Memorial Day weekend is the “unofficial” start of summer with families heading to the beach or backyard barbecues. This past Memorial Day I ventured into uncharted territory; the backyard weeds. I gathered my weapons, put on my fighting gloves, and headed out to do battle with the dreaded Spiny Sow Thistle that had taken my backyard captive. This weed often disguises itself as an innocent looking dandelion with its dainty yellow flowers. But don’t be fooled! This innocuous looking weed attacks with its spines causing welts and severe rashes. This nasty plant is hard to get rid of and the only sure way to annihilate this enemy is to dig deep in the soil and dig out the root of this pesky plant. As I was battling this enemy I was reminded of another enemy I must battle on a daily basis which is also hard to root out; bitterness. This enemy is so sneaky that it often resides in us without our knowing. It easily takes root in our lives when we do not deal with our anger and when we have an unforgiving heart.
Years ago I had a conflict with a friend which deeply hurt and wounded me. The issue was resolved to the best of my ability and I forgave this person or so I thought. Throughout the years whenever I thought of this person or their name was brought up I would secretly wish they were having a miserable life. I told myself it was only fair and just that they should suffer as I had suffered. The incident that led to my anger would replay in my mind like a video movie looped to play the same scene over and over. Bitterness had taken root in my heart.
Bitterness often disguises itself. I was convinced that I had forgiven this person. What I felt was not unforgivness or bitterness, but disappointment. I did not want revenge but justice. Just as the Spiny Thistle in my backyard can look like a charming flower, so bitterness can camouflage itself as something less poisonous.
Ephesians 4 tells us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you,” lest we give the devil a foothold in our lives. And Hebrews 12:14-15 says “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life… Let no one become like a bitter plant that grows up and causes many troubles with its poison.” Bitterness is our heart will poison our life and spread to others too as we retell the tale. Soon the devil not only has his foot in the door, but all of him and his evil schemes.
Bitterness is the replaying of a grievance in your mind, not being able to let go of the offence. We secretly hope for someone’s harm or distress. We wish they would get knocked off their “high horse.” When you are bitter towards someone there is a sense of superiority. “I would never do that.” And so we begin to pass judgment on the person. We bring it up to others in the form of a prayer request. “Pray for brother so and so, he has a terrible temper.” Or” pray for me, I am struggling with unforgiveness. Let me tell you what happened.” We also bring it up to ourselves as well; replaying that video again and again. We tell ourselves that we will forgive but not forget. I forgive but have not forgotten means I have judged you but not acted as executioner. We withdraw warmth from that person holding them liable for the sin. But an unforgiving heart is an unforgiven heart, and until we can let go of the offense, we have not truly forgiven nor are we behaving like a forgiven, redeemed individual.
You cannot control your feelings but you can control your thoughts. You can make a decision not to replay those tapes. You make that decision when you say I am going to grant forgiveness before I feel it. And you decide to not seek repayment and determine to absorb the debt. When God says He remembers our sins no more he does not actually forget our sins. He is all knowing. What God means is that he will no longer hold us liable for those sins because the debt has been paid. Jesus absorbed the debt. We can absorb the debts others place on us because Jesus paid for our debts in full. When we realize the great debt we owe to God and the grace he has freely, lovingly bestowed on us, how can we not extend that same grace to others?
So how do we get rid of bitterness? Determine to absorb that debt and give it over to the Lord. Work at living in peace with everyone. Return evil with a blessing (1 Peter 3:9) that you may inherit a blessing. Pray and wish their good.
Thanks to my diligence and hard work the Spiny Sow Thistle no longer holds my back yard captive. And thanks to convicting power of God’s Word and the sword of the Spirit, bitterness no longer holds my heart captive. “Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-12 (The Message)