“Bitterness leads nowhere. It turns back on itself. It is the eternal cul-de-sac.”

(Agatha ChristieMurder in Three Acts, 1934)*

Bitterness is insidious. It slinks in on the coattails of our anger and pain. When not identified and exterminated, it slowly morphs into a monster who whispers to our spirit, “But they must pay!”  

And if we give it an ear, the caustic beast takes over everything. We aren’t carrying it in a cute little emotional backpack. Nope, it digs in its talons and clings to our backs, forcing us into a slow crawl.

But we can’t go through life carrying that type of burden. It sucks the life out of everything we do, say, think, and feel. The bitter truth about bitterness is this—it causes us to become someone we aren’t meant to be and less of the person we are meant to be.

And if we let bitterness stick around long enough? We inadvertently put it on a pedestal. And even without realizing it, our desire to make someone pay becomes a higher priority than forgiving them in the same manner we have been forgiven by Christ…and then bitterness can become an idol. And that idol keeps our eyes off of the forgiveness we have been freely given and places it squarely on our desire to see someone else hurt in the same way we have been hurt.

Maybe you know you have taken a bite of the bitter fruit…and maybe you know it’s taken root. But sometimes we don’t even know that we’re harboring bitterness. And many times the person who hurt us doesn’t know that we are harboring bitterness toward them. But those who live with us will usually know. Those who are the closest to us are sometimes the ones who are able to identify it more readily. They see us at our best and our worst…and they can see changes in us even when we can’t—or don’t want to.

And while we might be able to hide the bitterness at work or with those who aren’t part of our inner circle…our bitterness won’t stay hidden forever.

Bitterness is anger gone sour, an attitude of deep discontent that poi...  Quote by Billy Graham, Billy Graham in Quotes - QuotesLyfe

The bitterness can infiltrate our speech. It can reveal itself as part of our social posts. It can become part of the way we respond to everyone who “crosses us”. We are more apt to see other people as lost causes…to give up on relationships…and to view them without grace. It becomes a spiritual blind spot.

So what are some signs that we might be living in a palace of bitterness? It is different for each person, but here are a few symptoms we might experience:  

1.     When someone brings up name of the person who hurt us, bitterness trains our brain to explain/describe how wrong the other person was and still is. It doesn’t take much to set us on that trail…and there is not usually any redemptive aspects to our conversation about that person. 

2.     As Susan mentioned, there’s also the issue of “rehearsing”. Yup, when we think about seeing the offending party, we rehearse what we’ll say to them…over and over and over. Even if it’s just imaginary, it becomes something we ponder more often than not.

3.     We dwell on the things that could have been done differently (sometimes obsessively), while simultaneously blaming the one who caused the offense for everything that’s going wrong in our life.

4.     We don’t like to be around “cheerful” or positive people. It’s as if their sunny disposition disrupts the bitter flow we’ve got going on. Their joy irritates our bitterness.

5.     There is a distinct lack of grace for others, and mistakes are rarely our fault. We have a hard time apologizing. 

6.     We start being judgmental of others, not just the one who hurt us. 

7.     We justify our growing animosity with the remembrance of the sins of those who hurt us.

Bitterness is a heart issue; so what do we do about it? How can we respond to others in the same way that Christ has responded to us? What if that person continues to be a jerk? Or what if they never apologize? Or what if they don’t think they are wrong? What is there to chew on that can help us let go of the bitterness?

Forgiveness: it’s what’s for dinner…and many times, the appetizers and dessert. Why? Because unlike revenge (and pineapple), forgiveness is best served any time and all the time. Corny, yes…but nevertheless, it’s true. 

The Bible doesn’t say that you have to like someone to forgive them. But it does say that you must LOVE them. And true love moves and breathes in the Spirit…not seeking revenge.

In 2nd Timothy 2:24 we are told that those who serve God “…must not be quarrelsome (argumentative) but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful…”. And in Matthew Jesus says, ““But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

It’s not enough to say that we forgive, we are instructed to DO something to show it. We are called to put our forgiveness into action. Then it gets even harder, y’all. In Romans 12, Paul instructs us to treat our “enemies” to lunch. Whaaaa?

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

That’s a tall order, y’all, and I don’t know if I’m ready for it. Are y’all? 

When I read the above passage, it reminds me that I’m a victor, rather than a victim of circumstances or someone else’s choices. 

Jesus said that “no one takes my life from me…I lay it down…and pick it up again.” That’s what we are being called to do, as well. But in order to do that, we have to take off the bitter monster who is weighing us down and holding us captive…and put on the yoke of Jesus instead. He said, “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Come to me.I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.[ Simply join your life with mine.[c] Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle,[d] humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me.[e] For all that I require of you will be pleasant[f] and easy to bear.”

Because when we hold on the bitterness and imprison the bitterness against others in our spirit, they are not the ones in bondage—it’s always us.


*If this is not the correct attribute, please let me know. But my research has led me to believe that the quote is from the cited source.

p.s. Join us for the other posts in this series. You can find them here! If you’d like to read them, here are the links:
The “B” Word—Not What You Think: https://wordwranglernc.wordpress.com/…/the-b-word-not…/
Bitter Fruit: https://wordwranglernc.wordpress.com/…/05/04/bitter-fruit/
From Bitter to Better: https://wordwranglernc.wordpress.com/2021/05/10/from-bitter-to-better/