Bitterness only Hurts Ourselves
When we are bitter, we delude ourselves into thinking that those who hurt us are more likely to be punished as long as we are set on revenge. We are afraid to let go of those feelings. After all, if we don’t make plans to see that justice is done, how will justice be done?
We make ourselves believe that it is up to us to keep the offense alive. This is a lie-the devil’s lie. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: `It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). We only hurt ourselves when we dwell on what has happened to us and fantasize about what it will be like when “they” get punished.
A Need to Heal the Past
One of the challenges, at least in the western church, is an inability to deal with our wounds in a healthy way. Our training as Christians has been focused on Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday worship. But little thought has been given to the connection between our emotional and spiritual lives. This, I believe, is why seemingly pious saints can wreak so much damage on the church. There’s tons of spiritual head knowledge, but without healing the wounds of the past, they are unable to experience healthy relationships. The Catholic priest Ronald Rolheiser describes this budding awareness of our unhealed past:
Once the sheer impulse of life begins to be tempered by the weight of our commitments and the grind of the years, more of our sensitivities begin to break through, and we sense more and more how we have been wounded and how life has not been fair to us. New demons then emerge: bitterness, anger, jealousy, and a sense of how we have been cheated. Disappointment cools the fiery energies of our youth, and our enthusiasm begins to be tempered by bitterness and anger . . . where once we struggled to properly control our energies, we now struggle to access them.
Tearing the Leech Off
There’s a story about a traveler making his way with a guide through the jungles of Burma. They came to a shallow but wide river and waded through it to the other side. When the traveler came out of the river, numerous leeches had attached to his torso and legs. His first instinct was to grab them and pull them off.
This guide stopped him, warning that pulling the leeches off would only leave tiny pieces of them under the skin. Eventually, infection would set in.
The best way to rid the body of the leeches, the guide advised, was to bathe in a warm balsam bath for several minutes. This would soak the leeches, and soon they would release their hold on the man’s body. When I’ve been significantly injured by another person, I cannot simply yank the injury from myself and expect that all bitterness, and emotion will be gone. Resentment still hides under the surface. The only way to become truly free of the offense and to forgive others is to bathe in the soothing bath of God’s forgiveness of me. When I finally fathom the extent of God’s love in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of others is a natural outflow.