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.
Where does forgiveness happen?
We were riding in the car as tears were streaming down my face. Our marriage was in sticky spot. We’ve been in sticky spots before, but it seems like the challenge to work through it doesn’t necessarily get easier.
We had both been busy and were starting to feel like two ships passing in the night. Our conversations seemed to consist only of what needed to get done, how tired we were and wondering when we might get relief from some of our burdens. There was really no romance and each other’s presence seemed to only represent more stress added to our days.
We had planned an overnight get away hoping to reconnect, but sometimes when we are in those sticky spots, reconnecting feels so far out of reach that you feel pretty sure it will be impossible. There was just too much “stuff” to wade through.
A few days before we left, I began to pray that God would go ahead and prepare the way for us…that the trip would truly be refreshing and somehow, by some miracle, my husband and I could actually reconnect in a very real and powerful way.
I prayed over my own heart because I KNEW I had a critical spirit toward my husband. It was wrong, but I didn’t know how to change my attitude toward him. My only hope was for God to step in and work.
Over our 28 years of marriage, we have had many, many uncomfortable discussions. The worst ones were the ones I didn’t pray over first and then unloaded a ton of emotional baggage on my husband. Eventually, we came to a resolve, but the process was sometimes unnecessarily hurtful. I’ve learned it’s better to bathe those conversations in prayer and work through some of my emotions with God first.
So as we rode in the car, I chose my words carefully and used as few words as possible. I wan’t afraid of long pauses in the conversation and I didn’t feel the need to make sure my point was heard. You know what? God did exactly what I asked Him to do. My husband verbalized the very things I would have brought up and his plan to deal with them. The tears flowed as I absorbed my husband’s loving words toward me AND the fact that God had worked on my behalf and I didn’t need to fret over it…not for one minute.
As I had prayed over this sticky spot, God had cultivated in me a heart of forgiveness toward my husband BEFORE our conversation even began. Because I had waited on the Lord and was unhurried in my journey toward resolve, there was time and space for the Holy Spirit to do the work he needed to do in my husband. The walls between us toppled and we spent that time away truly enjoying each other.
Marriage is probably the relationship that most requires a spirit of forgiveness. The Enemy wants to destroy godly marriages and we must be courageous enough to stand firm, wrestling with our own desire to do things our way.
I haven’t always done the right thing in our marriage, but forgiveness made a way. That kind of forgiveness only comes from the One it originates with. Jesus was our greatest example. Because of Him we have the power to truly forgive…and where forgiveness happens, healing begins.
Valentine’s Day Dare
Are you up for a dare today? Here you go-I dare you to do something that I am confident will make a huge difference in your marriage in the next 30 days. I am going to do it too, so we will be in it together. I will be writing about it and letting you know how it is going. And you drop by and tell me what is happening in your part of the woods too.
So here’s the dare: for the next 30 days ask your husband each morning before he heads to work, “What can I do to serve you today?” I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that you know what he will say and maybe you are right. But I am betting that you will see a real change in him over the whole 30 days. Take note of what he says and make it a priority. Do whatever it is with gusto and enthusiasm.
Prepare to be surprised. I believe you will be surprised over the 30 days what he asks for. It might take some time for him to take you seriously, but give it time.
As he begins to see you are serious, it will bless him.
Determine to serve him, to be responsive to him, to meet his needs, to listen to him. Make sure that you are really listening to him, not just what he says, but also what he is not saying.
Take time this Valentine’s Day (and every day!) to study your man. Remember when you wanted to know everything about him? There is still things to know, new things that you probably have not known and old things that maybe you have forgotten.
Think of this as a wild adventure. Don’t tell him what you are up to, just start asking and journaling about it. Smile at him. Wink at him across the room. Tell him how proud of him you are. Go for it!
Design creative ways to ask him. At first, just come out and ask him in the morning. Then maybe in a card or a post-it on the mirror or in a text or email. Give him a chance to think about it, but let him know you really want to know, you’re excited to know.
Pray that God will work through you as you set out. Ask God to give you the confidence to ask and the determination to follow through. Seek God’s grace in your response and His.
Be still and know that He is God. I cannot promise how God will use this except that He will. We are admonished in Scripture to ‘not grow weary in doing good’ and ‘whatever you do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God’. God will use this to reveal Himself in brand new ways.
Now go to it-let the Valentine’s Day adventure begin!
In His Grace,