Nine Ways to Overcome Bitterness

Monday, April 6, 2015

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But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44

Life hurts, and sometimes so do people. You can't be on this planet and avoid hurt from others. It just isn't possible. How we deal with the hurt makes all the difference in the world when it comes to our emotional well-being and quality of life. God knew this. He knew that if we hang on to the hurt the hurt would hang us. We would become bitter and destroy our lives and the lives of others.

In my early adulthood I made the conscious decision to not be bitter. I had seen what it had done in the lives of family members. God gave me the unique opportunity to see the "bitter or better" phenomenon in the lives of two of my grandparents. Both had experienced heartache. One became gracious and loving in spite of it. The other became full of spite. I promised myself that whatever happened I wouldn't let bitterness take over my heart.

Sure enough I ran full face into hurt. It has been a tremendous struggle to keep it from settling in my heart and taking root. There are days I fail at it. There are good days when I overcome it. Along the way this is what I have learned about trying to escape the clutches of bitterness...

Acknowledge it and confess it. After all it is sin. And sometimes it needs to be confess again and again, because sometimes an old hurt can be triggered by current circumstances. Unforgiveness has a way of seeping into our day-to-day.

Leave justice to God.  There are days when I wish the Bible actually said, "Vengeance is mine", says Debbie {or fill in the blank with your name}. Unfortunately, God is pretty clear that we are supposed to leave the offense in His hands. He knows the offender's heart and what needs to happen to them as a result of his or her sin. Every time we seek revenge and withhold forgiveness we are rewriting that verse. We make ourselves "God".

Stop rehearsing it. The most surefire way to hang on to a hurt is to keep rehearsing it in your brain. Resist them temptation to go over the past. Why relive the hurt if you never wanted to live it in the first place?

Get out if you need to. I know there are people who are going to disagree with me on this one. It seems so "un-Christian" to decide to end a relationship, but if the situation is toxic enough and there is no sign from the offender that he or she is repentant, it may be a signal that it is time to get out. Getting rid of bitterness actually may be easier if you remove yourself from the situation than to remain a target to the icky behavior.

Realize your enemy is just like you. As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks." Take a good, hard look at yourself. Are you broken? Have you ever hurt another human being? Do you sin? Have you made a few mistakes? We all have. You and your enemy have more in common than you think. So if you give yourself grace, why not to them also?

Expect NOTHING from them. Expecting anything from an offender means that it is easier for bitterness to creep in. I learned this the hard way years ago. I thought I had forgiven someone, but I was still hoping for an apology. It wasn't until I gave up that expectation that I was finally free from my own bitterness. It has been my experience in life that nine times out of ten the apology {and/or true repentance} never materializes. Give up the expectations for apologies, restitution, and the like. You will be happier in the long run.

Pray for them. Matthew 5:44 is one of the hardest commands in the Bible. Praying for your enemies is tough. You don't think so? Give it a try sometime. The goal is to really pray for them, and might I a positive way. Sure, you can pray for them by asking God to bring down curses on them, but I am pretty sure that wasn't His intent. He wants you to pray blessings over them in order to create a heart connection with them {which is what happens when we pray positively for someone}. He knows that if there are heart strings there is less chance of hatred brewing in your heart.

Do good to them. Proverbs 25:21-22 talks about heaping coals on your enemies. This almost sounds like a chance to make your enemy pay. Wrong! Heaping coals was actually a kindness. You can read about it here. Once again, doing good to our enemies will ensure that we aren't bitter. You can't hate someone you are actively trying to bless.

Read about it. Sometimes it is helpful to read about the process of forgiveness and how it works. It will help you see what forgiveness is and how to avoid bitterness. Here are some great books {one is a Bible study} on the topic.

Encountering the Healing Power of Forgiveness

Total Forgiveness

I Should Forgive, But...: Finding Release from the Bondage of Anger and Bitterness

Forgiveness: Overcoming the Impossible

The Devil in Pew Number Seven- This an AMAZING, true story of forgiveness. You think you have just cause to be bitter because of what someone did to you? Read this book. I am willing to bet that Rebecca Nichols Alonzo had more reason to harbor bitterness than most of us out there. Rebecca's last chapter has a great explanation on forgiveness.

Linking up at...

Grace and Truth {Kaylene Yoder}


Anonymous said...

Forgiveness can be difficult but the alternative turns into self punishment. When we hold on to the pain we're choosing to suffer. Great words, thanks for sharing!


Debbie P said...

Celi- So true! We choose to suffer when we don't forgive. Thanks for stopping by!

amy fish said...

Thank you for these words... I needed them desperately today!