When You’re Struggling With Bitterness
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; Hebrews 12:15
Bitterness has a habit of sneaking into the door of our hearts when we’re looking at personal injustice rather than the cross of Jesus.
We have all been there: a rejection, an injustice, or an offense that left us angry or hurting. No matter how level we are, or how thick our skin is, we sometimes deal with unfair situations that wound us. Such is life.
What matters more, however, is how we respond. Bitterness can silently move in and put down roots without us realizing it.
How do we know bitterness has become an issue for us? Here are some things I’ve noticed from personal experience:
- We dwell on the injustice, nurturing the offense, playing it over and over in our minds. Ever catch yourself talking out loud about it, telling the person why they were wrong?
- We allow it undue influence in our life, dominating our thoughts more often than it should, sending us into an internal tailspin, or impacting our relationships.
- It brings destruction and sin. We begin gossiping, harboring ill thoughts toward others, etc. I believe it opens us up to be more susceptible to temptation with other sins as well.
- We become self-focused instead of Christ focused. Ultimately, we put our focus and attention on ourselves or our circumstances instead of on Christ, which is always a recipe for disaster.
I am thinking now of two instances where people have hurt me directly or indirectly and I realized weeks, months, and even years later that a root of bitterness had grown in me. It can be easy to miss at first, but it needs to be dealt with.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32
So what can we do to uproot bitterness?
- Acknowledge it. Realizing we’re struggling with bitterness and how damaging it can be is a big step in the right direction!
- Confess and repent of anything in the situation that is our part, including any time we have spent nurturing that bitterness to feed our sense of justice. Pray to God and ask forgiveness, and talk about it with someone you trust!
- Overlook an offense. Sometimes the offense is something we can overlook. The scripture teaches us to do this, and it certainly brings peace for us! This may take practice, but it’s a worthy thing to build into our character. Remember that everyone has baggage and struggles, and ultimately it’s between them and God.
- Be willing and available to forgive and/or reconcile – scripture seems to clearly link forgiveness to confession and repentance. But what if that’s not happening? Our part is to have a humble heart open to giving forgiveness if/when sincere repentance comes. It is open to reconciling and, with discretion and wisdom, possibly restoring the relationship. But our part is to have a heart that is willing to take part in whatever redeeming work God has in store for the relationship.
- Pray for them. It’s not easy sometimes, but praying for those who have hurt us is a healing work, a service to them, and honors our Lord. A friend once told me she prays three things for those people in her life: blessing, peace, and protection. It’s a valuable habit, these three prayers. They teach us much about what control we might trying to hold onto and what we really believe about how God answers the prayers of His people. You cannot hold onto bitterness against someone when you are sincerely praying for them.
- Continually choosing to trust God. This is what all that is about, right? Trusting God with our hearts, with fairness and justice, with the relationship and what might happen, with the person who hurt us, and with how our prayers will be answered. In uncertainty and disappointment, God is our Rock and Redeemer! He is the One in whom we can entrust the whole tangle of relationships and emotions mixed up with sin and selfishness. Continue to lay it all at His feet and soon you will find it has been released from your burdens!
- Fixing our eyes on Christ and dwelling on His goodness, capturing every thought. Oh that we might do this in all things and in all circumstances! When we feel bitterness and resentment creeping up and sneaking in, capture it and hold it up to the light of Christ! Focus your heart on the truth of scripture and on His everlasting (and right here right now) goodness! Shove bitterness away and draw near to God.
Lord, thank You for Your goodness and Your love! Please show us any wicked way in us, including bitterness and strife. Help us to confess and repent of any time we have spent harboring bitterness. Give us pliable and humble hearts toward You, and help us to have a willingness to let go and trust completely in Your plans and Your timing. Be with us and remind us to pray for those who have hurt us, releasing in our hearts all of it to You in your perfect love and holiness. In Jesus’ name, amen.