Letting Go and Clinging On

Today’s post comes from a very dear friend and prayer partner, Elaine Stock. Ephesians 4:31 tells us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” I believe there are two reasons for this (if not more). Bitterness taints our witness for Christ, but more than that it–it holds us in bondage. Christ died to set us free. Don’t allow a painful past keep you from experiencing the freedom He’s offered.

Letting Go and Clinging on by Elaine Stock

You’re 17 and live with your dad in Troy, New York. He drinks. You sneak behind his back with his ATM card. He confronts you. He yells. You yell. He threatens to kill you and then himself. You plead with him not to. He pulls out his gun. Says the only way out is for you to shoot him instead of him killing you. You cry no. He says do it. You aim for his head. You pull the trigger. You’re arrested.

I wish I were pondering this scenario for a new plot. This is not fiction, though. It recently happened. But while the sensation is playing out across local TV news coverage and local newspapers, all I can think about is what has happened in this girl’s life to lead up to such a horrific event, and what will happen for the rest of her life? She’s a girl; not even a woman. Has she known Jesus as her personal Savior and loving Father, feeling His unconditional love, a love that would never push her up a brick wall like this? Will she ever be able to forgive her human father for this awful bind? Will she ever be able to forgive herself for her actions? Will she turn bitter toward others, figuring no one is worthy of her love?

Please do not misunderstand me. I make no condemnation toward this girl. It is not my role.

However, I do understand about forgiveness. And bitterness. Life is rough. I never asked to be a daughter of a schizophrenic mother, or a daughter of a hard-working father who was away from home more than not. Or, a wannabe writer still striving for publication past the glamorous age of thirty-five.

And, I’m an American. Shouldn’t my husband and I have two homes, 2.9 children, brand new cars in the driveway to take me to my high-paying executive career in some posh office because of course Americans never get their hands dirty working in—gasp—the food industry business?

Having experienced some of the things I have I could be really sour, but I’m not. Why? Because God loves me and I love Him. Sure, I have my moments … hours of downtimes. Yet, it all comes back to believing in God. As I’ve said often to friends, if it weren’t for my belief in God I’d never get out of bed each morning.

These past handful of years have presented me with a few other unexpected kinks to detangle. It was just a matter of a few weeks past that I realized I needed to let go of grudges, disappointments, and bitterness a wee more. Sure, these are human emotions, but lingering in this pit of muck serves no purpose. It takes me away from God. It pulls me away from what He wants me to offer others: His light and love.

But what about this 17 year-old-girl who killed her father? Please pray for her, all those who struggle daily with disappointments, sorrows, bitterness, and deeds gone wrong.

And what about you? Are you letting go of the bumps in your life? Are you, instead, clinging onto God’s loving hand?

Elaine Stock never expected that a college major in psychology and sociology would walk her through the see-saw industries of food service and the weight-loss business; co-ownership with her husband in piano restoration; and ten years in community leadership. All great fodder for creating fiction.

Elaine’s blog, Everyone’s Story  has been graced by an awesome international viewership. Everyone’s Story hosts weekly interviews and reflections aiming to uplift the spirits of writers, readers, and all those in-between.

A former RWA member, she has presented writing workshops. Presently involved in ACFW, she was a 2011 semi-finalist in the prestigious Genesis Contest in the contemporary fiction division. She would enjoy making new connections on Twitter and Facebook. Her first short story was published on Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

With her own childhood void of God, and becoming a Christian first in her twenties, she hopes her writing will bring His love to many and show how His light shines in troubled relationships.

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Congrats to Amanda M! You won a copy of Katie Ganshert’s debut novel, Wildflowers From Winter. I’ll be contacting you shortly for your address.

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about getting rid of all anger and bitterness as we cling to the hope that doesn’t disappoint.

This doesn’t come easy. I often use the term “fighting for forgiveness” because emotions can be unpredictable and intense. But I don’t believe God would give us a command if it weren’t possible–through and in Him.

On our own, I’m not sure we can do it. But through Christ who strengthens us, we can do all things.

Freedom in Forgiveness

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.