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Background Text: Colossians 3:13

Devotional Text: Hebrews 12:15

Today, we are discussing bitterness, what the Bible has to say about it, and how bitterness affects us.

The emotion of bitterness often makes the person who is bitter a miserable person to be around. Psychologists even affirm that being bitter can adversely affect one’s health.

The person one is feeling bitter toward, on the other hand, is usually not affected at all. The recipient of bitterness is usually just confused about what happened but does not normally dwell on the other person’s feelings toward them, nor do they feel bitterness and hurt in kind.

So why become bitter about someone or something if the only person who is truly hurt by this emotion is the person who is engulfed by it?

The Bible tells us that the best way to lose bitterness is to be forgiving. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Hebrews 12:15 made the subject of bitterness clearer: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that ‘no root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

From the Hebrews verse, we begin to understand that if someone takes on bitterness (the root of bitterness) whenever something happens to them that makes them sad, disappointed or angry, the root can grow into a tree and take over the person’s life. When bitterness rules one’s life, it takes them away from all sense of normalcy.

Bitter people are easy to recognize. They are often feeling depressed about something that happened in their life, and often it is something from their distant past. Being unable to let go of that event has led them to a life of unforgiveness, even over the tiniest of happenings.

The magazine Psychology Today, in a 2018 article, described the root of bitterness “(as someone being) hurt and having emotional pain.” It can also be defined as a “chronic pervasive state of smoldering resentment.”

Bitterness has also been described as a mix of emotions including anger, sadness and disappointment that something did not turn out as expected. When a person gets deeper into living a life based on bitterness, normal relationships become confusing because it becomes difficult for their family and friends to live up to unrealistic expectations known only to the bitter person.

Those who live a life enveloped by bitterness become emotionally injured, having trouble dealing with the negative events that can and do happen in everyone’s life from time to time.

Let Go and Let God

Prior to Paul’s writing in Ephesians 4:32, he had also written in the verse before it to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Paul was giving us his advice to stay away from bitterness before it gets a hold on our personality.

Forgiveness is the key point in letting go of anger, hurt, sadness and disappointment. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “Bear with one another, and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”

Romans 12:19 adds these words for our benefit; “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

In other words, take to heart the popular phrase, “Let go and let God,” whenever you are hurt and sad and angry and want so badly to hurt the one who hurt you. God will repay. It is not up to us to repay. It is up to us to forgive, so we can live lives of peace and contentment and happiness. For how can a person feel comforted if holding onto negative emotions of revenge?

There are two other Scriptures that show us a better way.

Psalm 37:8 advises us, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself, it tends only to evil.”

Back to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:2, we read, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love.”

In other words, when we are hurt or disappointed in life, try to see it from the other person’s point of view. Oftentimes, we find that the other person did not mean to harm us. Be empathetic.

Everyone has hurts, feels anger and is disappointed. That is why the New Testament writers tell us over and over to let them go, to forgive one another. Dwelling on hurtful emotions only serves to affect us in harmful ways.

The Bible helps us to stay away from the development of bitterness by encouraging us to forgive and to love one another. In this way, we let go of disappointments and look to God who is completely trustworthy to help us live a good life with positive emotions.

If we do not forgive, we are only hurting ourselves. Bypassing forgiveness leads us to holding onto grudges, which can so easily develop into a life of bitterness. Bitterness has been linked to physical disharmony in both mind and body.

If you are struggling with bitterness, a good counselor can help. It also becomes easier over time to get rid of bitterness by understanding some of the important realities linked to life — don’t take everything personally, everything is not always about you, most of the time people are not out to get you, understand where the other person is coming from, and finally, remember to “let go and let God.”

The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh is the pastor of Schenevus United Methodist Church in Schenevus, New York.

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