When we can’t break free from bitterness

Some time ago, a young adult struggling with some significant hurts said, “I’m not like you. I can’t just forgive.”

As I considered his words, I immediately thought of numerous times when this was far from true. When I held grudges, harbored bitterness over an offense, and longed for vindication. There’d been a season when this was my default response, and this grieved me. I knew God called me to forgive and to love from a pure heart. I wanted to obey, but I didn’t know how.

One evening, battling anger over a recent hurt, I sensed God calling me to meditate on Ephesians 4. Paul, the first century evangelist who wrote this letter, began the chapter calling the Christ-followers in Ephesus to live up to their true identity. In verses 1-2 he wrote, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (NIV). In the passage that follows, he explained the benefit of remaining connected to a Spirit-led, interdependent community.

Then I reached verses 30-32, which states, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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” (NIV).

Convicted and conflicted, I prayed, “Lord, why is my bitterness so hard to release?”

As I sat in His presence, He spoke, reminding me of who I am in Him and to Him. Anchored securely in my Father’s love, knowing I had no reason to hide, I found the courage and desire to say, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV).

Reveal every crevice, every sin, falsehood, and wound—everything that keeps me from the vibrant life, the freedom to which I’m called.

There, in that quiet place, God illuminated the root of my struggle: Shame, pain, and pride.

Shame. I realized I wanted the individual to know how they had hurt me to prove that they were broken, too. So that my brokenness wouldn’t seem so bad.

This meant, I was seeking something from an individual that only God can give. Only my Father can heal my soul and eradicate my shame.  

He also helped me understand that I was using anger and bitterness as a defense mechanism. A way to distract me from my pain. I found increased freedom as I gave myself permission to grieve; to fully feel my hurt.

And finally, God revealed an insidious and toxic seed of pride. I had forgotten all the ways I’d fallen short of who God called me to be. Of all the times I’d desperately needed, and then received, His grace.

A grace meant to set me free from everything that enslaves; to flow first within me, then from me, giving me the power and desire to forgive others as Christ, my Savior, forgave me.

When negative emotions arise, many of us respond in one of two ways: We can become so stuck in self-condemnation and shame that our sins and weaknesses begin to overshadow God’s grace. Or, we can fall into a “grit-your-teeth,” self-reliant, surface level obedience. Granted, obedience to Christ is always the right response.

But our tender, liberating Father invites us to go deeper. To experience the soul-deep freedom that comes with increased intimacy with Him. So that we can live up to our true identities as loved, chosen, empowered, and transformed children of God.

Let’s talk about this! Has a seed of bitterness threatened your freedom and joy? Is God inviting you to experience greater healing and transformation in Him? How will you respond?

Scripture taken from: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

3 Actions That Restore Your Joy (Psalm 42:5-6) Your Daily Bible Verse

Today’s Bible Verse: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar." – Psalm 42:5-6 Want to listen without the ads? Become a BibleStudyTools.com PLUS Member today: https://www.biblestudytools.com/subscribe/   MEET OUR HOSTS:   JENNIFER SLATTERY is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at https://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com   Follow Jennifer: https://www.lifeaudio.com/faith-over-fear/  https://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte https://www.instagram.com/slatteryjennifer/    CAROL MCCRACKEN is a Christian communicator who teaches women Biblical truths through real-life application and humor to connect them to their God-given purpose. Carol has been a Bible teacher for twenty years and served on church staff and in women's ministry for three decades.   Follow Carol: https://www.carolmccracken.com/   REVEREND DR. KYLE NORMAN is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada.  He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others.  He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca.  He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.   Follow Rev. Kyle: https://revkylenorman.ca/   JOY A. WILLIAMS is a writer and speaker who is amazed her first name became her life’s mission. As life happens in ways that baffle us or bring us joy, she loves exploring how those moments can bring us closer to God.  She is a member of the “First 5” writing team at Proverbs 31 ministries. As a licensed minister, she serves as a teacher for the Women’s Bible Study and the Married Couples Ministry at her church.  Joy is a wife and mother and she shares encouragement on the “Joy to the Soul” blog.  Subscribe to receive the newest posts and updates at joyawilliams.com.   Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest   Read Joy’s 7-day Bible reading plans: “Live Your Joy Story” and “When Easy Doesn’t Live Here: Living by Faith When Life Is Hard” on the YouVersion Bible app.   JESSICA VAN ROEKEL loves the upside-down life of following Jesus as she journeys to wholeness through brokenness. As an author, speaker, and worship leader, she uses her gifts and experiences to share God’s transformative power to rescue, restore, and renew. She is the author of Reframing Rejection: How Looking Through a Different Lens Changes Everything.   Jessica and her husband have two adult daughters spreading their wings, and two high schoolers, a son and daughter, fluttering their wings as they edge closer to the nest. Connect with her at welcomegrace.com and reframingrejection.com. Discover more Christian podcasts at lifeaudio.com and inquire about advertising opportunities at lifeaudio.com/contact-us.
  1. 3 Actions That Restore Your Joy (Psalm 42:5-6)
  2. Ridiculous Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22)
  3. God Rescues Us (2 Corinthians 1:10)
  4. Joy for the Devastated Heart (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
  5. At the Temple Wall (Psalm 66:19)

Posted In


  1. once fucked forever fucked??? “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

    ― Aristotle, The Philosophy of Aristotle

    rex febus –   One of the Posterity VIA Stephen Hopkins, DOI signer, Governor of Providence Plantations, Signer of the Mayflower Compact,  …but that was him.. what have i done lately? with explicit reservation of all myun-a-lien-able rights 

Leave a Reply