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November 24, 2013

So just how do you deal with Bitterness?  The truth is that everyone probably deals with it differently.  As for me, I think the first step to beating down Bitterness is forgiveness.  We are called to forgive.  I think the bible is very clear about this topic.  Jesus was sent to be our sacrifice for our sins, our evil.  He came to take the punishment for our wrongdoings.  Through him, we are forgiven.  It is free to us, it is through grace by which we receive this forgiveness, we do not deserve his forgiveness.  It is strictly through grace.   We are called to forgive others, just as we have been forgiven.  To me this parable sums up this entire concept quite well:

Matthew 18:21-35

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

In life, I think it is often way too easy to be like the ungrateful servant.  We look for forgiveness when we fall short and totally mess things up.  But when someone sins against us, it is often hard to turn and provide that same grace.  It is easy for us to say to the other person, that they need to forgive others, but really, really hard when the offense is made against us to provide that same grace.  We have been wronged and our human nature dictates that we should seek some revenge or that the offender must somehow pay for what they have done.  But we are commanded to provide grace, to forgive.  Anyone who tells you that forgiveness is easy, is a liar, its not.  Plain and simple, it is extremely difficult.  It is not a natural way for us to think or react.  It is one of the most difficult things the we will be ever faced with.

Over the past couple of years, I have been faced with this challenge.  I have been harmed, betrayed, and hurt deeply by those close to me.  I had a choice to make.  To forgive or to be bitter.  I choose the path of forgiveness.  It was not easy, in fact I would say that choice has been one of the most difficult paths I have ever chosen in my life.  And a path that I am still walking each and every day.  It is hard.  At times it also sucks as you have to put aside natural reactions like rage, anger and bitterness.  But I can truly say that it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Looking back I truly believe that without this choice, I would be consumed with bitterness and anger – but worst of all I would have been able to justify it all.  That is what makes the path to bitterness so challenging.  As you get deeper and deeper in it, your actions and its evil become easier and easier to justify – you are the one in the right, you are the one that has been harmed, thus you are not only OK to be bitter, but you are justified.  Through this process I thought I would share some of the things that I have learned:

1. Forgiveness is not a one time thing:  Most people think that once you have made the choice to forgive, that it is done, its over – you have forgiven.  I don’t think this is true, I think it is a continual process.  Sometimes it requires forgiving daily.  I would forgive, but then the next day, those same feelings would reappear and I would have to do it again.  Thus I think we should approach forgiveness knowing that it is a constant process, not a one time deal.

2.  We will feel like we are the one losing:  When we choose to forgive, we are giving grace, meaning the other person does not deserve our forgiveness, but we are giving it anyhow, despite what they have done.  Yes we feel like the losers.  I know I felt like I was the victim, yet I was  the one that had to give something.  Shouldn’t I, the victim, be the one who gets something from this ordeal?  Yep, when you forgive, you feel like the one losing.

3.  There are no Buts in forgiveness:  Often times we forgive like this:  “I forgive you, but you did something really, really bad.”  That doesn’t count as forgiveness.  Remember this is about grace, the sinner doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, but we are giving it to them, free from conditions.  But’s are conditions.  So if we forgive with a but, we are not really forgiving.  Even worse, when we forgive with a But, we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that we actually did forgive, however, the reality is the but negates the forgiveness.

4.  Not everyone will understand it:  We live in a society that feels entitled, we should be compensated for anything and everything that has a negative impact on us.  Forgiveness is counter-culture to the ideas that exist in our culture today.  Not everyone will understand your choice to forgive.  That is OK though, don’t expect everyone to understand because they won’t.

5.  Check your actions:  One common problem when we forgive is that we tell ourselves, that we forgive someone, we tell them and think all is well, but then in the next moment we are talking poorly about that person or spreading gossip about what happened.  Our actions speak loudly, forgiveness didn’t happen if we forgive in one moment, but then talk smack in the next moment.  Our actions need to reflect our heart and our choice.

6.  It’s not about them, it’s about us:  The main reason we are called to forgive is for us, only a small portion of the process is for the sinner.  Its really about us and our heart and keeping ourselves free from anger, hatred and bitterness.  We forgive to free ourselves from bondage, not just to free the sinner.

I think a lot of this can be summed up in a great quote from the Return of the Jedi, from Luke Skywalker to his father, Darth Vader ( a man consumed by bitterness, fear and anger)

“Search your feelings, Father, you can do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.”

That is why we are called to forgive, to let go of our hate, our anger, our bitterness and when we do, I think that we will be happier for doing it.



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