She was mad, furious. She was only 9 years old but determined to make her friend pay for the pain she felt. Stomping her foot she declared those words and gave voice to the feelings that festered inside.
Fast forward twenty-five years. Staring at her husband, she’s shocked at the words that spewed from her mouth, resentment burning because of what he had done. Those same words she once yelled at her friend reverberated in her heart. Resentment gave way to bitterness and bitterness wrapped its tangled roots around her heart.
Have you ever felt that way? So wounded that all you wanted to do was shout I’ll never forgive you! To have your pain avenged as you declare your woundedness at any cost. This venom release may feel cathartic, even empowering, but living that way is dangerous. A resentful heart breeds bitterness, and bitterness poisons our soul, destroying any relationships we long to experience.
Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:15, NLT)
So what’s the antidote to this poison of bitterness?
For those of us who follow Jesus, we are called to a different way to live. We are called to forgive, to live in community, and value life-giving relationships where we encourage and build each other up.
Perhaps your heart races as you read these words. But you don’t know what happened to me, you reason. If you really knew what he did, what she said, how they hurt me…
There are times, horrific times as pain cuts deep and details describe unspeakable offenses where the shards of someone’s brokenness rub up against ours and we bleed. We bleed sorrow and grief, wondering if those shattered remnants will ever heal. We bleed pain that no one knows, that perhaps we’re too afraid to share.
For that, dear one, I am so sorry. I am sorry for the pain you feel and the broken pieces you’ve collected. I’m sorry that part of your story is even in your story.
But here’s what I know because I have also experienced deep wounding at another’s hand. I know God sees you (Proverbs 24:12). He knows what happened to you and is near you (Psalm 34:18). I know He sees each tear that falls (Psalm 56:8), and hears each desperate cry (Psalm 55:17).
Here’s what I don’t know. I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know why you experienced such sorrow and grief or why the details of that particular story are details in your personal story. But I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the years that no one noticed. I’m sorry for the unanswered prayers and lingering questions. I’m sorry for the unhealed, tender places of your heart that you’ve walled off in self-protection.
But I also know this particular story in your life is not the entire story of your life. There is more, so much more to experience where hope and healing are possible as we’re willing to take one step toward forgiveness.
When we choose to forgive, we release the desire, and perhaps even the right, for revenge. This doesn’t mean we excuse their behavior or even choose to continue in relationship. We release the power they have over us to continue to hurt us by allowing us to set the right pieces in place before the right Person. Forgiveness shifts our gaze and provides context for the story we tell ourselves.
There is a battle going on – one that we cannot see. While it’s easy to look at someone and think they’re the one with whom we’re battling, the reality is that there is a much larger war waging on.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
Soon after my daughter died in a fire that destroyed our home, unspeakable things were said about me from people I knew, people I loved.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond. The accusations made my head spin and crushed my already broken heart. But as I pressed into the lies, as I poured my heart out to my Father in heaven, He opened my eyes to the battle that raged around me. I saw brokenness and pain, fear and sorrow. I saw the battle was not about the words that were said or even the circumstances that had occurred, but about creating division and fear while destroying precious relationships.
The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy.” John 10:10a
As my gaze shifted and the story I told myself changed, I took a step toward forgiveness. I remember praying against the root of bitterness taking hold because I refused to allow the darkness to win. This choice to forgive wasn’t easy; it’s not for the faint of heart. Nor is it a sign of weakness or caving in to what had been done.
No, when I chose to forgive, I made a declaration. A declaration that God would win, that He is in control, no matter what. Forgiveness is a step of faith releasing the desire for revenge or punishment to the One who is fighting for me, the One who is for me, and at work within me.
As He is for you.
The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14, NLT
When you choose to forgive, you release the power to the One who restores and redeems. It draws you nearer to the presence and heart of God. Because forgiveness is not easy, it is not a natural response to our wounding.
Forgiveness is a gift, a gift for me and for those with whom I’m in relationship. God tenderly heals the darkest corners and my deepest wounds as I pour out my hurt before Him, inviting Him in, asking Him to move and protect, to redeem and restore it all. He has transformed my distrust into deep intimacy, and my story from tragedy to triumph.
And it all began with a step toward forgiveness.
What about you? Does bitterness have a hold of your heart or are you learning the power and gift of forgiveness?