Are you secretly damaging your relationships? It is easy to do if you are harboring bitterness. It can come out of nowhere. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ spring up and cause trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
The consequences of unresolved anger and bitterness are costly. It destroys marriages, families, and even organizations. It destroys lives too.
Bitterness is like an infection which if left to itself, will go septic bringing death to the good things of life
We cannot just “let it go.” Bitterness is like an infection which if left to itself, will go septic bringing death to the good things of life. These include relationships, marriages, Churches, and even people’s lives. Dealing with anger and resentment is kind of like surgery, however painful, it just has to be done. If we want happy, healthy relationships, we have to address it. Otherwise we can expect conflict and division in our relationships.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9–13) “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The early Christians were taught to pray the Lord’s prayer three times a day! Overcoming bitterness and trusting God is not merely a daily practice, but an hourly practice. It is not overcome in a night.
Overcoming bitterness and trusting God is not merely a daily practice, but an hourly practice.
Signs of Bitterness
There are tell-tale signs of bitterness that I have referred to elsewhere in this my article Four Key Reasons To Stop being Bitter with Your Spouse | Dealing with Anger and Resentment Here they are:
- A sharpness in your speech toward another person
- You have a hard time making eye contact with that person
- You love making sharp jokes about them (present or not)
- You are agitated by the mention of their name
- You can’t get yourself to pray for them, or it’s not easy
Subtler forms of bitterness may be harder to spot. Some of us become proficient at covering our scars or hiding behind a public image.
Forgiveness takes practice. You can say “oh I forgive them” but that does not mean that you have arrived at forgiveness. You may have only arrived at the being more convincing. At the same time, it is ok still to feel hurt, and even anger. You just have to proactively work through it.
Forgiveness is a choice and a discipline, NOT A FEELING. If you have been the victim of serious mistreatment, you have a long road ahead of you. That is okay. You need to just accept it and begin the process. To not take this road is only to hurt yourself.
Forgiveness involves a disciplined choice to see the other person with the same dignity as you—to let go of the anger—to see them as broken and pray for them. Again it is not easy, but it is the only path of healing for you.
You might think of bitterness as chords or bands binding your inner person. The funny thing is, you are ultimately the one holding the tension on them. Only you are in control. Above all, God wants to give you greater inner strength and help to overcome this.
When people hurt us, it leaves scars. This hurts the heart of God. Like a burn wound, the lightest emotional bump can sting unbearably. But unlike physical wounds, you have control over your mind. You can take charge of your thoughts and speed your healing through proactive reprogramming.
Forgiveness involves a disciplined choice to see the other person with the same dignity as you and to let go of the anger
Relationships are also funny things. As we grow close to someone or they have a key role in our lives like parent, spouse, grandparent, sibling, or son, it creates relational capital. Think of it like buying stock in a company. Based on role and closeness a person buys more or less stock in us, and we in them. When things go sideways in our key relationships, the losses are much greater.
So imagine in one company (relationship) you have 10K invested (co-workers, acquaintances, etc.) and it takes a 15% hit. You lose $1500. The rude driver who flips you off? You got nothing invested in that business. It means nothing to you.
But in another company you have a million invested (parents, siblings, etc.) When these people let you down, the hit is larger anyway. Here a 15% hit is $150K. But in most cases the hit is exponential. Big let downs by trusted friends and family can be like a 50 or 75% hit. That equals big capital losses.
Here are some steps to being free of bitterness and anger, especially those close to you who have let us down most.
1. Accept their human moral frailty
People are broken, as are you and I. One of the things I learned about people is the reality of blind spots. You have-em; I got-em. Everyone has them. When we finally discover them, we usually feel quite embarrassed. Sometimes we cannot see them for years, even when other people are pointing them out.
Accepting this reality can make life more palatable. It helps you to become more understanding and patient with others.
2. Pray for the other person by name
A great way to discover if you are bitter is whether you can pray or speak words of blessing regarding them. Or is it whenever their name comes up you stomach twists in knots and verbal venom starts spewing from your lips.
Gospel obedience asks us to swim against he current. To do what needs to be done that is neither easy nor enjoyable. But it is necessary for us to be free. The Christian Gospel is that healing came through a cross. Jesus calls those who would follow to take up their own cross and follow him in the same radical forgiveness.
3. Ask God forgiveness for your sins, in the specific
The playing field is level with God. The Apostle Paul says “there is none righteous, no not even one.” On top of that there are no levels of “unrighteousness” like levels in a video game.
Funny enough, that is how we typically see ourselves. We are usually fine with accepting the fact that we are not “perfect.” The “nobody’s perfect” card is usually a ditch we dive in for cover whenever we just don’t want to take responsibility for the sinful things we do.
So we live our lives in a sort of video game world of moral levels. In our minds we are all a little bad, but I am a level 5 sinner. My spouse on the other hand is no less than a full-blown level 14 sinner1
Happily God does not see it that way. When we sin, we fall completely—all the way to the moral bottom in God’s eyes. There are no level 14’s that need more saving than level 5’s. Every person, no matter how reprobate, no matter how cleaned up on the outside, needs 100% forgiveness and saving from God.
So with that in mind, what right do I have to hold a persons’ evil deeds against them? Jesus made many promises. One of them that we do not often reference is how he promised that he will not forgive those who refuse to forgive (Matt. 6:15). God loves mercy. If we want mercy, we need to begin by being merciful, even to the worst of sinners.
If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses — Matt. 6:15
Taking stock of our own failings is a quick path to forgiving others. The more you dig, the more you will discover things about ourself that you do not like and do not want to be true. Only this will help you to be patient with the faults of others.
A judgmental and impatient spirit can tear a family, group, or organization apart. A flawless spouses and relationships are things you will never have. We must look to gracious patience, not perfection as the basis of lasting relationship.
4. Don’t expect immediate Change
Relationships take time. It took time to get where you are at in relationships, for good or bad; it will take more time for change. If you don’t have time for patience, you really don’t have time for relationship. That may be part of your problem.
Release from Prison
So here is a challenge. You may be deeply struggling over what that person did to you. Believe it or not, you are not chained to it. They and their actions do not have to control you. Nor do you have to entirely cut them out of your life (which often makes it worse.)
That is the power of forgiveness that Jesus taught us in the Gospel. You have the power to heal and have joyful relationships again, even if that other person is not entirely on board. Your peace and joy is ultimately not dependent on the other person.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts. I want to know what you think. And please share on social media!