Let Go of Bitterness

“It always struck me in years after how bizarre it was, how two people could look at one another with such tenderness and complete love, and how quickly that could dissolve into nothing but bitterness.”
― Hannah Harrington, Saving June

I will never forget Dave Wesley. In the fourth grade, Dave and I would play basketball together every day at recess. Neither of us was very athletic. We knew that we didn’t belong in the more competitive games of the athletic guys on the other court. But we enjoyed playing and we enjoyed each other’s company. So every day we played a one-on-one full court game where our imaginations and our friendship were more important than our lack of athletic skill.

When I learned that my family would be moving in the middle of the year, I was sad, disappointed to be leaving this comfortable place. I had just gotten a positive reply to my romantic note-passing with Kimberly. Dave and I would no longer be able to imagine ourselves as Pistol Pete on the playground.

We planned out that last day of play, our championship game. We would seal our friendship and settle our basketball season with one final game on my final day of fourth grade in Gastonia North Carolina. But then, something odd happened. It was my last day, and the cool kids, the athletic guys, suddenly invited me to play with them, on their court! I still remember the look on Dave’s face as I told him I wouldn’t be playing with him that day. I still remember looking over as he stood all alone on our court and shot baskets while I fumbled around on the other court, trying not to think about how I had betrayed my real friend for a few minutes of acceptance among the “cool kids.”

I hope that Dave eventually understood and didn’t judge me too harshly for my moment of weakness. I don’t know. Probably, he made a new friend and didn’t think much about me anymore.

But I have never forgotten him.

Throughout our lives, small betrayals and thoughtless blows strike us from friends and acquaintances. Mostly we learn to move on, set it aside and even forget. But what if we can’t? How do we prevent bitterness from eating at our souls like cancer?

“Let all bitterness… be put away from you,” Paul says in Ephesians. But that is not so easy to do. We really want to hold on to those hurts and the hope that one day our pain will find resolution in revenge. They’ll get theirs!

Paul follows up his admonition to put away bitterness with a more positive command: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Kindness, tender hearts, forgiveness, these are the keys to letting go of bitterness. They are not so easy to find within ourselves. But Paul’s words also contain the key to enacting these positive traits to overcome the negative ones.

We remember that God in Christ forgave us. How can we refuse to forgive, refuse to let go of our bitterness when Christ has forgiveness us?

I hope Dave was able to forgive me. I know God has. And because God has forgiven me, I can begin to let go and forgive when others hurt me.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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One thought on “Let Go of Bitterness

  1. The incident with Dave seems small. I imagine the sting you felt when you realized what had just happened, and the sting you imagined HE felt by the rejection is what bothered you. I’ve had similar times—both on the receiving and on the giving ends. I think the burden from that comes from the guilty feelings we harbor and continue to carry, even though we intellectually tell ourselves that Jesus has forgiven us. Somehow, we just don’t quite “buy it”, and satan uses it as a tool to keep us down….because we allow him to. You have moved on, accepted Christ’s forgiveness, and that guilt is gone. That was one small betrayal. For some reason, it brought to my mind the “big betrayal” of Peter, and I try to imagine how he felt deep down, when Jesus turned and looked him in the eyes in the courtyard. I’m sure Peter was devastated by this and completely disgusted with himself for having done what he “swore” he would never do. Unlike so many of us, Peter did take Jesus at His word, and accepted his forgiveness. You did, too. It is tragic that so many cannot forgive themselves and keep moving forward. If Jesus forgives us, why can’t we forgive ourselves? Thanks for this.

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