I came across this picture on Pinterest the other day, and it really spoke to me. I gave my testimony at a church earlier this week, and while telling my story and remembering all of the horrible things that had happened in my life, I realized that I could have very easily been a bitter person. In fact, I was for a long time. I had such traumatic things done to me (and loved ones) by other people, and self-inflicted hurts as the result of bad choices I made, that I was angry at God. I thought it was unfair that I had to suffer through what I did. I thought that by holding onto bitterness and anger and seeking revenge, I was somehow making the people who had hurt me pay. When in fact, all I was doing was hurting myself, and stealing the beauty out of life. The people who had hurt me had moved on with their lives, and didn't care that I was hurt. I wasn't punishing them. But I was making it impossible to see the true beauty in life, because I was so focused on holding onto the negative.
I was a very hard hearted person for a long time, holding onto bitterness and resentment as a protection mechanism. It got to the point where holding onto the hurt felt good- I liked being a victim. I liked seeking pity for what had happened to me. And it gave me an excuse to keep going in my addiction. It was easier to hate others than to work on myself and take away my excuses for why my life had turned out the way that it had. It was easier to blame all the things that had happened to me, and all of the people who had done things to me, then to face the fact that I was making a choice to continue to be a victim. Yes, I had been victimized. But I was continuing to allow the people who had hurt me to victimize me years later by holding onto unforgiveness. They still had power over my emotions and mind. I was hurting MYSELF for years, whereas if I would have forgiven right after the incident, that would have been the end of it. All of my resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness accomplished absolutely nothing but making me sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It truly was a spiritual cancer.
There is a reason why Jesus admonishes us to forgive in the bible. When you are offended or disappointed by others and allow the hurt to germinate in your heart, bitterness and resentment will take root. Characterized by an unforgiving spirit and generally negative, critical attitudes, bitterness and resentment are sinful and self-defeating. They will color your conscious and unconscious thoughts and actions. Allowed to fester, they will destroy and kill (Galatians 5:19-21). Your relationships will always suffer, and you will never truly be able to experience love or happiness. Bitterness and joy cannot reside in the same heart. However, bitterness and resentment can be dispelled with love.
What Scripture Says
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Hebrews 12:14,15).
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31,32).
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:23).
"Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing..." (Luke 23:34).
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14,15).
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:14-21).
How To Be Free From Bitterness and Resentment
God can free you from this sin. It is an oppressive and destructive emotion having its root in hate, which is likened to murder. You must repent. No one can have peace and happiness with such emotions tearing at him. If you have not done so, ask God to forgive you and to come into your life right now. He will deliver you from the power of the enemy (Psalm 91:3). If you are already a Christian, you should still ask God to forgive you for being bitter and resentful. Then ask Him to forgive anyone who may have hurt you, and toward whom you are bitter or resentful, even as He forgives you. Refusing to forgive opens up doorways to many demonic forces in your life, and the lives of your family. You must recognize it as satanic. The devil will tell us that we have a "right" to hold onto bitterness and hate, but Jesus tells us to forgive. Whose voice are you going to listen to? Scripture tells us to take every thought captive against the word of God. Follow what Jesus tells you, anything contradictory is from the enemy!
One thing that has helped me tremendously when it comes to forgiving people who have wronged me is asking God to let me see the person through his eyes. Doing this allows you to have sympathy for the person, and understand the reason they did what they did. Not to use it as an excuse, but to see that they hurt you because they were acting out of some kind of hurt themselves. It wasn't about you. Even if it was intentional, it's because they have some deep wound within them that caused them to be so unfeeling. Have compassion on them the way that you expect God and others to have compassion on you. Realize that they were acting out of their pain the same way that you are acting out of yours. Remember all of the things God has forgiven you for- even the secret things that you think no one knows about. Grant them the same grace, over and over again, until you no longer feel bitterness, but empathy.
God forgives and forgets sin. However, you may have made your best effort to forgive and forget and find that you cannot. God can help you to cleanse your memory. Instead of remembering with malice and hurt, remember with forgiveness. Then go one step further and ask God to forgive your offender. By forgiving and then asking God to forgive your offender, you release God to bless you and the other person. You also let God deal with the other person, and let him serve justice on those who hurt you. Trying to take justice into our own hands through revenge and resentment takes the situation out of God's hands. Forgive, and God will make it right. God will make right every hurt, and everything that was stolen from you, if you give it to him.
I remember very clearly God telling me not long after I got saved that I had to let go of unforgiveness if I ever truly wanted to be happy, free, and in order to stay sober. I had to let it go, because spiritually, it was weighing me down. I am so eternally grateful that God loved me enough to save me from the horrible fate that bitterness had in store for me, and instead gave me the wisdom to forgive before it destroyed my heart! Others are not so lucky, and will never experience true happiness despite trying, and putting on a happy front- due to the torment of unforgiveness. They may try to convince people that they are happy, but their bitterness speaks the truth loud and clear. True happiness, love, and gratitude drives out bitterness. Saying that you can be happy and bitter is like saying you can be depressed and joyful. Bitterness sucks the life out of everything good. I have great compassion for these people because I cannot imagine choosing to live a life of such misery, when the key to their prison is right infront of them. It is truly sad, and I my heart breaks for them, because their continued pain is unnecessary, and self inflicted. At any moment, they can choose TRUE happiness and healing by forgiving. They can end their own nightmare.
I know it's not easy, and I would never claim that forgiveness is. But it's what will free us. Remember that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. My heart is very soft now. The hardness has been chiseled away by the love of God. I have noticed that every once in awhile, God will bring a very bitter, unforgiving person into my life to remind me where I came from. To remind me to be thankful for all God has saved me from and brought me out of. To remind me to be grateful for my life, because I could be them. To remind me to pray for people, no matter how nasty they may be, because I was in their shoes once. To show me how lucky I am that I can truly love my life in spite of everything that has happened, and that I am stronger for overcoming bitterness than for giving into it. To remind me that nothing that happens is worth carrying a lifelong grudge which steals your happiness and poisons the people around you, because God will make it right if I let it go.
I am also reminded that I am setting an example for my kids. By choosing to not be bitter, I am able to model forgiveness to them, protecting their hearts from bitterness and ensuring they see the blessing in all of their hardships, teaching them to love everyone, and turning them into the type of human being that Jesus desires them to be. They will be forgiving because they see me being forgiving. I want to teach them that we need to forgive ESPECIALLY when it is hard. They will not welcome bitterness because they see their parents taking action to ensure it doesn't take root in their hearts. Instead of perpetuating dysfunctional generational pain patterns of bitterness and hate, I am teaching my children to love, and modeling the fact that God loves and forgives them no matter what they may do in the future. They won't have to live with the emotional scars that embittered hate leaves, but instead will carry on a legacy of love and compassion. I refuse to pass on dysfunction to my children.
Getting over bitterness is hard, because people feel entitled to it. Playing the perpetual victim can become a lifestyle and start to feel comfortable. They feel that if they let go of their resentment, it is somehow letting the person that hurt them off the hook. But it's not. You're letting yourself off of the hook. You will never, ever be able to hurt the person who hurt you by being bitter. Your bitterness is telling them that they were able to hurt you so badly that it has ruined your entire life. Don't give them that power any longer.
I pray for the broken, embittered people in the world. I pray that God can soften them so that they can enjoy life before they die, instead of leaving a legacy of bitterness and resentment, and watching life's blessings pass them by- never able to fully appreciate them, because underneath the surface, their hurt and bitterness is still there regardless of the good things they have in their life. The good in life will never outweigh the bad when you choose bitterness. I pray God opens their eyes to the fact that their bitterness is allowing the hurt to continue to steal from them. Don't let them get the best of you. Don't let them win, don't allow them to permanently wound you while they are happy living their lives with no thought of you. It is heartbreaking, because it's preventable. You don't need to continue to be controlled by the ones who hurt you. God has so much more for you. God can give you beauty for ashes, but you have to give him your ashes.
If you are bitter, God can heal you. He wants to heal you. But you need to give it up. I know. I was there. And I could be there again if I ever take my eyes off of Jesus and put them on myself. If I allow myself to lose sight of the fact that God is good, he is just, and he is for me. If I stop being grateful, and start trying to take justice into my own hands. If I let myself wallow in self pity. There but for the grace of God go I.