Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
For weeks now, my heart keeps returning to the idea of forgiveness. We’ve discussed it in small group; our pastor has taught on it; verses about forgiveness pop up when I am quietly reading my Bible at home; I stumble across a sentence about it in a book I’m reading. God’s own Spirit relentlessly pursues my heart with the things I need to learn. I love that about Him.
And so this morning, I’ve been pondering these verses in Ephesians. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about getting rid of bitterness and forgiving.
Bitterness. A sharp taste or smell. A pointed arrow of pain to the feelings. A settled hostility. Poison. Smoldering resentment.
Honestly, I feel this way about some people. Specific people. Every time I think of how they hurt my family, the pungent smell of bitterness wafts across my soul. These people should have lovingly come alongside and helped shoulder our burden. Instead they piled more on, making our burden heavier, bending our spirits.
They were wrong. They mistreated us. Rather than building us up, their pickaxe words and wrecking ball actions tore us down. Rather than speaking to us with the soothing balm of hymns and songs, they rubbed salt in our wounds with their lack of grace. When they could have been instruments of mercy and healing, they chose instead to wound us further. They were wrong.
And for a long time, the pointed arrows of pain delivered poison to my soul. When I thought or spoke of their actions, anger blazed from my smoldering resentment. A heavy hostility settled within me.
Gently, gradually, God’s Spirit whispered that this venom-tipped arrow was only poisoning me. Get rid of this bitterness. Get rid of this pungent taste. Get rid of this simmering resentment. Get rid of it.
Now, when that nasty smell of bitterness wafts over my heart, I breathe in Christ and breathe out forgiveness, blowing the poisonous cloud away. When a memory fans the flame of anger and hate, I douse it with the water of the Word — be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
It is not easy. It is not a one-and-done sort of deal. Forgiving each other — a continual practice. When I remember how those people treated us, I forgive them. And tomorrow, when I again see the evidence of how their actions hurt my family members, I forgive them again. And next week, when something else triggers another reminder, I forgive them again. And again. And again. Continually. Every time I remember, I forgive.
The bitter scent of their sins against me blows my way, but I refuse to let it take root in me. I refuse to let it consume me and twist me, making me crabby and hateful and filled with a brooding irritability and resentment. No, I forgive.
Not in my own power. I can’t muster that much kindness and compassion on my own. No, my soul whispers to God, “I can’t do this. I sometimes even like being mad. It feels so justified. But I know this venom is killing me. Help me forgive because you forgave me. My sin was just as bitter to you, and you forgave. So please help me forgive. I need you to do it because I don’t know how.”
And I pray that again. And again. And again. In obedience and gratefulness to the God who has forgiven me over and over and over.
In doing this, my anger has lessened. When the flames fan higher, they do not blaze as high as they once did. They do not burn as hot. This is the healing work of Christ in me. It is not finished yet, but I trust one day I will be free from this sour poison.
Continually, I forgive. As He forgives.