“The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10 (NASB)
Cancer is “something evil or malignant that spreads destructively,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Like cancer, bitterness is evil and destructive. Distinguished by an unforgiving and generally negative, critical attitude, bitterness colors your thoughts and actions. It is a self-induced misery. A bitter person is his or her own worst enemy, and that bitterness affects others.
Anger is one letter short of danger
Many are corrupted by the poison of bitterness. “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 NASB). Allowed to fester, it will destroy. No one can have peace and happiness with bitterness embedded in his or her heart.
One of Satan’s most effective means to hinder your relationship with God is to induce you to nurse bitterness in your heart. It is his favorite way to draw you away from God. Bitterness misdirects your focus to your problem instead of to God. You can’t complain about things that God or others have done to you and keep God’s Holy Spirit within you at the same time.”
“It is better to live in peace than in bitterness and strife.”
Bitterness creates devastation in our lives and in the lives of those around us. So why do we allow it in our hearts?
One of the reasons bitterness takes root is that we sometimes feel as though another person or other people have been hurtful. Often the hurtful action of the person who harmed us is all we can think about, and we are not able to let go of it. We nurture the bitterness and feed it until it blossoms into rage deep inside of us. This rage drives away any peace that the Lord offers us.
“Wouldn’t our enemies rub their hands with glee if they knew that our hate for them was exhausting us, making us tired and nervous, ruining our looks, giving us heart trouble, and probably shortening our lives?”
In a violent confrontation at sea, the great white whale dubbed Moby dick had sliced off Ahab’s leg. Ahab had been carried to his bunk in the bowels of the ship and there he lay, clinging to life, leg absent, during the return voyage.
For long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in midwinter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape, then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another and so interfusing, made him mad.
Ahab was eventually fitted with a peg leg, but there was no prosthesis for the soul. Obsessed with hate, Ahab set his face to search out and destroy Moby Dick, whatever the cost. He fitted a ship, hired a crew, and mounted a voyage of vengeance which led to his death, the destruction of his ship the Pequod, and the loss of all his men save one, Ishmael, who lived to tell the tale.
Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
God tells us that when we are wronged we are not to hold onto anger and resentment or to take action against the offender. “Don’t let your frustration turn into anger. Getting upset or holding a grudge is foolish” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 CW).
No matter how long you nurse a grudge, it won’t get better.
The more we hold onto anger, the more the person we are angry at has control of us. He holds the power to bring unhappiness into our lives.
He who angers you conquers you.
It is hard to turn our resentment over to God; we think, “If I do not stand up for myself, it will happen again”. Yet, retaliation often escalates the situation rather than solving it.
“It is not the experience of today that drives us mad; it is remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday and the dread of waht tomorrow may bring“
So how do we deal with our bitterness?
The focus on the perceived injustice in how we are being treated puts on eyes on ourselves. Jesus realized that the One who had sent Him was with Him, so He had no need to be concerned for Himself. Instead, He focused on restoring harmony with the offender.
“Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do.”
I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:19 (MSG)
People think there are only two options for dealing with anger. The first option is to keep the anger in. Of course, this can cause an ulcer, and sooner or later, this anger will boil over and spill out onto those around. Many times it will boil over with great force.
The second option is to tell others about our anger. We incorrectly believe that telling others will get rid of the hurt or bitterness. So we play the victim and look to others for sympathy. We say, “Look at what he/she/they did to me.” Instead of getting rid of the bitterness, this simply hurts others and reinforces the bitterness. Releasing our anger to others is like letting go of a harmful poison that hurts all those around us. It becomes like a wildfire that burns out of control.
Holding anger in or telling others may seem to be the only choices we have. But there is a third option; we can take our anger to God. Ask God to show you if anger or bitterness is contaminating your heart. “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24 ASV). It is necessary to admit to God that the bitterness is there.
In order to get rid of anger, we need to recognize it is our problem. This is hard because it requires us to look into our own hearts. Instead, we prefer to look at the offender. Self-pity or anger keeps us from being able to see our responsibility in what we do. It is just the other person’s actions that are wrong. Our eyes become closed to how our own actions lead us into destructive patterns. So these patterns repeat themselves.
In our anger, we have a critical, unforgiving attitude. Unforgiveness is wrong. The Bible does not allow any of us to be unforgiving. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14–15 NLT).
After we become aware of our sinfulness in harboring anger and bitterness and stop thinking of ourselves as victims, we are to confess it to God.
Once we have recognized bitterness as our sin and confessed it, the next step is to put our hope in God. Realize He is there to take care of you; you can have confidence in Him.
“If we could only read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What bitter or unforgiving attitudes do you need to confess today?
What concrete step can you take to counteract bitterness?