The Path from Bitterness to Delight
It’s pretty easy to identify individuals harboring bitterness – they are generally very unhappy. These people have allowed a person or event to change their outlook on life and affect their personality.
That sounds extreme, but anyone who has been caught in the weeds of bitterness recognizes this truth.
Unfortunately, bitterness takes hold before we realize it is happening, and many times, bitterness is difficult to see in the mirror. One small upset lingers in the back of our mind until it grows, and our heart is squeezed by the vines of bitterness.
No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be bitter.
But when an upset is left unaddressed, it festers and takes over the heart and mind.
Even though no one wants bitterness to control them, it is a real issue for many people.
Let’s spend some time today identifying the bitterness you may be allowing to grow in your heart, as well as talk about ways to move from bitterness to delight.
The booklet, Bitterness: The Root That Pollutes, by Lou Priolo is our guide.
Bitterness Hurts You Not the Offender
A quick and easy way to determine if you are bitter is to see if you are dwelling on an issue of offense more than the offender.
The truth is you are likely stewing over a hurt while the person who has hurt you has long moved on.
Unfortunately, when we are bitter, we spend a significant amount of time dwelling on our hurts.
Priolo explains, “When we exert inordinate amounts of emotional energy over such trivial disappointments, it’s a good indication we may be bitter.”
Exerting this kind of emotional energy is unhealthy.
Even if you are not a Christian, it is unhealthy to hold on to bitterness or grudges.
According to a health article from John Hopkins Medicine, “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”
Studies have even shown the positive effects of forgiveness on your health.
Holding on to bitterness is only hurting you.
By withholding forgiveness and dwelling in bitterness, you are hindering your own spiritual growth, as well as your mental and physical health.
The Root of Bitterness
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
– Hebrews 12:15
Bitterness doesn’t start to grow on its own.
Priolo explains, “Bitterness is the result of not forgiving others. […] Roots have to be planted. […] When someone hurts you, it is as if that person dropped a seed of bitterness onto the soil of your heart. At this point, you can choose to respond in two ways. Either you can reach down and pluck up the seed by forgiving the offender, or you can begin to cultivate the seed by reviewing the hurt over and over again in your mind. Bitterness is the result of dwelling too long on a hurt.”
Bitterness starts small, but if left unchecked, it grows until you no longer act or think the same.
When others are delighting in life, you are stewing in your own garden of bitterness.
Evidence of Bitterness
At this point, you may be asking yourself if you are harboring bitterness. Here’s a good way to check.
Read the following verse and consider whether you thought life resembles it or if you spend too much time focusing on hurts.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
– Philippians 4:8
Still unsure if bitterness has a hold on your heart?
Priolo lists the following evidence to diagnose bitterness.
- Difficulty in resolving conflicts
- Acts of vengeance
- Outbursts of anger
- Biting sarcasm
- Condescending communication
- Suspicion and distrust
- Rebellion against authority
- Doubts regarding salvation
- Remembering with great specificity the details of an offense
Ultimately, if you find yourself treating small offenses as unforgivable offenses or overreact emotionally, you are harboring bitterness towards someone.
The only way to overcome bitterness is to practice forgiveness.
Forgive Because You’ve Been Forgiven
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.
– Ephesians 4:31-32
When someone hurts you, you may find it hard to forgive them.
However, if you are a follower of Jesus, you should forgive because you have been forgiven.
As Priolo writes, “What it costs you is minutiae compared to what it cost the Lord Jesus to forgive you of your sins.”
When we forgive others as He forgave us, we are becoming more Christ-like.
When we withhold forgiveness, the condition of our heart will separate us from our Savior.
So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
– Luke 17:3-5
Unfortunately, the reason many people allow bitterness to grow is because they sit around waiting for their feelings to get on board.
If you wait on your emotions, you give bitterness permission to continue to grow.
Instead, think of forgiveness as an action verb. You need to act and forgive.
Priolo says, “You are to do it [forgive] as an act of your will in obedience to God. Your feelings will follow. If you wait until your feelings change before you forgive, you may never obey the Lord’s command.”
Move from Bitterness to Delight
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
– 1 Peter 3:9
As you are obedient to God and practice obedience, your feelings will begin to change.
This is especially true when you take steps to change your feelings by taking the high road.
For example, it’s really hard to continue harboring bitterness towards someone when you are genuinely praying for them and looking for opportunities to bless them.
Priolo explains, “Overcoming evil with good is also the best way to overcome residual feelings of bitterness you may still have for your offender after you have forgiven him in your heart.”
Warren Wiersbe said, “You either get better or bitter.”
Don’t be bitter. Get better.