Last week, I wrote a few thoughts on surviving bitterness. My husband read it and, knowing me so well, commented that I neglected to give personal examples. I thought to revisit this subject and make it personal, so here we go!
I didn’t realize I had a problem. Not really. I mean, let’s be honest, there are some real ding-dongs out there who say and do some really dumb things; some really hurtful things. Things that cut deep and can never be made right – not even with an apology.
I’ll be upfront and say it’s been a massive uphill battle for me. I’m sensitive and I hurt easily. I have no idea why, but maybe that’s how God wired me. It has its benefits in other areas, but is tricky when it comes to not taking offense. Maybe you can relate.
It wasn’t until God allowed an impossible health situation in my life that I realized I had a sizable issue. The list was long. On first inspection, there were twelve offenders, in the end, over twenty. Twenty! A list of names representing a lifetime of past hurts I’d never forgiven.
I came to understand that by not forgiving, I allowed the hurt to resurface, replay, and repeatedly impact me. The bitterness and resulting anger contributed to my physical pain. I realized I not only had a physical problem, I had a thinking problem. I was letting my mind run amuck with bitter thoughts. Let me give a simple example of how this might play out:
So and so ignored you at church. Instead of forgiving right away, without realizing, you space bank the offense. A few months later, it happens again – so and so walks right past you. You think, This isn’t the first time this has happened. And the case against so and so grows as you gather other evidence to add to the mounting pile of offenses.
That’s a pretty tame example, but one you might easily recognize. Others aren’t so easy.
By others I mean, when harsh words or actions are inflicted, or when you suffer mistreatment, abuse, or neglect. Sometimes it seems there is no end to the hurt and the extent to which we endure it. But that doesn’t excuse us from forgiving. In fact, it is necessary for our freedom that we do.
Back to my lengthy list. With help from a dear friend, I managed to pray and forgive each individual. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t feel like it. I needed help to move what seemed a monumental mountain. It’s hard to let go of something you’ve been carrying around so long, especially when you think it’s somehow protecting you from being hurt again (a big fat lie by the way). It took a great deal of determined effort on my part, but God partnered with me in the effort.
Later, I was able to bless each one. That was as hard – if not harder – than forgiving. But it was proof that I’d managed to let go and release the offense. And that’s just it. The letting go makes you so much lighter, freer in fact. Free.
Here’s the verse I mentioned helped me:
If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” ~ Matthew 6:14-15
And back to the part about holding onto the offense. Stay with me on this. I think it’s important to look at why we have a hard time forgiving. Sometimes we wear bitterness like protective armor thinking it will keep us safe from getting hurt again, but all it does is prevent us from truly loving and letting love in. To be human is to feel hurt. It’s how you know you’re still alive this side of heaven.
Other times, we think that by withholding forgiveness we can somehow hurt them back, or make them pay for what they did. If we forgive, we think it will let them off the hook and make what they did okay. What happened wasn’t okay. It grieved God’s heart. He understood your pain and even lived it himself. But forgiveness is your ticket to freedom. It’s like cutting the tie that bound them to you and freeing yourself in the process.
When we forgive we offer mercy and are freed to love. In this state, we behave like our Father in heaven who is merciful and loving. Our enemy wants us to hate, be angry and bitter, and have no resemblance to God. Satan knows we, and those around us, wither and fail to thrive in this state. But, forgiving opens us up to love freely, and even fearlessly, which is huge. It’s a game-changer, a life-changer, and often miraculous. It was for me.
So make your list. If you need help figuring it out, ask God to bring to mind people and situations where you might have taken offense. Ask yourself, is there anyone I prefer not to spend time with, be in the same room with, or even hear their name? Write those names down. Then, one-by-one, forgive them. Later, bless them (aka: wish them well).
Once you do this, you’ll be free. After that, stay free by keeping watch over your thought life. Here’s a suggestion:
Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~ 1 Cor 10:5
You can do this! Trust me, as a former bitterness queen, if I can…you can too!
- Prayerfully make a list of anyone you can think of who you haven’t forgiven.
- Pray with God to forgive each one.
- Bless each one.
- Protect your new-found freedom by taking every thought captive.