The Cure for Bitterness
By Joel Greenwood
Imagine playing with a beach ball in the pool on a hot summer’s day. Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under the water, only to realize the difficulty of the task too late, as that inflated ball hurls up out of the water and hits you in the face? It’s a funny sight, but it’s also a perfect illustration of the way we sometimes attempt to hold in bitterness toward others.
If you have imaginary arguments in your mind with someone, if you enjoy when something bad happens to them, if you can’t separate the person from their past action toward you, or if a person’s name comes up and everyone around you holds their breath for your reaction, then you likely hold bitterness in your heart.
Bitterness is the feeling of anger or resentment that we hold toward another person or group of people. It most often grows from unresolved conflict, and it is a poison that ruins Christian relationships. Much like a beach ball in water, the lower you try to push it, the more forcefully it will one day return. So then, what is the solution to getting rid of bitterness once and for all?
The answer to bitterness is forgiveness. If you hold bitterness against someone, there are two things you can to to begin overcoming that bitterness today on your journey to forgiveness.
First, begin talking to someone who will listen to you process your thoughts, whether it be a friend, family member, or a therapist. Ephesians 4:31-32reminds us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Second, choose to pray for the person against whom you hold bitterness. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Praying for an enemy is extremely difficult. If you need help with this, begin by praying something like “God, help me see this person the way you see them.” When we pray for our enemies, we will learn that it is increasingly impossible to sustain bitterness toward someone when we are praying for them.
Finally, the reason we must get rid of bitterness is two-fold. First, when you choose to let go of bitterness, you will experience freedom from an emotional and spiritual weight you may not have realized was there in the first place. Second, we must get rid of bitterness because Christ offered himself on the cross, allowing God to forgive us our sins. When you follow Jesus, God has forgiven bitterness against you. Likewise, he has given you both the command and the ability to do the same.
Source: Main points for this post were adapted from a keynote session at the International Conference on Missions in November 2019.