Did you know bitterness is a poison? Bitterness not only affects our emotions, but left untreated, the toxins produced by bitterness eventually seep into our body as well. Resentment can cause all kinds of physical ailments.
In her book, Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions, Dr. Carolyn Leaf reports, “A massive body of research shows that up to 80% of physical, emotional, and mental health issues today could be a direct result of our thought lives. Resentment, bitterness, lack of forgiveness and self-hatred are just a few of the toxic thoughts and emotions that can also trigger immune system disorders.”
The grasp of bitterness is deceptive. Have you ever hung onto a grudge because you wanted to punish the other person only to notice that you were the only one who suffered? If so, maybe you can relate to the expression, “Bitterness is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die.”
Even when we know how destructive bitterness can be, it is difficult to release because it goes against our sin nature. We want to be in charge. We want to dole out the consequences. But no matter how much we want vengeance, Deuteronomy 29:18 warns us: Make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
Just like the habit of hanging onto resentment, releasing forgiveness is a decision and reaction. It’s a choice. And the more we practice forgiveness, the easier it gets to tear down the walls of bitterness. Here are my 4 secret weapons I use to prevent bitterness.
1. Trust God
Before forgiveness can come out of us, it has to be birthed inside of us through a relationship of trust. Forgiveness is a quality we develop before an offense arises. Forgiveness is actually more proactive than reactive. Let me explain it by using electricity as an example.
If I install electrical wiring in my house and wire a lamp to the ceiling, when I need light, all I do is flip the light switch and suddenly, there is light. But if I never took the time to install electrical wiring and a fixture, nothing would happen when I flip the switch. I could flip the switch all day long and remain in the dark. In order for forgiveness to be a reactive habit or reflex, just like electrical wiring, wiring and fixtures need to be installed. I needed to have a relationship of trust installed into my soul before I can forgive.
So how do we get this kind of “forgiveness wiring”? A person with a willingness to forgive releases control of the situation and surrenders the situation to God by saying, God I trust that you will work this situation out. I trust that you can handle the outcome. A person who is unwilling to forgive thinks thoughts like, I want to handle the punishment. I want to control the outcome. I think my wrath is necessary.
2. Eliminate Expectations
Four words sums up this principle: Get rid of them! Expectations are a set up for bitterness. Each time our expectations are not met, disappointment sets in, and when disappointment gets rooted in our soul, the climate for bitterness is ripe.
Ultimately, the only person we can change is ourselves. Expecting others to perform according to our standards not only puts us in the judgment seat, it also makes us vulnerable to bitterness. We can spend our lives trying to change others, but the only person we can change is ourselves.
3. Guard your heart
I have a scripture that is my secret weapon to walking in peace and staying free of bitterness. If you implement this one scripture I can almost guarantee that you will eliminate at least half of the issues you ever deal with.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart for out of it flow the issues of life.” The Bible refers to the process of setting boundaries as putting a guard on our heart. This is one of the best boundaries verse in the Bible and I hope that you noticed who is responsible for putting the guard in place—we are!
Guarding our heart is like buying an insurance policy against bitterness because when we guard our heart, we help protect ourselves against toxic emotions. Guarding our heart and learning how to set boundaries can help us avoid the trap of bitterness more than any other anger management technique.
Identify areas in your life that trigger your anger and then put guards in place to protect those areas. Be cautious around people who trigger your anger. Avoid them if possible. Anger in itself is not a sin, but unresolved anger that turns into bitterness is a sin.
Guarding my heart put me in a position where I could trust God because I wasn’t constantly bombarded with bitterness. Before I understood this scripture, I was a “yes” woman. I thought saying “yes” to everything was the spiritual thing to do, so I did everything everyone wanted me to do, even when it made me angry. It took a long time before I figured out that if something makes me angry, I had no business doing it if it caused me to end up dealing with the resulting sin of bitterness. I had to learn to say “no” to guard my heart.
4. Take the grace
2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” But here’s the catch: He gives us the grace to endure and the strength to overcome when we need it, not before. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “I don’t think I could ever forgive someone for being responsible for the death of one of my children. Well, here’s the deal. Unless, it happens to you—you’re right. You can’t. God doesn’t distribute his grace until the moment of need. He doesn’t give it out early. He gives it out when we need it. The grace for your situation will be different that the grace I need for my situation.
Grace is like anesthesia. How many of you would ever get anesthesia if you were not having surgery? None of you! Only those scheduled for surgery get anesthesia. Anesthesia gives us the natural tolerance to endure physical pain. Grace gives us the supernatural tolerance to endure soul pain.
An anesthesiologist stays by you during the entire operation and watches over you to modify the anesthesia if your tolerance to pain diminishes. In the same way, God watches over you to make sure the pain is not more than what you can bear (1 Cor 10:13).
Still, many people want to be strong by themselves and think they can make it without God’s grace. But if our strength doesn’t come from the Lord, it will not sustain us through our pain. So don’t forsake His strength. Take the grace!