I used to work as an occupational therapist in a rehabilitation hospital—a setting where you see people at their worst. Most people were nice enough, but there were some who oozed bitterness and anger. You knew right when you walked into their rooms, and I dreaded those patients. They allowed their past hurts to shape their current realities and treated everyone around them with the same disdain and contempt, even though we had nothing to do with their past hurts.
Last weekend, we learned that anger is not bad. It’s an emotion that is telling us that something we value is being threatened. Anger is a continuum, with virtue on one side and vice on the other side. How we deal with our anger is where we demonstrate our wisdom or our sinfulness. It is easy to hold on to that hurt and feel like we have the right to be angry. We can rationalize anger as “righteous” even when it is sinful. Some of us have a short fuse and anger just bubbles up to the surface. However, when we hold onto bitterness or let anger rule our lives, those around us suffer. If we’re honest, we do too.
Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
I have experienced that poisonous root of bitterness more often than I would like to admit. I have also experienced the opposite—patients who had terrible lives, yet exuded grace and humility. They had suffered, but being with them was a joy, and I left their rooms feeling blessed. So what is the difference? How can people respond in such dramatically different ways? I think James sums it up well:
6 And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
When we allow anger (virtue or vice) to remain unresolved, we allow the devil a foothold (Ephesisans 4:26-27) in our lives. This foothold leads to resentment and bitterness. Forgiveness and bitterness are on opposite ends of a spectrum. If we want freedom from bitterness, we must find a way to forgive. When it feels impossible, humbly coming before God and asking for strength is the only way. When we do this, the devil loses his hold on us. We find freedom and demonstrate to those around us the hope and grace found in Christ alone.
When people are around you, what do they experience? Are you joyful or do people feel your bitterness?
If you are dealing with unresolved anger or bitterness ask God to help you deal with those issues. The new Groups semester began this past weekend. Find a Group of like-minded individuals to work through your struggles.
Father, I come before you and humbly admit that my anger gets the best of me too often. I often hold on to my hurts to punish those who hurt me, yet I only end up hurting those I love and feeling miserable. I find ways to excuse my angry reactions and justify myself. I know this is not how you meant me to live. Forgive me for allowing the devil a foothold in my life. Give me the strength to resist him and cling to your love. Amen.
This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading, and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her five young children.
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