By Courtney Newbery
I was leisurely pushing my cart down the pickle and condiment aisle when I saw her. I wasn’t expecting or prepared to see her. But there she was. Right in front of me.
As I stood there paralyzed, I weighed my options. I could make a rapid U-turn and head hurriedly for the bread and chips. I could pretend to be engrossed in some engaging email on my phone. I could pass by her, laughing, as if I had just heard a funny joke. Or the unthinkable—I could stop and say hello.
A burning sensation began to make its way through my body, and I could feel my pulse begin to quicken. The memory of what she had done just two days before flooded back to the surface, and my fear gave way to anger. I approached her, gave her a quick nod, and strolled on. I could see she wanted to stop and chat, but I didn’t know what else to do. My hurt and disappointment kept me from choosing to love her in that moment.
Two days earlier I had overheard this friend sitting with another acquaintance of mine, gossiping about something that I had told her in confidence. Stunned, I listened as she recounted every juicy and sensitive detail that I had shared, being careful to add her own commentary as well. I didn’t have the words or strength of heart at the time to confront her about the incident. Instead I let it fester down in my soul, building a stronghold of bitterness and hurt, validating my already existing insecurities about the issue.
What the Bible Says About Forgiveness
God speaks in his Word a great deal on the necessity of forgiveness, but the excruciating work of breaking through the bitterness must come first. When unchecked, the Bible tells us that bitterness has the potential to grow roots and destroy everything in its path (Hebrews 12:15). This warning challenges us to deal with our issues quickly in order to stop them from multiplying. Just as an unwanted weed develops roots and grows, choking the life out of the healthy plant, so also bitterness develops a root in the human heart, spreading its poison to all that it touches.
Our Part in Forgiveness
The only remedy for bitterness is forgiveness. We must seek to forgive, just as Jesus forgave us—without strings or conditions (Colossians 3:13). It means humbling ourselves, even when we have been severely wounded, and extending an olive branch to our perpetrator.
What it does not mean, however, is giving that person permission to wound us again. We must take care to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), which sometimes involves distancing ourselves from an offender or choosing to be selective about what we share and with whom. We forgive, not in an attempt to pretend that nothing ever happened, but because it is important to free our own hearts and get right with God.
Choosing to forgive (and, yes, it is a choice) is our responsibility as believers, even if the other person is not involved. Jesus says for us to take quick action in forgiving others when they have hurt us so that God will forgive us (Matthew 6:14, 15). When we dwell in a place of sin ourselves, the Father does not listen to us (Psalm 66:18). This is pretty straightforward. A heart of resentment can equal blocked communication with God. If we want to be right with God, we have got to get right with others.
God’s Faithfulness to Forgive Us
God models forgiveness so beautifully. His ultimate example was demonstrated through the death of his Son. Paul exclaims in Romans that we deserve death because of the mess in our lives (Romans 6:23)—BUT (a very large but) because of God’s willingness to forgive, he extended us life forever through Christ. God is merciful and forgiving, even when I am at my worst (Daniel 9:9). He doesn’t keep a laundry list of all of my junk (Isaiah 43:25), so why do I keep a scorecard on others? If the Creator of everything, who is completely right in all he does, can manage to fully forgive me, then I must do what I can to keep the peace with the people in my life (Hebrews 12:14).
Steps to Finding Forgiveness
Driving home from the grocery store in a state of righteous indignation, I came to the realization that I was bitter. I had been hurt, and somewhere inside I believed that if I held on to the anger toward this once-trusted friend, I could give her a taste of her own medicine. The truth was, however, that I was the only one suffering through the ordeal. My bitterness had become a poison in me, seeping through my veins and slowly killing my ability to love her. Yuck! This was not who I wanted to be. I knew that the only antidote to my bitterness was forgiveness.
When I got home, I pulled out a piece of stationery (I still use a good old pen and paper) and started writing a note to my grocery store friend. My first draft was not so nice, definitely needing edits. I finally worked the letter until it was truthful but without the vicious commentary. I stuck it in an envelope, ready for the mail.
The letter is still sitting on my desk. One day I am going to send it to her. But it really doesn’t matter, because I am already free. Choosing to forgive this woman without an expectation of anything in return choked the bitterness in me and freed my heart to grow the sweet flower of love again.
Making It Personal
Who do you need to forgive? As you think of this person, what thoughts come to mind?
If you are having trouble forgiving someone in your life, would you stop right now and write a letter? This step toward forgiveness can help stomp out the bitterness in your heart. Here are some things I wrote in my letter that you may want to include as well:
1. I told my friend how she wronged me (because she may not know).
2. I shared how her actions had affected me.
3. I told her that I still loved her. (You might not be able to say that now, and that’s OK. Simply stating that you let go of the hate will help you heal and allow you to release some of the resentment you might be holding.)
4. I told her that I forgive her.
After you write the letter, take a few minutes to pray for this person. Then as you seal the letter, ask God to remove any bitterness you may have toward the person and replace it with a heart filled with his love. You don’t need to mail this letter now—maybe not ever—but getting it out will help you move forward.
Courtney Newbery is a freelance writer in Naples, Florida.