Focus: Battling bitterness
Romans 14:10 (NIV) You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
I thought I’d have a look at what the physical effects of bitterness might be, so I went to the Mayo Clinic website and typed the word into the search bar. Guess what came up? A very interesting article on ‘forgiveness’. If I hadn’t known what website I was on, I might have thought it was sponsored by a ministry. The advice given by the Mayo Clinic staff was similar to what you’d find in a Bible study handbook on the topic.
The opening line of the article gave a synopsis worth repeating. “When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.”
The article explained that words or actions are usually the cause of an emotional wound that can result in anger, bitterness, or even vengeance. The sad thing about all of it is that the injured person who holds the grudge often becomes the one who pays most dearly. By holding on to bitterness—they are unable to embrace peace, hope, gratitude, and joy. Remaining in this condition can lead to problems with their physical, emotional, spiritual health, and well-being.
‘Bitterness’ is dwelling on hurtful events or situations that you felt were unjust. What image comes to your mind when you think of a hurtful event or situation in your own life? Is there still pain when you think of it? Is the problem unresolved? Do you feel helpless?
People who are bitter are often depressed, as well. Time spent focusing on negative experiences tends to crowd out positive thoughts. The victim of an emotional wound who doesn’t release their resentment can end up with a whole array of ‘spin off’ issues. It is the literal sense of adding insult to injury…as one thing leads to another.
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Bitterness can seem justified in some cases. Take for example a person whose loved one was the target of a violent crime. How could someone survive a loss like that and not have bitterness toward the criminal? Certainly the ability to overcome feelings resulting from a loss of such magnitude could take time—yet, you will find story after story about people who chose unconditional forgiveness and release of bitterness as the only possible path toward their own full recovery.
You can know all of that to be true and still feel powerless in your own battle with bitterness. Even if you realize your injuries are being compounded by holding on—it’s hard to let go of wrongs and release someone who may have caused you untold pain and sorrow. Why should they be free?
A better question would be, ‘Why shouldn’t you be free?’
It’s typical for people who have been offended to have the attitude that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them back into your life. I would pose the question, ‘Where is that in the Bible?’ I don’t know of a verse which supports that theory. The concept may sound good to you…but, it’s a deceptive philosophy that justifies bitterness. A person who holds a grudge has not truly forgiven. If real forgiveness has taken place, there is no grudge.
1 Corinthians 13 says that love is patient and kind…it doesn’t dishonor others. It is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. It rejoices in the truth and always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails.
Romans 12 tell us that we should bless and not curse those who have persecuted us. It further states that we should not return evil for evil. It says if our enemy is hungry, we should feed them. The scriptures encourage us to not be overcome with evil—but instead to overcome evil with good. In other words, we should be the nicest to people who we may think deserve it the least. Isn’t that the example of Jesus?
Declaration: I will find new strength by letting go of bitterness. I choose to stop playing the role of the victim. I release the control and power the person who offended me has had over me. Most importantly, I choose to agree with the Word of God pertaining to the reasons why I should not continue to be bitter. Because I am willing, God will help me do what I have not been able to do myself.
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