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 humiliation 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.

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.