Over the last few years, some frustrating situations have jarred my expectations and pushed all the wrong buttons. Over time, as these things stacked weight heavier and heavier in my heart, I realized part of the reason they were so hurtful was because they were dredging up unrelated pain from years ago. As I thought over how old things were still affecting me and all the ways I wish they had been different, I found bitterness festering.
Thankfully, I had a couple wise friends who helped me sort through the whole thing, instead of just addressing the bitterness at surface level and having the same underlying issue continue to pop up over and over again. Here’s what I’ve learned through it:
Pour out your heart to God. Don’t stuff the pain and bitterness or try to muster your own strength to fix it. It won’t do any good trying to pretend or force your bitterness away. Bitterness loses its strength when we can see the situation through God’s eyes. Give God whatever mustard seed of trust you have and ask for his perspective. Ask him to work in your heart and the situation.
Share with a trustworthy friend. Vulnerability can be hard sometimes. It’s so valuable though to have a wise friend to listen, pray with you, speak truth when you need to hear it, and offer insight that you might not see on your own.
Sometimes even just by saying something out loud, helps me see an issue from a new angle or realize it’s a lot more trivial than it seemed in my head.
Ask what’s at the core of the issue. Is it unresolved conflict? Your own pride? Someone else’s sin against you? Unrealistic expectations? Disappointed dreams? How might you need to sort these things out with God, and possibly another person?
If there are action steps, take them. Maybe it’s a process that only needs to take place between you and God in your own heart, and whoever else was involved in the situation never even needs to know about it. Maybe going forward, there’s a change you want to make in how you relate to a specific person, or how you handle conflict.
Or maybe there’s an uncomfortable conversation you need to have with someone. It can be tempting to look ahead and say ‘that’s too hard’, or ‘I don’t think that will make any difference, so why bother?’ But you’ll never know for sure until you try. When I look back at times in the past when I used that logic, I wonder, ‘would things have been different if I had just tried anyway?’
Ask God to move! When we allow God into life’s hard places and give our pain to him, he is able to carve beautiful things. It doesn’t have to go to waste or fester into bitterness.
Today I can look back with thanks for what God has done through those more recent situations I disliked so much. It’s a long process, but the baggage I didn’t know I was carrying is already a few pieces lighter. Where old hurts sparked bitterness, God is bringing beautiful new growth, life, and redemption one day at a time.