The Cure for Bitterness

Gnarled Tree Roots

I ran a divorce recovery group for our church for two years. We had a wonderful group of people who helped each other heal through their difficulties. I remember one woman who came for just one session, and did not return. Her name was Alice. When the group members began to share, Alice was quick to speak up and desired to talk about her ex-spouse. She wanted everyone to know what a horrible person he was, how he had left her, and married another woman. He did not meet her needs during their marriage, yet she had stayed faithful to him, however, he did not return the favor. She was enraged at him, and struggled with that rage every day. After she spoke, I asked her how recent her divorce was. The answer was fifteen years.

Every time I think of Alice, I feel for her pain. I am also saddened that she has carried the bitterness towards her husband for so many years.

Hebrews 12:15 says “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”

As this verse explains, bitterness can become a deep root in our hearts and souls. The soil for this root is unprocessed hurt and pain. Bitter people never let it go, they become identified through the pain. Every aspect of life is seen through the filter of what has happened to them as they victimize themselves (“How is your day going?” “Well, it would be great, if my husband hadn’t left me fifteen years ago for a younger woman!”)

The fruit of the root is poison. Bitterness poison’s every aspect of our lives. We cannot feel joy, we cannot have peace, we cannot fathom happiness. And that poison “corrupts many.” Family members and friends taste our bitterness, because we wear it like a badge of honor.

How do we get rid of bitterness? By letting go. Releasing the pain and releasing the offender.

We have a choice to make, focus on the incident or focus on the rest of our lives.

The only way to get rid of bitterness is to kill it with forgiveness. 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) The bitter root poisons us, not the offender. Letting bitterness remain is like drinking poison so we can spit on another person.

The person who hurt you may not deserve forgiveness, however, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. When we release the offense, we can finally have peace.

Four Myths About Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult subjects in Jesus’ teaching arsenal, yet the concept is so very important for us to wrap our heads around. It is virtually impossible to heal without forgiving.

Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. You make the decision to forgive, yet you continue to deal with feelings.

When we are wronged, there are two paths we can take: one leads to healing and the other leads to bitterness. Bitterness occurs when we chose not to forgive, we stay in the pain. A bitter person allows their pain to spill over into every other aspect of their lives. The good news is we have a choice: stay bitter or get better.

The difference between bitterness and healing? The hard work of forgiveness.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness.  Dr. David Stoop in his book, “Forgiving the Unforgiveable” lists four myths about forgiveness.

MYTH #1 Forgiveness is supposed to be quick.

Sometimes we think that forgiving quickly is a sign of maturity. We remember when Pope John Paul forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him while he was still recovering in the hospital? While those instantaneous acts of forgiveness are inspiring, we need to remember that forgiveness is a process that takes some time.

Forgiveness is cancelling the debt that is owed. First, you make the decision to forgive, but dealing with the feelings of hurt, pain or betrayal is a process. And dealing with the pain takes time, which may include ample time to grieve. Working through that process doesn’t happen overnight.

Forgiving minor offenses is easy. Someone accidently bumps you in the hallway and says they are sorry. But what if your spouse has an affair, and asks for forgiveness? That process takes time.

MYTH #2 Forgiveness condones the offense.

Sometimes we think we cannot forgive because that person will be “getting away with it.” Not true. We can still be direct about the pain that has been caused without doing revengeful acts to retaliate.

There are consequences to actions that forgiveness does not dismiss. God forgives us, yet we still deal with the consequences our sin brings. When God forgives, he does not turn evil into good, rather He redeems the evil for our good.  He doesn’t rescue us from the consequences, He is our companion to deal with the consequences.

The same concept is echoed by Paul in Romans 6:1 “Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more of His wonderful grace? Of course not!” (NLT) Forgiveness is not issuing a free pass to do whatever we want without consequence. Rather, it is taking the important steps to bring about the healing necessary to move on from consequence.

MYTH #3 Forgiving is forgetting.

Saying we must forget after we forgive is a falsehood. We need to remember. We learn from remembering. There is always something we can learn from our pain. As a matter of fact, the most effective growth comes from the most painful circumstances. I have heard many who go through extremely difficult circumstances say, “I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but I am so thankful for what God showed me through it.”

God told us that He not only forgives but He forgets. That is one of the most assuring qualities of God’s grace. However, we need to understand that giving up our right to retaliate doesn’t mean we forgo our right to learn from the experience.

MYTH #4  We can’t forgive unless we reconcile.

Hopefully, forgiveness leads to reconciliation, and both parties have a relationship that is restored. However, forgiveness is not dependent upon reconciliation; they are two separate processes. Reconciliation may not be possible, you need to forgive anyway.

Reconciliation involves both parties, the offended and the offender. Forgiveness is something I do independently. A divorced person needs to go through the process of forgiveness even though reconciliation with their former spouse is no longer possible. Forgiveness is necessary to move on. Reconciliation is desirable, but not always possible.

Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. It allows you to move past the offense and get on with life. It is releasing the anchor that holds you back. It is choosing to be better.