Freedom from Bitterness
By Amy Ruiz
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” —Matthew 6:14-15
My husband and I were reading a Max Lucado devotional book called Grace for the Moment: 365 Devotions for Kids with our children the other day and the specific devotion was entitled “The Prison of Bitterness.” We were discussing how anger and hurt can turn to bitterness when you hold onto it and refuse to forgive. It had us thinking about how one of the most horrible tastes that can get stuck in your mouth is lingering bitterness that won’t go away whether it be a medicine, spoiled food, or certain vegetables. Who wants to hold onto bitterness?
Bitterness, whether the emotion or the taste, is not very pleasant. In fact, Lucado gave a very good description of the prison bitterness can create writing, “The walls of this prison are slippery with hatred. Puddles of muddy anger darken the floor. The stench of betrayal fills the air and stings the eyes. And a cloud of self-pity blocks out the light.” Can’t you just picture the horror of this prison? Maybe you’ve experienced this kind of bitterness firsthand. Our minds can burn with thoughts of revenge or replay the betrayal, the hurt, the injustice. But what good does it do us to hold on to unforgiveness? Simply put, “Bitterness will trap your heart in a prison just as real as one with iron bars (Lucado).”
Matthew 16:14-15 speaks to us about the seriousness of forgiveness, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Every one of us has sinned and need God’s forgiveness. God continually shows us His mercy and grace in abundance, yet somehow, we can feel that it is okay to refuse to forgive because the other person doesn’t deserve it. No one “deserves” forgiveness, but forgiveness is not about “letting someone off the hook,” it is about setting ourselves free from the prison of bitterness. Forgiveness is a gift! Not just that God forgives us, but the fact that He can help us forgive others and find freedom from bitterness.
A while back I was talking with a woman who said that she would never forgive her husband who left her for another woman. This had happened decades previously and she was choosing to live with the bitterness of unforgiveness that had trapped her all this time. I tried to explain how forgiveness was a gift from God to set her free, but she was never able to get past the mindset that he just didn’t deserve her forgiveness. I continue to pray that her heart will soften. I know personally how the feeling of bitterness eats me up inside if I let it go on for even a few days.
Some things are harder to forgive, and forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation or restoration of a relationship; however, forgiveness lightens the burden of our hearts and connects us with the Creator who designed the concept of forgiveness. Scripture says, “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).” Perhaps it is not too far off to be able to state as well that we forgive because God first forgave us. May you find freedom in forgiveness!
Dear God, Thank you for your gift of forgiveness. Help me to forgive and free me from any bitterness that keeps me a prisoner. Amen.