Overcoming the Root of Bitterness

by Tiffany Dickerson

You gently place the seed in the soil and cover it with dirt. Then, you spend time watering it day after day and giving it just the right amount of time in the sun as you patiently await that first little sprout to break through the surface. On the appointed day, you look and see the tiniest bit of green and smile in excitement. But as the seed grows, the plant it produces is not beautiful but dark and ugly, and you don’t know what to do with it. You have spent so much time tending to it you feel as though you cannot let it die, so, reluctantly, you keep caring for it and letting it grow despite the lack of joy it brings. 

This might seem like an odd analogy, but when it comes to bitterness, we all take great care in helping it grow despite its ugliness. When someone wrongs us, we often plant a seed of bitterness in our hearts. At first, it just feels like the best and right thing to do. After all, that person or persons hurt us, and we can nurse the wound a little in order to get over it, right? Before we know it, we have nursed it so much we do not know how to stop, and that tiny seed of bitterness has grown roots in our hearts that begin choking out the love God calls us to have for Him and for others. 

You probably already thought about that person who wronged you as you read the preceding paragraphs. They linger right on the periphery of your conscience, waiting to repeatedly zing you once again so you can nurse your bitterness toward them. That bitterness is not hurting them, though. The odds are good that person might not be in your life anymore or if they are, they may or may not realize what they did to you. Either way, that root of bitterness is not hurting their heart, but it is destroying yours. The very mechanism you deploy to protect your heart is actually causing harm as it takes away your joy and hinders your personal walk with the Lord.   

(Disclaimer: For those who have been the victim of a crime or abuse, by no means does this post negate the hurt and pain these events caused you. We hope this blog encourages your heart as you seek to reclaim joy in Christ and release bitterness through forgiveness. The help of a professional counselor in these instances is invaluable as you walk through such a season.)

The sin of bitterness is nothing new. Bitterness is about self-preservation which is an issue of pride. Pride began with Adam and Eve, who quickly grew a root of bitterness when they realized they were not all-knowing like God (Genesis 3). Cain had bitterness in his heart toward his brother Abel because his sacrifice was not pleasing to the Lord (Genesis 4). Joseph’s brothers acted on their bitterness and jealousy when they sold him to an Egyptian caravan (Genesis 7). And these are just a few examples from the first book of the Bible. Examples abound in Scripture, and, in each case, bitterness brings about sin and harms the heart of the person who held onto it.  

Dying to self is the only way to combat the lie that bitterness is okay. To die to self is to surrender our hearts to Christ so He can destroy the root problem: sin. When we seek to live our lives for Christ, there is no longer a need to hold on to bitterness because we know the forgiveness He gave to us is the forgiveness we are to give others, even those who have wronged us. Jesus bled and died on the cross even for those who yelled, “Crucify Him!” He loved and forgave despite the wrong committed against Him. Though it is hard, God calls us to do the same. To free our hearts from the sin of bitterness enables us to live out Ephesians 5:8, which says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

The way to fight against bitterness is to replace the lies with which you feed your bitterness with the life-giving truth of Scripture. When tempted to dwell on the situation or the person that hurt you deeply, dwell on the Word instead. When tempted to seek vengeance or gossip about the situation, fill your heart with the life-giving truths of the Bible. Over time, the root of bitterness will be starved for nourishment and slowly die as your heart grows in forgiveness and love.  

Below are some Scripture passages to memorize and meditate on as you fight the battle against bitterness. The apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” We have everything we need in Christ to be victorious over bitterness. May our hearts flourish with the beauty of love, godliness, and goodness.

Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:31–32

Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. – John 15:4–5

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. – Romans 12:21

Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many. – Hebrews 12:14–15

Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. – Colossians 3:12–13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22–23

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