Bitterness: When You Can’t Move On

In 2005, I struggled with bitterness. It began shortly after we went under contract on a big farmhouse in the country. After spending five years renovating our first house, it had become obvious that we had outgrown it. Five daughters were sharing one bedroom, and it was time to look for something that would be a better fit for our large family. We began searching for a few acres for our seven kids to roam. It didn’t matter how much work the house needed; we just wanted some space. We sold our fully remodeled home and signed a contract on a large, dilapidated house on seven acres only ten minutes from our church.

Since the farmhouse was an income property for its owners, they told us they needed an extra month to find another place to put their investment capital to avoid taxes. “In the meantime,” they said, “go ahead and close on the sale of your current house and move in.” The owners were professing Christians, so we took them at their word. But as time passed, they repeatedly informed us they had not yet heard the voice of Jesus telling them to close the sale, but they were sure they would hear soon. We believed and hoped for the best.

Some of our new neighbors began reaching out with careful inquiry. “We should close any day now,” we optimistically said, as they smiled and offered sympathetic words. We were confused, especially when we learned the previous purchaser-turned-tenant was strung along for ten years. After five months of waiting, we were forced to hire an attorney to draft a letter to the sellers insisting that they set an official closing date, but they ignored the letter.

Eventually, we fully awoke to the nightmare before us. We had been swindled. Not only that, but since we were naive and ignorant of the fact that a signed real estate contract can fall through, we had made other financial decisions based on the purchase-plus-renovation package our credit union had put together. In short, we were worse than broke. Our plans were wrecked and our ability to purchase another home was slim.

Once the dust settled, I started to become resentful. Anger against the sellers was justified. They’re crooks and liars! Worst of all, they did this to us while mentioning the name of Jesus in every other sentence! My anger started out righteous—they were wrong and had treated us unfairly—but it went downhill from there. I was also angry at myself. I’m a total idiot! I thought. Not only did I make an unwise decision that would affect my family for years to come, but I’m also a failure. I deserve this. What a loser!

Deep down and unbeknownst to me, I was also angry at God. He should have kept this from happening to my family. I knew from Scripture that I wasn’t in a good place and couldn’t stay like this, but I didn’t understand that my anger was feeding a distrust of God. I was not trusting him with my family, my future, or my feelings. I didn’t know how to talk to the Lord about this injustice.

As a pastor, I frequently counseled others to hope in God and preached sermons on his sovereignty, but I was having a hard time applying it to my situation. I had not yet learned from personal experience the truth of what Jerry Bridges expresses so well: “Bitterness arises in our hearts when we do not trust in the sovereign rule of God in our lives.”

I chafed under the faith-building regimen designed by my heavenly Father, and my response to this unpleasant experience only made matters worse. We had moved our belongings to another house, but my heart could not move on from how we had been mistreated. I was stuck, and all I could think about was the wrong committed against us.

It’s only natural to bristle against mistreatment or unjust circumstances. An array of emotions—whether that be anger, frustration, or the like—are sure to rise to the surface when we are sinned against or when circumstances don’t pan out the way they should. But when does our response slide from recognition of wrong to bitterness? Bridges again helps us by giving the following understanding of bitterness: “[It] is resentment that has grown into a feeling of ongoing animosity. Whereas resentment may dissipate over time, bitterness continues to grow and fester, developing an even higher degree of ill will.” This was certainly true in my case. Bitterness was growing and the garden of my heart was producing thorns.

Perhaps you can relate to one or more parts of my story. Perhaps not. Regardless, we are all tempted to become bitter about the painful trials we go through, or against people who mistreat us—whether intentional or not. What does bitterness look like in your life? Perhaps you picked up this little book because you’ve become resentful about being passed over for a job promotion, were hurt by a member of your church or family, were falsely accused or slandered, or were taken aback by a severe disappointment. No matter what your struggle with bitterness may look like, the Bible speaks truth and hope into your mind and heart.

My goal in my new minibook, Bitterness: When You Can’t Move On, is to help you understand and apply the biblical principles the Lord brought home to my heart during my struggle with bitterness. I don’t pretend to be immune to the subtle temptation for this sour attitude to grow back. However, when unwanted thoughts and negative emotions arise, I know how to deal with them. While I’m still learning to be more aware of the workings of my heart, I hope to spare you from going down the road I went down by learning from my failings, and those of others found on the pages of Scripture.

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