There are times as a counselor when I feel a deep sadness along with a large dollop of frustration. I expect to feel sad as I hear of people’s pain. It is just plain hard to listen to the results of sin, regret, and/or natural or unfortunate circumstances in the lives of people.
But my frustration comes when progress is blocked by a client tenaciously holding on to something of a destructive nature that yields no possible benefit.
Bitterness is one of these with disastrous relational results.
Bitterness separates parents from children, husbands from wives, and congregants from churches. It can rip close friends apart from one another leaving both lonely and dissatisfied. Why would we hold on to such a destructive force as cold resentment when we are quite aware of how it hurts us and others?
The answer is not very pretty: It is power that can be used to control or punish others and justify our bad behavior. I give myself permission to withhold love and approval. I build a fortress of protection from relational risk. But I am also out of the will of God.
There are times when it is appropriate to set boundaries with people in order to stop or prevent damage. But these boundaries must be set with love with a goal towards restoration, if possible. How can we move towards reconciliation if our heart is cold and hard?
In bitterness spouses will withhold conversation, friendliness or sex, or communicate only in anger, sarcasm or irritability, needlessly maintaining walls of separation. The results are a loveless or shallow marriage. Children will become rebellious and disrespectful and parents will deny the nurturance that all sons and daughter need to become healthy adults.
The Bible says that forgiveness (as opposed to reconciliation) is not an option. And the truth is that often we are the only one that suffers as our heart shuts down. The ability to forgive is both an act of the will and an act of obedience. It is also a supernatural occurrence because the truth is that I rarely feel the strength or the inclination. Can I really utter the words “not my will but thy will be done” in my humanness?
It is with love that I write these words because my joy is in seeing reconciliation and restoration in the lives of people I care about. It is always difficult to be the one who takes a risk and makes a first move. Often that first move is internal, allowing God to work on our hearts. It is a surrender to love that far surpasses our ability to comprehend it. Only God can effectively remove our bitterroot judgments. And only with our cooperation will He do that.
Eph 4:31-32 (NLT) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.