On Resentment and Bitterness

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Resentment and bitterness . . . emotions we tend to hold on to for years. I have known long bouts of bitterness and resentment in my life. One because of a personal betrayal by someone I trusted. Another, after our home burned. Still another, the many years of resenting my father’s abuse. Each time, bitterness and resentment took over my life for a while.

Someone asked me recently why we tend to hold onto resentment and bitterness, and it made me spend a few minutes pondering that thought. I think we hold on to bitterness and resentment because a part of us believes:

– We are punishing the person/thing that hurt us.
– We deserve to be bitter.
– We don’t have the strength and ability to get past it.
– It feeds our anger. And anger feels better than hurt or sadness.

Paul Valery writes:

Latent in every person is a venom of amazing bitterness, a black resentment; something that curses and loathes life, a feeling of being trapped, of having trusted and been fooled, of being the helpless prey of impotent rage, blind surrender, the victim of a savage, ruthless power that gives and takes away . . . and crowning injury inflicts upon a person the humiliationΒ of feeling sorry for him/herself.

That is such an ominous thought about bitterness, “a black resentment.” And yet, I am convinced that those who are spiritually and emotionally healthy will hold the bitterness for a while, and then will realize that hanging on to it releases a toxic poison in the soul. When holding on to bitterness, most people really are working through it, and that’s healthy. It would be denial to never feel bitterness at all.

I look at times of bitterness as a season for learning and growing. And although I know from experience that bitterness can take hold of us and have its way, I also know that we can work through it and emerge with renewed peace and just a slight memory of the hurtful experience.

What’s the good in resentment? My answer is that it is a real and raw emotion that must be owned and worked through. The bitterness and resentment will eventually transform into just another life memory that, frankly, may always hurt a little.

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The Wings of the Morning

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Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.

– Iain Thomas

I can add my own admonitions to these. Do not let weariness overcome your energy. Do not let despair steal your hope. Do not let chaos shatter your peace. Do not let your questions weaken your faith. Do not let betrayal destroy your ability to trust.

I’ve been there. I have confronted all of these circumstances, sometimes feeling as if I would drown in my negative emotions. In the years I have lived with kidney disease, weariness has been a part of my life. I well remember times of complete despair when I felt all hope was lost. Chaos has shattered my peace many times. Recently, my mind has been filled with questions that emerged out of skepticism, and I found myself in the midst of a faith crisis. A betrayal by a close friend in 2013 left me bereft and almost destroyed my ability to trust again.

In every instance, I found my way back by leaning into the loving arms of a faithful God who was there with me through it all. In such trying times, I often recalled the comforting words of the Psalmist.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;

You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.

You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.

– Psalm 139:1-10 NKJV

I decided to be happy!

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I simply decided to be happy again. It was my choice, after all. I had been through a grueling coup in my nonprofit organization. Friends and colleagues of many years betrayed me in very hurtful ways. I lost all that I had worked for in the previous ten years. The community lost a significant resource. I lost long time friends.

But that was several yesterday’s ago. I suffered a great loss, and grieved that loss for at least a year. I learned that the decision to be happy again is my own decision. The choice to hope again is my choice.

It was a good day when I made that choice. It was a good day when I made peace with the past, when I thanked God for the positive things I accomplished. It was a good day when I decided to be happy again!

The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and to have courage when things go wrong.
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thankfully, that’s where I am today. The painful yesterdays are but a slight mist. The tomorrows are bright with hope.

Bitter Days

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I never had a charmed life. I have lived through bitter days, many of them. I have known sorrow, hopelessness, darkness, emptiness, loneliness, and all manner of emotional angst. But in those bitter times when I thought my world had fallen apart, I always found a fresh measure of faith, certainly enough faith to weather the storm.

It is true that I have often found myself standing alone on shifting sand. It is true that I have experienced loneliness, wondering why God had left me bereft and alone. It is true that, at times, I lost all hope. It is true that my tears fell freely and there was no one to witness my pain.

The words of Bishop Steven Charleston, once again, describe the emotions I have felt along the way.

I don’t know about you, for there are some who live charmed lives, but I have been by that lonely shore, standing alone on shifting sand, looking out to a vast dark emptiness, an ominous and unknown sea stretching out to the cloud covered edge of my world, while waves of sadness crashed around me, stinging my eyes with the salt of ancient tears. How clear and yet how distant is that memory now. Hope is not the absence of sorrow, but the release of that sorrow beside the still waters of faith. The light is right behind you. Turn to find it.

Yes, I did find renewed hope, and I did release my sorrow beside the still waters of faith. I did it many times, always finding that God’s light really was right behind me. Thanks be to God that better days always follow bitter days.