“Apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)
Hurt tempts us to comply with a variety of unreasonable emotions. We don’t aim to become bitter people in our relationships, but life happens. Scripture warns in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger, do not sin.” Bitterness is characterized by intense cynicism, antagonism or hostility. (dictionary.com) “Most of our bitterness and anger towards others is rooted in an inability to be profoundly amazed at Christ’s love for us in our sin.” (John Piper) It interferes with forgiveness too and makes it hard to accept certain realities.
Resentment is the byproduct of bitterness and unchecked anger within relationships, most often marriage. Colossians 3:8 warns, “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Resentment can transform from a behavioral reaction to a personality trait. However, when Christ stitches our wounds together, the bleeding stops and peace is restored.
1. Anger: Anger becomes dangerous when we find our identity in the people, purposes and possessions we are so passionate about. The inability to let go of anger makes us grumbly and impatient with other people.
2. Un-forgiveness: Forgiveness should be a given for Christians because we have been forgiven. It’s a continual process, and does not always restore the trust required for reconciliation.“Have I really forgiven someone if I keep remembering their wrong?” (Desiring God Podcast) Remembering it, and feeling angry again, is normal. What we do with it is everything.
3. Ungratefulness: The Bible advises us to take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5). When we are in the presence of those that hurt us, we want them to feel bad! Ungratefulness causes us to line up our lives in contrast to the injustice we feel, a pitfall to pride.
4. Lack of Empathy: We cannot let comparison steal our ability to see the everyday struggles behind the smiles.“Once we have been wronged, we may not look for opportunities to return wrongs, but we often stop looking for opportunities to bless."
1. Hopelessness: What did biblical figures do to combat the onset of bitterness? They wrestled with God in prayer and did not lose faith in His promises or character. Scripture advises, “Pray about everything.” -Philippians 4:6
2. Discord: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy...” Hebrews 12:14-15 The Hebrew word for bitterness means a bitter root, and so producing a bitter fruit. When we don’t take our hurts to God, bitterness has defensive and suspicious babies.
3. Gossip: "The spreading of misinformation or uncertain facts about another person indicates that a root of bitterness may be slowly taking over one's heart." -Ligonier Ministeries
4. Double Standards: Selfishness causes us to lose sight of those God has placed in our lives to comfort, encourage, and love us. “In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.” -C.S.Lewis
“What wise counsel! Not quarrelsome, but kind. Not irritated, but patient …even when wronged. Not angry, but gentle.” (Chuck Swindoll) Define it. Face it. Acknowledge it. Replace it. “When God warns His elect not to fall away, He empowers them to respond.” (Ligonier Ministeries) We do this with the guidance of God’s truth, and He grows us through the process. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:24-26,“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
Restore thanksgiving by making a gratitude list or memorizing a verse to reset the tone. (Click here for practical ways to adopt a thankful attitude.) Philippians 4:8 reminds, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” -Colossians 3:1
When Joseph’s brothers saw their father dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” (Genesis 50:15) Joseph chose the power and peace of forgiveness. The wisdom of growing in God’s truth allows us to form healthy boundaries for bitterness. It gives us a godly perspective to see things in a new, fresh way, allowing us to move forward.
Embrace empathy over blame. Relational challenges and personal tragedies are by-products of a fallen world. God’s love has the power to carry us through every hurdle we face. “Begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought.”- C.S. Lewis Additionally, 1 John 4:20 reminds us, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”
“Why me?” is our gut reaction to suffering and injustice, but feeding bitterness only multiplies the pain.“Satan knows that bitterness is very effective with followers of Christ, and he will do what he can to keep that cycle going in our lives …We will always have the choice: stop the cycle or continue the cycle.” -Nicki Koziarz
Our offenders do not spend as much time thinking about how they hurt us. Scripture reminds us, “To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” (Job 5:2) We often fixate on the problem, causing more problems, instead of releasing it to God and trusting His response. “When we give in to resentment, we act in self-destructive ways and hurt ourselves much more than those we’re holding grudges against.” -Rick Warren
Healthy relationships are rooted in honesty. A daily pursuit of God’s Truth keeps us grounded in and better able to pursue it. “David spent years in the field shepherding, meditating, and learning to use a slingshot,” Kaitlin Miller wrote,“All the while God was preparing him to defeat the enemy giant Goliath, to rise to kinship as a shepherd of God’s flock, and to use his music to teach us about the true Good Shepherd he came to know and love on the hillsides." (Psalm 23; Psalm 121)
The daily pursuit of our Father keeps bitterness and resentment at bay. Though uncomfortable to communicate with our offenders, praying into and through necessary conversations brings healing and peace. Even if our problems are not resolved, the effort is worth it.
We are all prone to wander and born into sin. “True healing will not finally come from identifying causes or assigning guilt, but from trusting God.” (Marshal Segal) When God freed His people from the Egyptians, they still found plenty to complain about. When Peter saw the soldiers coming to take Jesus away, he cut off an ear! Our humanity defaults to reactionary status. The only way to freedom from bitterness is by God’s forgiveness.
Jesus came to clear the slate, despite our sinful nature. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Sometimes, a look in the mirror unlocks the bitterness and resentment we harbor. Maybe what we went through wasn’t our fault, but our reaction bids confession.
We often walk through life with easily offended, self-consumed attitudes, pitted against each other even when no-one was intentionally trying to cause pain. “We often feel sinned against when the words or the behavior had no sinful intention behind them at all, and if we tried to forgive such a behavior, it would be offensive because the other person doesn’t even feel that she or he did sin against us.” -John Piper
Christ calls us to put our dukes down, and instead seek love and understanding.“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Phil 4:5) No one argues anyone to Christ, and only God is capable of changing hearts. There’s a reason God tells us to pray for our enemies, not attempt to change them.“Keep us from wallowing in our pain longer than we linger in your presence.” -Scotty Smith
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) Forgiveness may not restore trust to a broken relationship, but it allows us to be free from bitterness and resentment. “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (C.S. Lewis) With healthy boundaries to avoid repetitive hurts, we can allow our hurts to heal through forgiveness.
Paul emphasized the importance of forgiveness in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Forgiveness has proven to be effective in treating the ailments of anxiety and depression . . . even physical symptoms! “It’s the single most potent antidote for the venomous desire for retributive justice poisoning your system (Leon F Seltzer Ph.D).
The ways of the world and our sinful nature do not surprise You. In a way that only You can, move our hearts towards compassion and peace when our anger flares. Clear our hearts of bitterness and resentment. We don’t want to be unforgiving people, God. Christ died on the cross to forgive our unmentionable sins. You, alone, know the long version of our story. Convict us to tell it often. Make us a channel of Your Love. Prune us of the habits and relationships that lead us astray. Reveal encouragement and hope to us in Your Word. In Christ, we are a new creation. Thank You for changing us, as painful as growth can be, and drawing us closer to You with every note of bitterness and resentment we shed. Protect us from harboring these unhealthy emotions, and guard our hearts as we stumble in Jesus’ footsteps. We love You, LORD. We trust You with our lives and pray Your purpose for them over our plans. May all who witness our lives know Your unspeakable love by the way we live.
In Jesus’ Name,
Faith rooted by a desperate leaning into His Love will defeat bitterness and resentment. In Christ, we will emerge from each round of hurt one step closer to Him . . . and hopefully, each other. For, above all things, is Love.
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ on her blog, https://sunnyand80.org. She is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, blogger, and author of, “Friends with Everyone …Friendship Within the Love of Christ.” She resides in Northern Ohio with her husband of eleven years, two daughters, and their Golden-doodle.
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