The Hidden Sin of Bitterness

By Jessica Head
Originally Published in Be Sill Magazine, Issue 14 

“Why would he say those things to me? Can’t he see how hard I’m working?” I cried to my husband after a particularly hard day at work.  I sat and sulked, recalling all of the facts to him, being sure not to leave out any details, no matter how small. The longer I talked, the more I began to complain about the sin committed against me.  All the while, a seed of bitterness was being planted deep in the soil of my heart. 

As months passed, the situation continued to worsen. My heart began to grow hard towards this person. I would spend countless hours poring over past events, replaying conversations in my mind. I would change the topic of discussion with close friends and family just to ‘vent’ over my difficult work situation.  I would seek out people who would justify and fuel my anger and frustration. My attitude began to turn sour as the small, bitter seed in my heart began to produce bitter fruit.  

Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness is a sin that catches us by surprise. It begins by peeking through the surface as a seedling of negative thoughts or complaining. Bitterness doesn’t discriminate—it can spring up in any person. And if it’s not uprooted quickly, it will overtake our hearts by growing into a full-grown forest of trees that yields nothing but hurtful, destructive, and deadly fruit. This rang true in my own life. For weeks, I planted, watered, and sowed this seed of hurt and bitterness. I replayed conversations over and over again in my head, hoping to arrive at an epiphany. But all I gained was more heartache, contempt, and anger.  It wasn’t until a friend kindly pointed out my sin that I realized how deep the root of bitterness was planted in my heart. 

But Christ has paved a new way for us. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Because of the forgiveness we have received in Christ, we should in turn forgive those who have sinned against us. But what if the pain is too deep? What if the damage caused by sin seems to be irreversible? How can we forgive? Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! That is wonderful news to the believer’s heart, that even while we were enemies of God, Christ died for His children. Because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we are able to let go of bitterness and readily extend the hand of forgiveness because Jesus has reconciled us back to the Father. 

Carrying bitterness is a tiring task. It exhausts you, strains relationships, and can even leave you physically sick—it’s not something we were created to carry. But since bitterness is a slow, inconspicuous sin, we must continually be fighting to keep it at bay. When my daughter interrupts my morning routine, I choose to stop and play with her instead of complaining about what’s not getting done. When my husband arrives home from work later than planned, I meet him with kind, loving words instead of grumbling. When a friend speaks an unkind word to me, I choose to forgive her as Christ has forgiven me, instead of harboring contempt against her.  When someone spreads a lie about me, I trust that God will fight for me instead of acting in a vindictive way. This is not easy—it goes against our very flesh. But what good news that our good God goes before us, fights for us, and uses all things to shape us into the image of Christ. We can trust the Lord will use trials, even the sin committed against us, to bring about our good, but ultimately, His glory.   

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