, “I think we should give that $1,000 to a ministry at our church.”
I responded with anger and bitterness.
Bob—I can still see him in the kitchen. He looked at me and he said, “This is not the way a godly marriage ought to be. I am going to pray. I am going to ask God to do whatever it takes.”
When he said that, it scared me to death because I knew that Bob was a praying person, and I knew that God just might answer Bob’s prayers. I didn’t want God to answer Bob’s prayers. I wanted Bob to change, not me.
Nancy: Over the next few months God did begin to answer Bob’s prayers and probably in a way that you would have never, ever scripted or wanted.
Yvonne: Nancy, you are so right. It was only a few months later when God did answer Bob’s prayers.
By then we had been blessed with a son, a third son, Mark. I knew the minute they brought Mark to me in the hospital that something was wrong. I didn’t want to believe it, but I just knew. Mothers just know when there is something wrong with their babies.
The doctors called when he was five months old and they said, “We believe that Mark has hydrocephalus, which is water on the brain.” So they wanted to do surgery on Thursday.
I remember the next day we took Mark to the hospital, and my heart broke. I began to cry like I had never cried before. I had never been through the valley, and I didn’t know what to do.
It was Wednesday afternoon and our assistant pastor had come to visit us. As he was leaving, he said, “I would just like to pray. I would like to ask God to heal Mark.”
In my heart I thought, I can’t even pray. I am hurting so much right now.
I said, “Reverend Wilson, would you pray? I just can’t.”
He prayed, and he asked God to heal Mark. That afternoon I remember Mark slept a long time. When he woke up, he seemed to be a little bit more alert.
The doctors came in and they said, “He’s looking so good I think we’ll cancel brain surgery in the morning. But we want to see you once a month at the University of Alabama in Birmingham because we want to do a check up on him.”
So a few months after that they put him back in the children’s hospital and did a complete work up on him. At the end of that week a team of non-Christian doctors said, “Your son had hydrocephalus up until this date. But after that it has arrested itself, and we have no other explanation other than he was healed due to an act of God.”
Nancy: How did that affect you? I mean, of course, as a mother you’re thrilled. But in terms of your own faith walk and some of the issues you were dealing with at the time.
Yvonne: Nancy, deep down in my heart I think it was hard for me to believe. It was just a few months later when Bob took me to the hospital.
The doctors said, “You have totally lost your health, and we don’t know how long it’s going to take you to get well.”
I remember I came home and I said, “This is America. Surely I’ll be well in two weeks.” And then it was six weeks, and then it was a year. They had diagnosed me with anxious depression.
I had always been a happy person. But I would go to bed sad, and I would wake up sad. We had four children, two babies in diapers. We were living on faith. I was very bitter.
God began to show me that the bitterness in my heart was sin. He began to show me that the people, the circumstances, the things in my life—those weren’t making me mad or sad or bad. They were only revealing what was already deep down in my heart.
Bob was God’s instrument to reveal a spirit in me that was not pleasing to the Lord. I looked up all the verses on bitterness that I could and I wrote them down on index cards and I memorized them, such as Ephesians 4:31 and 32.
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (NKJV)
I began to realize God was concerned with my response to what was happening in my life. It was not the stress making me sick or depressed. It was my own response to it.
Nancy: What was happening was that those life circumstances were squeezing you. What was coming out was an indication of what was inside of your heart. Like if you squeeze a lemon, what you’re going to get is lemon juice. Your heart was getting squeezed and the anger that was coming out was an indication of what was really inside.
Yvonne: I began to realize that. So the instant I began to feel that bitterness coming, I said, “Lord, I pray that You would help me overcome this bitterness.”
We’re told in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So, Nancy, I had to do it an awful lot.
Nancy: Not just once.
Yvonne: Not just once. But, “Lord, I confess that I am getting ready to get angry. I can sense that bitterness. Lord, I don’t want that.”
Nancy: So there was really a pattern in your life of responding to disappointment or conflict or disagreement or loss in an angry way.
Holly: Yvonne, you said you could sense that coming. So what was it that was happening every time you were beginning to get angry or bitter? What was coming out of you that your children saw, that your husband saw, that you were aware of that you wanted God to take away?
Yvonne: Holly, I just never really wanted my children to see that. So I never did respond in anger in front of them. But poor Bob. I would get upset with him. I just knew that God was allowing this depression because of the sin of bitterness that I had in my heart.
Dr. S. I. McMillan says in his book None of These Diseases that bitterness can cause you to have all sorts of physical problems—hormonal imbalances, arthritis—and it also can grieve the Holy Spirit.
That’s what was happening. I was grieving the Holy Spirit in my life. I really was not walking in the Spirit. I really wasn’t dying to self.
Nancy: I want to point out again that at this point you were a Christian. You were in the ministry. Your husband was in the ministry. You had spiritual training and background. This was not a non-Christian. This was not somebody who had had no teaching
It’s a good reminder that those roots of bitterness can creep up and develop in any heart if we don’t deal with life’s hurts and disappointments God’s way, which is to run to God’s grace. If we don’t get to God and His grace in those disappointments, whether it’s five days into your marriage you’re finding out there are things about your husband you can’t believe you didn’t know before, or he’s punctual and upset that you’re not, or something as serious as a child having a life-threatening disease.
In every circumstance and situation of life, God has grace. If we fail to receive that grace, the option is that we become bitter.
Leslie: We’ve been hearing a conversation between our host Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Holly Elliff and Yvonne Welch. Yvonne is giving hope this week to anyone experiencing depression, challenges, and bitterness.
You know there are many, many resources from Nancy speaking on the subject of difficult life circumstances. Whatever you’re going through, you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com and find hope. You’ll find years worth of Revive Our Hearts transcripts in which Nancy will show you what the Bible has to say about your challenging circumstances. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com and read some of these transcripts. One is called Dealing with Depression and Doubt.
Nancy has also written a very helpful biblical book that addresses the issues of bitterness. It’s called Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom.
You may feel bitter from the wrongs that other people have done to you. But no matter how deep the hurt, you can find freedom. Nancy will show you how, but taking you through Scriptures on bitterness and forgiveness. She’ll help you walk through steps of identifying those who have wronged you, forgiving them, and walking in freedom.
When you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send a copy of Choosing Forgiveness. Ask for it when you donate at 1-800-569-5959, or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com.
As you know, bitterness doesn’t disappear in a few easy steps. Tomorrow Yvonne Welch describes what freedom was like for her, on Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.