About four years ago, I was hurt deeply by a member of my church family. Somehow wounds always sting more when they’re inflicted by a believer, perhaps because we expect more of them. So, when our saintly friends act in human ways, it blind-sights us.
I’ve never been good at letting things go. I have one of the strongest defense mechanisms there is. Oh, I don’t fight and scream and hurl nasty insults…I withdraw, and fester.
But the problem with festering is it infects. This wound stayed with me, and grew to bitterness. Praise be to God, He has an infestation magnet and rapidly moved in for a heart-check. During this time, we attended a small group Bible study. First visit, guess what they were talking about? Yep, forgiveness. Or more accurately, getting rid of the root of bitterness. Outside, a small fire burned. Each of us were given a slip of paper and asked to prayerfull consider who we needed to forgive. I didn’t have to pray. One name radiated throughout my brain, and brought tears even then. (Actually, I think I cried the entire study, that’s how deep my wounds were. Rather humiliating. “Hi, sniffle, snort, I’m Jennifer…”)
Scrawling the name came easy, it was releasing this person from my heart I struggled with. But as I approached the blazing fire, paper clutched in my hand, reality settled in, and my pain turned to praise. Yes, God wanted me to forgive this person out of obedience and as an active demonstration of my love for Him and gratitude for all He’d done. But it was so much more than that! Christ paid for my freedom when He died on the cross, but this root of bitterness had infested me, hindered me…enslaved me. Christ wanted me to let it go, because only then would I truly be free.
So I did. I threw the paper in the fire and walked away.
Anger and bitterness are secondary emotions. Most often, they begin with pain. When someone hurts you, you have two choices: hold on to that hurt, and work it until a root of bitterness grows, or pluck it out by turning to God and asking Him to heal your wounds.
As with any roots, the quicker you pluck it out, the easier it will be. The longer the bitterness remains, and the more we feed it, the deeper its roots penetrate, wrapping tighter and tighter around our hearts, extending their reach until they color everything we do. It holds us in bondage.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “And don’t sin by letting your anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (NLT)
Let me repeat verse 27: “for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”
This truth is reiterated throughout Scripture, begining with Cain, the world’s first murderer.
Cain was jealous of his brother and his brother’s close relationship with God. Perhaps initially he felt hurt and insignificant, but over time, his pain grew to jealously, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage. (Genesis 4)
Then there are the sons of Jacob. Their father openly favored their younger brother Joseph. That had to cut deep! But instead of turning to God for comfort and aid, they focused their thinking on their wounds, working each injustice in their mind until it turned to jealousy, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage. (Genesis 37)
Then there’s Saul, Israel’s first king. He reigned on the throne, but his people loved David, God’s annointed. Perhaps at first his people’s open admiration for David hurt. No one likes to be ignored. No one likes to be outshined, and why was this young shepherd boy receiving such attention? The more he worked it, the more his wounds of injustice grew until they turned to jealousy, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage…and insanity. (I Samuel 19-27)
Psalm 4:4 says, “Don’t sin by letting your anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” (NLT)
This verse appears to imply that we have a choice in the matter. Don’t let your anger control you. Be rational. Don’t rehash it again and again, turning every conversation into a venting-fest. Let it go.
We live in a fallen world filled with fallen people and emotional scars are inevitable. But I believe God has provided examples in His Word for deeling with these scars effectively before they fester and infest our hearts and minds.
I’ll leave you today with some questions to consider. As you read this, did a name instantly surface? And a slew of emotions along with it? Think about those emotions. The increased tension, the surge of adrenaline, the knotted stomach. When you hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness, who does it hurt most?
David experienced some deep wounds in his life, yet he managed to remain free of anger and bitterness. Come back Thursday as we examine his life in greater detail in order to apply a few concrete steps to our lives the next time our hearts are sliced.