The challenges we face in life are tough sometimes. Challenges with our health, our job, our children, or our marriage are the type of challenges almost everyone will have to deal with at one point or another. But in every challenge, we face we have to make a conscious decision. Will we choose to let the situation make us better, or will we let it make us bitter?
I’ve seen the importance of this choice time after time. Not only in my own life, but also in the lives of many others. And every time a person allows themselves to become bitter there is always a severe price that comes with making the wrong choice. Let me share a few examples.
The first time Janet and I went through a breakup in our marriage and then got back together, I became bitter towards her. I wasn’t aware that I had. I just knew I was having a very hard time getting past everything that had happened. Then I started speaking harshly to her all the time. I couldn’t talk about what had happened to us without bursting into fits of anger. I had so much unforgiveness towards her it weighed on my mind constantly.
Then after a few years of dealing with my sorry attitude, Janet had all she could take. She no longer believed we could overcome our past and all of our baggage and she was ready to call it quits again. My bitterness pushed us into our second breakup. When I finally recognized the unforgiveness in my heart I knew I needed to deal with it.
Chose to become bitter
One man chose to be bitter and still is now forty-something years after his first marriage ended.
Janet and I were sitting at this man’s table having breakfast one morning. When his two daughters from his first marriage were talking about how they would love to find their mother. Their dad and stepmother had raised them and they hadn’t seen their birth mother since they were children. But when he found out what his daughters were talking about he said to them “well if you do find her, you’d better not bring her around here. Because I’ll kill her.”
Sadly, just a few years after he said that about his first wife, he then turned to his wife of forty-six years and on her birthday told her he wanted a divorce. Now he has lost his marriage, his ministry, had to sell the home they had together and most of his six children won’t have anything to do with him. All this, I believe, was due to his bitterness.
Another example: a lifelong friendship I lost because of bitterness.
This man’s attempt to rebuild his life with his first wife and their children had failed. We were there for him as he tried to deal with his heartbreak. But we weren’t willing to let go of our friendship with his wife and children. Not this time. We lost our connection with them the first time their marriage broke up and we loved them as much as we loved him. We didn’t want to choose sides. So out of bitterness, he cut us and nearly everyone else out of his life and that was over ten years ago.
I’ve also seen those who chose to become better.
My grandmother watched her marriage fall apart with my grandfather. Still, she chose to become better instead of bitter. They divorced after 25 years of marriage. And with each passing year, she could tell you how long it had been since the divorce. Almost every time I heard her tell that she would pull out a handkerchief to wipe away her tears.
But even in her pain, she pushed through to become better. At first, when there were family gatherings she didn’t want to come if my grandfather and his new wife were there. Then eventually she would come, but she couldn’t handle being in the same room with my grandfather’s wife. Until finally she was able to be in the presence of either one of them. And before my grandfather died it wasn’t unusual to go to a family event and find the three of them sitting in the living room together talking like they were lifelong friends.
Forgiving a stranger.
One of the biggest examples that inspired me to choose to become better was my other grandmother, my dad’s mother.
A drunk driver killed my dad’s younger brother in a head-on collision. My uncle Sammy had just finished high school and he was a gentle and kind man. He had polio since he was a boy and even though he had to use crutches to get around he always brightened the room with his presence.
It was many years later when I heard the rest of the story of how my grandmother dealt with the tragedy. What she did spoke volumes to me. For many years she called the man responsible for Sammy’s death about once a week. Now, maybe it was after he served some jail time, I don’t remember her saying. She said she called him and asked how he was doing. Then she always told him, “I want you to know, Jesus loves you and I love you too.” I don’t know how many years it took. But eventually, he responded to one of her calls with good news. He said he gave his life to Jesus. And he thanked her for being such a great witness of the love of God.
My grandmothers set great examples for me.
Their examples helped me get through the other marriage crisis I went through. It was because of these examples and the instructions from the bible that allowed me to say to Janet, with complete confidence, that “one way or another I’m going to come out of this marriage crisis a better person.” I said she could “either watch me become better in our marriage or she could watch me from a distance become a better person.”
I wasn’t perfect. And I had a lot to learn about being a better husband. But I knew I was always going to choose to become better. I was not going to let bitterness shrink me into a small-minded person who couldn’t handle adversity.
Maybe some of these examples of pain and challenging circumstances sound familiar. You might think you don’t have to choose between becoming better or bitter. If you already have bitterness you might even think this thing will eventually wear off after you get past the pain you’re feeling. But I’m telling you, it doesn’t work like that. You have to get a hold of this thing and make a conscious decision of what your response is going to be.
There is just no other way to deal with bitterness other than forgiveness. If you’re going to choose to become better, forgiveness is the only key that can unlock that door. To read more from us on this you can also read our post Forgiveness: Giving and Receiving. And we highly recommend the book The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offence, by John Bevere
Some scripture verses to help.
You can read, study, and meditate on these verses as much as it takes to get these truths in your heart. You can also use these verses as you pray over your situation.
This first verse lays the foundation of how you let the Lord change the way you think by listening to what He says in His word.
- “Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.” Romans 12:2
These next two verses help us understand how it is God’s will to forgive.
- “Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, “I am sorry,” you should still forgive that person.” Luke 17:4
- “Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.” Ephesians 4:32
And finally, here are a few verses that show how bitterness is a very destructive sin.
- “For I see that you are extremely bitter and completely under the control of sin!” Acts 8:23
- “Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude.” Ephesians 4:31
- “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s wonderful kindness. Don’t let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you.” Hebrews 12:15
- “But if your heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfishness, don’t brag or lie to cover up the truth.” James 3:14
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