Each of us encounters suffering in our life. Our suffering will not automatically make us stronger individuals. It is our reaction to our suffering that will determine whether we grow stronger or become embittered and resentful of our circumstances.
Bitterness is an anger that will not let go. Sometimes this anger is directed toward others who have hurt us, toward ourselves for wrong choices we have made, or toward God. This anger consumes our thoughts. We relive the hurt over and over in our minds. Each time the situation is replayed, the bitterness, resentment and anger grows.
If allowed to continue, bitterness will negatively impact our lives in one of several ways. A bitter person may begin to fear the future and begin telling themselves “I wouldn’t enjoy it anyway…”, “I won’t be any good at it…”, “Everything always turns out wrong…”, “Why is it always me…”, etc. Many times a bitter person may begin to expect the worst from others and begin to distrust all those around them. Often they will become cynical believing that nothing in life is as it should be, everything is evil. And if allowed to fester in a person’s life long enough, bitterness will destroy their relationships, leaving the embittered individual alone.
Fortunately, bitterness is not our only choice. We can follow the examples of hurting people in scripture. Jeremiah shows us in Lamentations 3:19-23 that our difficult times can be placed within the framework of God’s love, grace, and compassion. God is faithful. His mercy is real. His faithfulness, love, grace, compassion, mercy – all He offers us is available to us in renewed supply everyday. When we wake up in the morning, God is always there.
Ruth is another classic example of one who refused bitterness. She lost her husband, her familiar homeland, the religion in which she was raised and much more. She took on the responsibility of caring for her mother-in-law, Naomi, who was hurting and battling her own resentment over the loss of her husband and two sons, yet Ruth remained faithful. She moved to a foreign land where she was considered an alien, taking on new commitments and responsibilities. Her faith enabled her to overcome adversity and to experience the blessings of God. She did indeed endure hurting, suffering and hardship yet God ultimately rewarded her for her faithfulness by placing her in the lineage of the Messiah.
Job, too, is a wonderful example of a person who could have easily allowed bitterness and resentment toward God and his friends, who supposedly came to be helpful but who were really mocking him, to take over and control his life. Job had lost everything and was suffering more than most of us can imagine, yet Job chose forgiveness and prayed for his friends. It was then that God restored Job’s relationships and his fortunes.
The only way to rid ourselves of bitterness is through forgiveness. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians 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.”
The most compelling reason for us to choose forgiveness over bitterness, is found in Paul’s word “…just as in Christ God forgave you.” We are also told in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But, if you do not forgive, neither will your father in heaven forgive your trespasses.
God’s offer of forgiveness is always available to us for our asking. Our forgiveness must also be available to others if we are to experience the fullness of God’s grace.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13, 14
Father, as we face the trials of our life and encounter difficulties along the way, please help us to always choose forgiveness over bitterness each time we encounter hard times. We thank you Father for Your forgiveness and the gifts of your grace and mercy. We know Father that even when we may not understand why difficulties come our way, we can know that you understand our hurts and we can be assured that there is hope beyond the pain – that You, Lord God will carry us when we cannot carry ourselves and that even in the darkest of times, Your blessings abound.
In Jesus Name,
Original written, 10/29/06