Getting rid of bitterness is probably the biggest step you can take towards living freely. One preacher said that in her meetings about 80% of people say that they are carrying some sort of bitterness towards others in their hearts!
We are very good at staying mad. We never want to let go of the unjust things that have happened to us. We’re skilled at holding grudges. The problem with that is that it torments you night and day.
Our culture is all about revenge, isn’t it? In the movie Iron Man 3, Tony Stark says, “No politics here, just good old-fashioned revenge.” We like a good revenge film, where the bad guy gets booted- it makes us feel good. But in real life the bad guy sometimes comes out on top, so we have to learn how to deal with it and forgive him or her rather than inflicting more pain in retaliation.
Hanging on to resentment is toxic. It’s worse for you than the perpetrator- they might not care in the least that you’re holding that grudge. Medical studies have proven that holding grudges, staying angry and bitter, is horrible for you mentally and physically, in a variety of ways. It tends to magnify your negative emotions and colour your outlook on life.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the Devil a foothold.” In other words, if you hold on to that anger against another person, the Devil will be able to get his foot in the door of your life and bring relational and emotional destruction.
A verse that helped me process a dark time in my life was Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God, in Christ, forgave you.” Just as Christ forgives every person who accepts him for the worst crimes imaginable, so we should forgive just a few for crimes much smaller. You need to allow yourself to be so impacted by that forgiving encounter with God that you can find it in your heart to release someone else.
So, there many benefits to forgiveness; being released from misery, closing the door on the Devil’s influence, and witnessing to others through your attitude. But what does forgiveness look like practically? Forgiveness is the release of anger, bitterness, or the desire for revenge.
In 2 Samuel chapter 16, when David’s son rebels against him and David is leaving the capital city, there is a man from Saul’s clan who is up on a nearby hill, calling David horrible names and throwing rocks at him. David had the ability (and what probably felt like the right) to have him killed. But in this circumstance, he basically says to the guys around him, “I’m leaving this in God’s hands, and maybe God will turn this man’s curses back on his head.” That ability to refuse the anger and leave the situation in God’s hands is amazing, and shows a tremendous trust in the Lord.
But, if you forgive someone, are you letting them off the hook? Are you condoning their actions? No, you are not. There are still consequences for their actions; they are still accountable. But it’s your job to choose freedom by leaving that in God’s hands.
I realize that forgiveness can seem impossible. But through Christ you can release any amount of animosity that’s in your heart. You can be free of the deepest wounds. In Jesus’ name, you will be able to smile again. You are not powerless; you have a choice to forgive.
When prisoners in Nazi death camps walked around encouraging each other and sharing their tiny rations with others while they were being starved to death, they were displaying that mentality- that they have a choice, not to let bitterness get the best of them. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble.” We are empowered by Christ to be vigilant and to uproot any bitterness that wants to put down roots in us.
You are empowered to release the disappointment and pain to God. It hurt, it was disappointing, it was wrong, but it has no place in your life and no part in your future. Release it. Set your mind to forgive. You can even say this to yourself: “I have decided to forgive ____ for what they did to me, because then I will be free of the pain it caused.”
It takes too much emotional energy to maintain anger. It’s a full-time job. So don’t let that be you. One of the best parts of forgiveness is that you get to re-write the end of the story. The world will tell you that the end of the story will be no good; but Jesus says that there can be a different end. Through Christ’s empowerment and His forgiveness, you can be refuelled change the end of the story for the better.