By Bethany Riehl
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” — Hebrews 12:15
Bitterness. It is such a sneaky little weed. It curls upward and outward. When given light and nourishment, it spreads its roots like clover, interweaving across our lives and imbedding in our hearts. Bitterness can cause so much pain.
All of us have been wronged at some point in our lives, some of us by those we love most, whether they be our spouse, our parents, friends, or even children. In this fallen world there is no shortage of pain and hurt. I’ve been thinking of things that I’m trying to do (and things I’ve failed to do) to keep bitterness from taking root and wreaking havoc on my life and the lives of those around me. I’ve narrowed my scattered thoughts into five key ways to combat bitterness. I hope this can help you today, my friend.
- Pray.Pray for those who have hurt you. Even if it starts as, “Lord, this person is awful. I can’t find love for them in my heart…” Allow God to take your prayer and turn it into caring for the person you are angry with. Repeat daily — hourly if necessary — untilit doesn’t hurt to pray for this person any longer.
- In your anger do not sin.It is so easy when someone has wronged us to justify hurting them back. Being mistreated is not an open invitation to misbehave in any capacity. Angry words heaved at someonewithout regard for how they will jab and damage, retaliation for the hurt, spreading lies or gossip about the one we’re angry with — all are without excuse. Nothing that is done to you justifies sinning yourself. You and you alone are responsible for your actions.
- Grieve. Mourn. Pout. And be ready to stop when it’s time.I once experienced a season of pouting after a serious hurt in my life. My particular expression of pouting was eating ice cream and watching TV during naptime instead of getting anything done. I cried, oh how I cried. I avoided my Bible (red flag, friends!). I kept things picked up, but failed to be on top of real housework; our laundry pile was simply appalling. And our gracious Lord let me pout for a good, long time. Until one eveningwhile my husband was at work, God made it very clear to me that enough was enough.
After I put my kids to bed, I was once again headed for the ice cream when bits of a passage from Deuteronomy 30 hit me like lightning: “Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live…For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach…See I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…”
This was my moment with the Lord. He might do it differently for you. But this passage kept coming back to me over and over for the next week (God is repetitive when He wants you to pay attention), and it was clear to me that it was time to stop pouting and to cling tightly to Him. It did not mean that the pain was over, but my giving into it needed to be.
- Keep your hurt private, but not completely to yourself.There is equal danger in keeping your hurt to yourself and in oversharing. A few trusted friends can go a long way in healing. Dealing with hurt alone can lead to bitterness because there is no one outside of your ownshattered thoughts to speak wisdom to you. But, in the same way, talking to the wrong person can be detrimental to whatever relationship you’re working on. There is a sick side of humanity that likes things to be broken, that finds sport in others’ misery. It makes us feel better about our own problems. Family will naturally want to side with the one they love and in general be offended for you. Nothing but nothing helps bitterness grow like one of your own agreeing with you in your anger.
The best kind of friend or loved one is one that will listen and hurt with you without nourishing your resentment. They will pray with you, speak Scripture to you, hug you, and encourage the healing of your relationship. They will not bash the one that hurt you.
I think in this same category I can touch on guarding your relationship. This might involve skipping out on certain outings because faking happiness isn’t going to be a good call. I will warn you now that friends and family won’t always understand this, but it is just a season and they will survive. Sometimes healing a relationship, especially a marriage, is more important than making those outside of it happy.
- Examine yourself and repent.A friend of mine once said something incredibly profound that greatly resonated with me. She shared with me the impact pornography has had on her marriage and with great grace she said, “I have done more damage to my marriage with the seemingly small daily slights than my husband has done in one big blow.” Ouch. I had to really take that in and think on it. Even if we are hurting from something big, the offender is almost never alone in his or her sin. My favorite marriage quote that I think can extend to friends and family and anyone that you might be tempted to be bitter against is this: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” — Ruth Bell Graham
Bitterness is something we rarely think about these days except in the context of the right balance of flavors in a meal. And therein lies a danger. It is a silent cancer that eats away at the most wonderful relationships, weakening love and forgiveness and grace before you even realize it’s there. If we can but stop it before it spreads, we can conquer so much.
“Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” — Psalm 34:14
Bethany Riehl loves to write stories and articles that explore the complexities of relationships and encourage readers in their relationship with Jesus. She joyfully serves in the children’s ministry at her church, teaches at a homeschool co-op, and drinks more coffee than necessary to keep up with her only-slightly-crazy life. She is the author of four Christian fiction novels and now lives in Meridian with her spunky kids and very handsome hubby.