Letting Go Of Bitterness

Dealing with the hurt of the past and refusing to let it control our lives.

How many of you would admit that you have been hurt by someone else at some point in your lives? I’m sure everyone of us has experienced that. How many of us could admit that there have been times that we have been the ones that have hurt others? I would say that all of us fall in that category as well. In the Book of Genesis, there is a very familiar story of an individual who endured more than his fair share of mistreatment at the hands of the ones who should have cared the most for him. The man’s name is Joseph. We grew up hearing about his coat of many colors. But something happened to Joseph that many of us could relate to.

Joseph was given an ability that many others didn’t have. He was a dreamer. He had the ability to interpret dreams. And one day he approached his brothers with a dream that he had about his brothers all bowing down to him. The brothers decided to teach this kid a lesson so they threw him into a pit and planned to kill him. But, one of the brothers talked them out of this and they decided to sell him to a caravan that was passing through and then told their father that he had been killed by wild animals. After being sold into slavery, he was a servant in the house of Potiphar. One day, Potiphar’s wife lied to her husband saying that Joseph had forced himself on her, when actually it was the other way around, but Joseph fled. Joseph was thrown into prison.

It was in this prison that his dream interpreting gift came in handy. He would interpret the dreams of other prisoners. One of the prisoners, who was a servant in Pharaoh’s household, was restored to his job and remembered Joseph’s gift when the Pharaoh began having disturbing dreams. Joseph began interpreting dreams for the Pharaoh, which put him in the good graces of the king. Joseph was elevated to second in command over Egypt after being sold into slavery by his brothers. And then one day the brothers came to him begging for food in the midst of a famine. Upon realizing who they were talking to, they feared for their lives. And it was then that Joseph looked at his brothers and said, “you meant these things for my harm, but God meant it for good.”

How hard do you think it was for Joseph to withhold anger or resentment or bitterness that he had toward his brothers for all those years? No one would have blamed him for being angry at them or wishing for the day that he would be able to get even.

Let me ask you again: how many of you have been hurt in your life? I’m not talking about just having your feelings hurt. I’m talking about betrayal, being stabbed in the back by someone you thought you knew. I’m talking about the kind of hurt that leaves you lying wounded and in shock. I would say that we’ve all been there. Let me ask this: do you still carry the burden of those hurts around with you today? If so, the Bible calls that a “root of bitterness”. When we are wronged or hurt by another individual, we will carry scars with us through this life. There are many people in this room who have been wounded deeply and you still bear the scars of those wounds today and you will until the day God calls you home. I’m not talking about those scars.

There are people that you and I know, or it may even be some of us in here today, who don’t just carry the scars, they carry with them the bitterness and resentment toward those who have wronged them. They live each day under the crushing weight of bitterness and anger toward those who have hurt them. They long for the day when they get what’s coming to them.

The Prison of Bitterness and Resentment

The problem with bitterness and resentment is that often, the people who have hurt us so deeply aren’t even aware of the pain they’ve caused. And here we are, going through life each day carrying the weight of the pain and hurt. Over time, we see them going through life seemingly unphased by the pain they’ve inflicted and it’s almost like they don’t even care. Or maybe they do know they’ve hurt you and they still don’t care.

Instead of letting go and moving on, we hold onto our bitterness. It eats away at us. When we’ve been wronged, our flesh wants us to take matters into our own hands and get even. We often use so much energy holding grudges that we grow bitter and angry toward that individual.

The sad thing is that bitterness and resentment form an invisible prison. When we allow these giants to control us, we are forcing ourselves to live inside a prison whose walls we have built. When we hold onto bitterness in our hearts, it consumes our thoughts and actions. It causes us to see others through the lens of our pain. It leads us to be cynical towards others who care about us and causes us to question their motives. It leads us to doubting God because it seems like those individuals who have hurt us are going through life without being punished.

The hard fact of life is that we are going to get hurt at some point. That doesn’t mean that the pain is any less severe because we know it’s going to happen. The pain that we feel when someone says something hurtful toward us, or lies about us, or does something to cause us heartache is real and it cuts deep. It is okay for us to be upset that we’ve been hurt. It’s okay to be mad or sad or distressed about this hurt. But so often, we find ourselves staying in that place of pain. We rehearse it over and over again how we’ve been wronged. We dwell on it and allow the pain to grow in our hearts and minds. And ultimately, it leads to bitterness toward the individual who has hurt us.

How are we to overcome the hurts that have been inflicted by others and defeat the powerful giants of bitterness and resentment?

Pray About It

This may sound cliche and simplistic, but if you want to move past the hurt and defeat this giant, you must be willing to pray. So what exactly should we pray about? Start by praying for yourself. Pray that God would work in your life and heal the pain that has been inflicted. Pray that God would change your heart toward the individual who has caused this pain so that you wouldn’t see them in a way that leads to anger and bitterness. Pray that God would soften your heart toward that individual.

Next, pray for the individual who has hurt you. Something that we must all come to terms with is this: we don’t have the power or ability to change the heart of another individual. There is only one who has the ability to do that. We can reason with others and explain to them how they have hurt us until we’re blue in the face, but it won’t do any good. We can’t change their heart. But God can. God has the ability to work in our lives and to change our hearts. So why not pray that God would get ahold of the heart of that individual who’s caused you pain? Pray that God would help them to see the pain they’ve caused and change them in such a way that they wouldn’t cause that type of pain to people anymore.

Pray that God would help them because honestly, we don’t know what they’re going through. So often, people lash out in the midst of their own pain. They could have been having a really bad day. They may have just gotten news that has caused their world to come crashing down around them. Because of the things they are going through, they may be taking it out on you.

Defeating the giants of bitterness and resentment must start with prayer to the God who is able to heal the deep wounds and to change the hearts of all those involved.

Forgive Them

Secondly, to defeat these giants, we must be willing to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally or easy for the majority of us. Would it surprise you to learn that forgiveness isn’t optional or suggested? It is something that is commanded. The Bible says in Matthew 6:14–15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The forgiveness, or lack of forgiveness, that we show to others affects our relationship with God. When we refuse to extend forgiveness to others who have wronged us, we are cutting off our own forgiveness from God for the things we have done.

There are a few things we must note about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness doesn’t mean the hurt didn’t happen

Forgiveness does not come naturally or easily. It flows from the heart of an individual that has been changed by the grace of God that has been shown through His forgiveness. Paul says in Ephesians 4:31–32, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” If we are honest with ourselves, many of us are quick to withhold forgiveness for someone else, yet we expect others to forgive us right away and we definitely expect God to be quick to forgive. Our prime example of forgiveness is Jesus Himself.

Jesus endured the ridicule of the crowd along with physical torture. If anyone had a reason to want to exact revenge on those who were hurting Him, Jesus did. Yet, as He was hanging on the cross, wrongfully accused, He say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the midst of His anguish, Jesus offered forgiveness. We must be willing to forgive those who have hurt us.

Show Kindness

Last of all, in order to defeat the giants of bitterness and resentment, we must be willing to show kindness to those who have wronged us. It’s one thing to say that I should forgive them, but I’ve also got to show kindness? That just doesn’t seem fair. Doesn’t God know what they’ve done to me? We are called to “love our enemies” and to show kindness toward them even when they persecute us and mistreat us.

Showing kindness to someone who has hurt me is not the first thing that comes to mind. Let’s be honest, I want to get even. I want to hurt them back. They have wronged me and I want them to know what it feels like to be treated the way they have treated me. Does that sound familiar? Has anyone else felt that way?

Paul says in Romans 12:17–21, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” You want to defeat bitterness? Determine right now that you are going to relinquish control and allow God to work on those who have hurt you rather than seeking vengeance on your own.

We need to resolve to show kindness to everyone, even those who have hurt us deeply with their words and actions. God’s vengeance isn’t always on a timeline that we would prefer. He doesn’t always work in the way that we think He should. But we can rest assured that He is always right and He will always work in a way that is for my good and for His glory. We must rest in the fact that God knows what is best even when we don’t and we can trust that He will work in the ways that are best for everyone.

It’s not my job to get even with you when you have hurt me. It is my job to love you and show you kindness even when you’ve hurt me deeply. Why? Because that’s the example left behind by our Savior.

So, who has hurt you? What pains are you holding onto today? There are people, possibly in this room, today who have carried the weight of past hurts from the time when we were kids or teenagers. We have been hurt by family members or friends, whether emotionally or physically and we’ve held onto those things for all these years. The baggage of those past hurts have changed us, too. We have a hard time trusting others. We always think someone is going to do something to hurt us. We have become so accustomed to the pain and heartache that we are numb to it today. Instead of dealing with the pain and hurts we’ve endured, we have learned to bury it down deep, never to be mentioned again.

But, if we want to truly defeat the giant of bitterness today, we must be willing to expose those hurts we’ve held onto. If someone has hurt you, forgive them, even if they’re not sorry. Even if they don’t realize they’ve hurt you. Forgive them. And then let go of that hurt. Don’t hold onto it any longer. Let it go.

Pray for those individuals who have hurt you that God would work in their lives and change their hearts. Pray that God would change your heart, too, in the process.

And be willing to show kindness to those who have hurt you.

I don’t know what baggage you’re carrying today. But it’s not worth it. Expose the hurts so that you can forgive them and let it go. Otherwise, you will continue to live under the power of the giant of bitterness and resentment.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store